By Michal Kennell, Junior
One of the first questions I was asked when I interviewed for my campus job in the Admissions Office was, “What is your favorite reading spot on campus?”. As you can imagine, this is not the easiest question to answer. Johnnies spend a majority of their time reading, and the ability to focus on one’s book often depends on one’s surroundings. This means that the best place to read on campus is a hot and contentious topic; here are a few of my favorites.
There are a number of spots on campus that are very inviting and popular places to study; the library, of course, is a lovely place to work. Its high ceilings keep you aware of the infinity of thought and new ideas, as well as the other-worldly philosophy that Plato introduces to his readers Freshman year. The potted plants invite you to keep your feet on the ground and remember where you are and why you are choosing to be there. They remind me of Junior year’s Paradise Lost by John Milton, the perfect garden of Eden and Adam’s desperate yearning for knowledge and Eve’s indomitable curiosity that accompanies humanity wherever we go. My favorite place in the library, however, is a little table tucked in the corner of the second floor, half hidden behind the shelves. I like to sit at this table and look at the paintings on the wall with their obscured figures and pastel colors. It reminds me of the main purpose of my education at St. John’s: the effort to not only imitate what I see, but to grow and change and ultimately create something new.
Another popular place on campus is the Grassy Knoll. It is a big stretch of grass nestled under a gathering of different trees. This is a good spot to take in the sun during the warm months and lighten your workload along with your friends. Tutors will even take advantage of this lovely grove and hold class out there sometimes. Reading here is a delight, but the bright sunlight and the shade of the trees can put you to sleep as well as inspire you.
The coffeeshop in the Peterson Student Center offers another social space to study, complete with the classic St. John’s chalkboards. Most afternoons it becomes a bustling hub of activity as students write essays, agonize over Apollonius with the Math Assistants, or drink coffee and chat about everything from their favorite TV shows to translating Rousseau’s topsy-turvy French grammar.
These are all wonderful places to read, but each student has their own unique, secret place. Some people will take a short hike up the mountain and find a comfy tree to sit under, and read The Republic, The Old Testament, René Descartes’ Meditations, or maybe Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit as they watch one of Santa Fe’s unparalleled sunsets.
Others may venture into town and sit at a café to study away from campus, a secret Johnnie among a multitude of people who have never read Euclid’s Elements. There, two Johnnies might catch each other’s eye and show a knowing look–one that says, “Ptolemy, am I right?”.
But none of these are my favorite reading spots. Sometimes I do go to the library, or the coffee shop, or I put up my hammock on the mountain. But my very favorite place to read, as strange as it sounds, is right outside the lower dorm’s laundry room. Let me explain; there is a little garden just outside the laundry room. There is a lovely little bench, a few little trees that turn brilliant colors in the Autumn, and the most stunning view of the mountains on campus. Sitting there, especially when the weather is nice, is one of the many reasons I adore our Santa Fe campus. Somehow, when you read with a view of the mountains, you can find beauty in even the most cynical and depressing authors, and it makes those who are not so difficult to read so much more vibrant and joyful. The books spring into action before you, and every reading becomes a celebration of the beauty of the world, the mind, and the human spirit. This is what I think a reading spot should do. It should be a place where you can experience words on all levels, a place where you can find the peace you need to truly appreciate all that has come before you along with the new path you are carving out for yourself through this reflection.