Every year the bell of St. John's College's McDowell Hall rings to mark an important rite of passage for seniors at the country's third oldest college. Approximately 108 seniors will be allowed one celebratory peal between 12:30 and 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, February 2, commemorating the completion of the senior essay that is due that evening. The senior essay is an exploration of a book or a question that is meant to draw on all the skills cultivated in four years of reading and discussing great books.
Seniors will turn in their essays to Dean Pamela Kraus before midnight February 1 at a reception at the home of President Christopher Nelson in Annapolis. Then they return to campus to press a button to sound the bell in McDowell Hall's cupola.
This spring, seniors will participate in formal, hour-long oral exams on their essays. These examinations represent the culmination of their academic life at St. John's. Seniors typically choose topics of particular interest to them from their studies of the foundational works of Western civilization.