Posted on behalf of Aidel Townsley
Writing an essay is always a challenge but writing the annual essay at St. John’s? Definitely a learning curve. And freshman have the largest curve by far.
Once a year students of every grade are required to write an essay exploring a question on a text they had read this year, most likely a seminar text. They submit this essay to the dean’s office and it is assessed by their seminar tutors. While many essays are written over the course of the year, the annual essay is usually much longer, the only essay assigned for seminar, and is generally held to be of higher importance.
The page count of these essays increase over the four years, freshman having a minimum of ten pages, sophomores fifteen, juniors 20, and seniors 25 and beyond. Of course the quality of the paper is prioritized over any held fast page limit, in true St. John’s fashion.
To go along with this increase in length, there is also an increase in time off from tutorial classes, with freshman getting one and a half days off from tutorials, sophomores a week, juniors a week, and seniors a month.
This writing period was the most difficult aspect of writing the freshman essay for me. Because the writing period for freshman was so minimal you are really balancing a busy class schedule along with writing the most thought out essay you have written thus far in your life (at least in my experience.) People attribute this to a smaller page requirements or lower expectations for freshman essays but regardless, it was a tough act to balance.
My saving grace was spring break. Spring break was two weeks before the Junior and Freshman essays were due. I closely reread my chosen text (Nicomachean Ethics) within the first week of break, highlighting quotes that felt relevant to my essay topic. The next week I spent planning and writing more slowly and carefully then I have ever done. By the end of spring break I had about 6 pages that I felt good about.
But I was definitely not done. I had many questions that felt unanswered within my essay and I still wasn’t sure if my claims were air tight. Something was off. Within the first week of being back on campus I read through my paper once a day, changing and adding small things over time. The first weekend back I hit 8 pages. That following monday I met up with my lab tutor to discuss a part of my essay that was related to laboratory that I just didn’t fully understand and was holding me back. Her discussion illuminated my entire essay and by Tuesday I had hit page count, but not only page count, 10 meticulous pages I had worked hard on and felt proud of.
I still sent off my first draft to five people for edits, three being tutorial tutors, along with a lab assistant, and a writing assistant. Compiling their notes over writing period I added, deleted, and clarified according to their comments. And just like that, cover page and all, it was over.
The freshman essay is a learning curve but it is one that pushes you to meet your expectations and goals for yourself. It also helps knowing that everyone in the classes above you had completed their freshman annual essay, showing that if they can do it, you can as well. Nothing has been more rewarding then printing it out, knowing I had done everything in my power to understand my question and articulate my thoughts.