Spring Symposium

The students, faculty, and staff of St. John’s College are adjusting to the precautions needed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In-person classes are cancelled and the campuses are limited to essential personnel only. This means the 2020 Spring Symposium, planned for April 24th-26th, has been cancelled. The symposium was going to be St. John’s first internal symposium, an opportunity for students of St. John’s, current and alums, to share their considered thoughts on the symposium’s topic: Democracy, Liberal Education, and the Common Good. Rather than let some of their hard work go unrecognized, we reached out to some of the graduate students and graduate alums and asked them a few questions about the presentation they were preparing for the symposium.

First, is Kelsey Hennegen, a fourth semester Liberal Arts student who has been involved in supporting the college from the beginning of her very first semester. She became an assistant to Dean Walter Sterling, and was integral in bringing the 2020 Spring Symposium to life. She helped brainstorm the title, launch the website, and review proposals. Ever diligent, she also submitted a proposal of her own to the event.

“I was eager to participate in an event that welcomed contemporary commentary and the bread and butter of St. John’s, great books. I find it compelling that we could create an event that would accommodate presentations on the democratic primary in Iowa and protests in Hong Kong, as well as Aristotle and Plato.”

Her symposium paper was titled: Irreducibly American: the Blues Idiom as American Dithyramb in Albert Murray’s OmniAmericans. The last section of her proposal read,

“My paper examines Albert Murray’s treatment of American Identity through the lens of the Blues, style, and improvisation to illustrate the vitality of what it means to be American. By reframing our conception of black America and white, we can play within the historical treatment to inform our understanding of American life and culture. Murray’s success in redeeming the black experience and moving the nation beyond dualistic categorization relies on the notion of inseparability: American as composite not atomized, fluid not fixed, formed through not determined.”

This would not have Ms. Hennegen’s first symposium. She also presented at the 2019 West Coast Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium, hosted by the Graduate Institute in Santa Fe. Like most, she’s disappointed at the cancellation.

“I’m hopeful that the conference will be rescheduled. If not, we’ll find a way to host some sort of digital community coming-together wherein speakers might be able to digitally share their work. I would surely participate in whatever form the conference takes in the future.” She added, “I’m proud to belong to a place that welcomes dynamic and diverse opinions and helps all voices participate in the dialogue. I think this event really captured those values well.”

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