By Audra Zook
Every May, after the seniors have finished their very last seminar as students, and before they begin their post-SJC lives at Commencement, all of these soon-to-be-graduates and their tutors are invited to a formal dinner. During the dinner, seniors reflect on their time at St. John’s with their tutors and with each other. After all have eaten and champagne is served, President Nelson reads the list of students who matriculated with that graduating class, even if they have withdrawn, transferred to the Santa Fe campus, or taken a year or two off and have been readmitted to graduate with another class. Everyone is given a round of applause, with some of the largest hands going to those who have left the College, but who have nonetheless made a significant impact while they were here.
As a graduating senior, I looked forward to this night of reflection with my fellow classmates. What I was not prepared for was the toasts. They began with four planned toasts, given by two tutors and two students selected by a student committee of which I was proud to be a part, and then the floor was open to anyone who wanted to speak. I admit that at first, I was not so sure that this was a good idea. Johnnies do like to talk, and I anticipated a long line of seniors each in turn toasting about how much he or she had learned from the College. While this was clearly a good message, I was not sure that it was something I needed repeated ninety-some times.
I was wrong. While most seniors’ toasts indeed involved some variation on the “what I learned from St. John’s” theme, whether those lessons were learned in the Program, through interactions with tutors or other students, intramurals, musical groups, or simply living in the St. John’s community, the power of numbers, all speaking straight from the heart, was truly astounding. Seniors weren’t stepping up to the podium to show off their speaking skills (though eloquence and composure gained through four years of discussion were none to be lacking), but to communicate what no one else could say for them—how St. John’s had honestly changed their lives, minds, and souls. And though I knew that many of us would reunite at Homecoming or Croquet, it was the sad truth that the Class of 2013 would never all be in the same room again. This was the time, no matter if it took all night (rest assured, it did not).
This meant, of course, that I also needed to go up and say something, despite my original assertion to myself that I most certainly was not going to do so. But it wasn’t hard, because I was speaking to what was, and is, almost a family. Not just because we spent so much time together, but also because we struggled over some of the most fundamental human questions, and sometimes changed because of them, together. That night reaffirmed just how much my St. John’s education meant to me, and how much I would value it in beginning my “real life,” which without doubt will be much more worth living if examined.
So, in answer to the popular question: absolutely, it was worth it.