By Nathan Goldman
You certainly don’t have to know just what you want to do with your life when you enter St. John’s. Many don’t. The Program’s breadth provides ample opportunity to explore far-ranging interests, while Career Services offers support and guidance to students as they ponder long-term career goals. The education at St. John’s
is a human education, and while it is not a strictly technical education, it is applicable to any and all paths.
While struggling to make this decision, I explained my dilemma to the Admissions office; I wondered whether I could afford to spend four years without any formal study of the art I planned to pursue. Understanding and ever resourceful, Admissions put me in contact
with Salvatore Scibona, an alumnus who went on to graduate from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and rise to prominence as an award-winning fiction writer. (He also delivered a wonderful Commencement speech last year.) “Was your time at St. John’s worth suspending the study of fiction writing?” I asked Mr. Scibona three years ago. His answer was an unequivocal yes. Craft is important, he told me, but not as important as cultivating an open, contemplative, and creative mind. He felt that St. John’s had been the perfect preparation for his work and his life.
As I enter my senior year, I’ve found Mr. Scibona’s advice to be sound: thanks to my time at St. John’s, I can write more keenly and creatively, my writing is newly informed by a tradition of great works, and my time at St. John’s has given me so much more to write about and ways to write about it. Still, the Program’s workload has left me little time to focus just on my writing. That’s why I was so thrilled to learn about the Pathways Fellowship, a new scholarship offered by the College to fund summer study.
Though our studies at St. John’s are wide-ranging and deep, the Program does not claim to be comprehensive. There’s simply not enough time to study even a fraction of everything worth studying in a mere four years. The Pathways is designed as a supplement to this broad and rigorous education; its aim is to allow students to study subjects they’re unable to pursue at the College, but which might be helpful or necessary to them in graduate school or their future careers. I was awarded a Pathways Fellowship to study fiction writing for two weeks at the Yale Writers’ Conference in New Haven, CT, from which I’ve just returned. Others are using the fellowship to study economics, organic chemistry, scholarly German, and more.
In future posts, I’ll expound on my experience at the conference, what I learned, and how St. John’s (despite not teaching me how to write stories) prepared me for it. But for now, the point I want to make is this: the Program is not tailored to you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the education your own. St. John’s provides ample opportunity to focus on the issues most pressing to you as a person in essays, paper conferences, and the student-directed nature of the classes. Furthermore, by talking with tutors, taking advantage of fellowships and other resources, forming study groups, and using your time wisely, you truly can have both: the liberal education and the individualized preparation for where your life takes you next.