“The reason I fell in love with this place was the dynamic nature of the classroom. Ideas matter here and learning isn’t just a buzzword. People weren’t just taking classes—they were exploring ideas that mattered to them in a spirit of intellectual friendship.”
Victoria Mora, vice president for Advancement at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, was participating in her first autopsy as a pre-med student at the University of New Mexico when she had an epiphany. As she prepared to make the midline incision, the sheet was pulled back and she saw that the deceased was a man whose blood she’d been drawing for several months. She was so personally moved and intellectually fascinated by the profound difference between the living body and the dead body that she changed her major to philosophy and wound up earning a PhD at Yale University, specializing in phenomenology of the body, of course.
Other than while she was at Yale and when traveling, Ms. Mora has spent her life in New Mexico. She began her career at St. John’s in 1992 as a tutor, which is the title held by faculty at the college. Coming to St. John’s fulfilled her longstanding wish to do the Program, which she’d considered seriously after her experience at the Veteran’s Hospital with the autopsy but didn’t pursue, something she now refers to as a “failure of imagination,” perhaps because as a first-generation college student, she couldn’t quite explain to her parents the value of a liberal education. After 14 years as a tutor, she spent five years as the dean of the college; she stepped into the vice presidency in 2012. It was a difficult decision to stay away from the classroom, to which deans at the college usually return, but she is dedicated to her role in advancing the alumni relations activities, communications, and fundraising of the college. She sees collegiate advancement as the business of being deeply concerned with the existence of St. John’s over time; as making sure that the resources are in place to ensure that future generations will have access to this special learning community and the lifelong difference it makes for alums.
Ms. Mora is married to Tomás Fernandez, a retired teacher; she has two teenage children, three adult step-children, three daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. Her hobbies are reading (now more to herself than to her children), gardening, and fishing, though her guiltiest pleasure is watching all things Star Trek with her children. Plato, Cervantes, Kierkegaard, and Dostoyevsky are among her favorite writers, though she is currently reading all of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, as well as a number of contemporary writers including Cormac McCarthy, Téa Obreht, and Barbara Kingsolver. She also enjoys non-fiction, from political autobiographies to neuroscience.
She describes St. John’s students as “self-selected,” because “they really have to have an appetite for intellectual exploration and the imagination to go where the ideas and the conversation take them.” They also don’t buy into the notion that some people just aren’t capable of certain areas of human knowledge. She “admits” that when she first discovered St. John’s, it was the high-minded reading list that appealed to her. But when she arrived on campus, she found the most democratic classes she’d ever seen. Unlike the classes she took at the state university, and even the classes she taught at Yale as a graduate student, where only a few people were engaged with the material, at St. John’s everyone was talking, and not just to the professor. “The reason I fell in love with this place was the dynamic nature of the classroom. Ideas matter here and learning isn’t just a buzzword. People weren’t just taking classes—they were exploring ideas that mattered to them in a spirit of intellectual friendship.”