By Nina Medvinskaya
There are a lot of ideas about what it is like to be a January Freshman (JF). Many of them are based upon vague notions of what a summer spent in Santa Fe would be like, how it would feel to come in as a newbie in the middle of the school year, and what it means to travel in a tribe-like clan. Yet, while all of these are great speculations, they don’t cover the core of the JF experience. The experience itself is so broad and the opinions about it are so varied, that in order to start putting the meaning of it together, one would first have to divide it up (a bit like dividendo and componendo from Euclid). The best place to start in understanding this JF term would be to split it up into three large chunks; winter semester (a.k.a. the introductory phase), summer semester (a.k.a. the cabin fever phase), and first semester sophomore year (a.k.a. the “you think it’s over, but it’s not” phase). The JF experience goes about in stages, like most experiences do, and to explore each stage in some detail would benefit one in his quest for understanding it.
We enter St. John’s, I believe, as all Johnnies do: excited to learn, to be inspired, and to endeavour an understanding of the Great Thinkers. For my part, at least, I was more concerned about how I would work as a Johnnie rather than how I would work as a JF (although the two are intrinsically tied together). We started off with all the same material as the Fall Freshman: we delved into the Euclidian propositions of geometry, learned about how to “leave our friends at the side of the road” in Ancient Greek from Luschnig, cut open cats, baby pigs, and sharks along with peeling off some fat from sheep’s hearts (seriously, no big deal), learned about the wrath of Achilles, and of course developed oh-so-beautiful singing skills with Hodie Christus Natus Est. Outside of the academic program, we got to experience all the perks of campus life: the Senior Prank (in which our seminar was abruptly interrupted with the seniors dressed up as characters from Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War), the Junior Skit (which was an hour-long public roast of the seniors (very well done I may add)), and REALITY (the greatly anticipated blow-out event, in which the whole school sends the seniors out into “actual reality”). None of it seemed so different from the regular Johnnie life, and we settled into the rhythm, feeling more and more integrated with each passing day.
It is close to the end of May, and everyone else is packing up their pillows and sheets, stripping their walls of all their colorful posters, and rolling away their overstuffed suitcases. Hour by hour the campus is getting more deserted, and if only the grass would be covered in snow, it would seem like a scene from The Shining (for all of you that have seen it, this reference is obviously disturbing, and for those that have not, what are you waiting for?!?). Yet for us, it was cabin fever shmavin fever; it didn’t scare us. With our one week break between the two semesters, we dove into our second semester of freshman year. Summer semester consisted of a lot of shifts: a shift from poetry and tragedy to mostly philosophical works in Seminar, a shift from Euclid’s clear geometrical propositions to Ptolemy’s chaotic yet uniform model of the world, a shift from Robert Boyle’s phlogiston theory to Lavosier’s denial of it, and a shift from translating Luschnig’s sentences to translating Plato’s Meno. Our captain of activities – Mike Thurber – kept us busy on the weekends with trips to Lake Abiquiu, (a beautiful pool of water in a desert; one can imagine how refreshing it felt to take a dip), a viewing of the opera, The Marriage of Figaro, in a stunning setting (an outside theater with Santa Fe as its backdrop), and frequent trips to an Olympic sized swimming pool and the rock climbing gym. In this way summer flew by without a drop of humidity and with the most beautiful sunsets imaginable. So there we were; without yet another writing period, we handed in our second semester Seminar Papers, and that was it! We were done and we were sophomores.
Now that our freshman year was complete, we evacuated our dormitories and took off to our home towns. We had a *whole three weeks* to recuperate and breath in new energy and motivation into our first semester of sophomore year. I distinctly remember recognizing how short our break was after a conversation with a Fall Freshman. He said that it was time to start brushing up on his Greek and reviewing his Ptolemy, since school was about to start. It hit me then, that as my future fellow classmates were starting to prepare for the upcoming year, we JFs were just settling back down from the whirlwind that was freshman year. Almost as soon as I got home, it seemed I was on a plane back to Santa Fe, but I was excited and ready to join the “normal” Johnnie class. Yet as I began my first week of integrated life, I realized that the JF roller coaster ride was not yet over. We (JFs) were entering into sophomore year with a lot of the knowledge from freshman year still very crisp in our minds, but without the luxury of rest and time for digestion. It is a vulnerable time for a lot of us; we have to navigate the balancing act of combining our past and our present and are challenged to do so as smoothly as possible.
Being a JF, just like being a Fall Freshman, is an experience in which you get out however much you put in. If one is passionate about the program, the rewards that one will reap from it are immensely powerful. Revelations about the world, which are incited by the Great Thinkers, will continue to grow and to flourish with each day. Everything will open up like an old book that has long been shut and one will find himself rustling through the pages in disbelief of everything that he had missed. Things that were present all along, but went unnourished, will begin to take form and conceptualize right before one’s eyes. However, since the nature of each JF class changes with the people in it, there is no standard recipe for how to navigate it, nor is there a general route for how it will go, but the presence of the Great Thinkers will forever be there to aid, to inspire, and to sustain our minds. Throughout it all there is something all JFs can be certain of: it will test you, it will push you, and it will forever be ingrained in your mind. ∗