Posted on behalf of Dorothy Bowerfind.
The Annapolitan sunset on January 7, 2019 found freshmen considering the One and the Many in Plato’s Parmenides, sophomores exploring the circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, and juniors beholding love in Eliot’s Middlemarch. While most current students picked up their schedules where they had checked them for winter break, the senior class clocked in for 27 days of writing. The range of topics stretched throughout our four years and across disciplines, from the depth of comedy in Don Quixote to the philosophical implications of Euclid and Lobachevski.
The writing process itself begins early in the first semester. Seniors are required to submit a short description of their topic and the name of their faculty advisor to the Dean for review and approval. After receiving a thumbs-up, most students begin working on an outline in advance of the dedicated writing period, often finding that the original description of what they thought they would write differs from what the keyboard types. It is an expected and important part of the process that your ideas change over time, whether you begin writing in November or you are simply mulling your thesis in your head. For this reason, you are required to submit an updated description a couple of weeks before the due date.
By the time January hit, we were all in different places. Without any required academic attendance on campus, the seniors of St. John’s College still lingered around the world spending more time at home or travelling, though most of us were back on campus soon enough.
You will hear from all of the classes before you that the senior writing period is a time for your graduating class to come together. Despite the wide range of topics, the common struggle to produce an article of original thought that you are ultimately proud of binds the class. We are schooled together in misery, as Aeschylus might say.
I would add that it does not happen right away. Most of the writing period is a solitary experience, fueled by the energy you bring at the start of the marathon. You might burn through your stamina, and then through the stamina that coffee brings, before you notice that the community is there, too, offering support. This is especially noticeable in the last week of writing period, as the Assistant Dean’s Office brings in snacks and coffee supplies to put together a senior lounge. While you might first make your way in for a clementine, you will stay for the faces you find there. It is between third and home base that the crowds in a baseball stadium jump to their feet and rally for a homerun; in the same way, it is in that final stretch that I looked around and felt the support of my peers as I sent waves of admiration back to them.