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Application Essays

Essay Question 2016-17

The great books curriculum, two campuses, and lively, discussion-based classes make St. John’s College different. What about St. John’s interests you most? Which aspect of the curriculum or author in the curriculum intrigues you most? (Minimum 400 words)

Great Essays From Past Years

Check out successful essays from current Johnnies. There’s no one right thing to say in an essay, but these Johnnies may be a source of inspiration.

We asked our applicants: Why St. John’s College?

Nancy '20

I am interested in St. John’s education for many reasons, one of them being that the students at St. John’s study the original texts by these monumental thinkers. I am drawn to this since most of the texts that college kids read are textbooks, which are interpretations and expansions on the original groundbreaking work. In my experience, many things are lost in translation from original work through the years into our modern textbooks. Not only are some nuances potentially lost, but textbooks can take away the intellectual work of deciphering what the author is conveying. There is less exploration in thought on the materials. This is especially prominent in scientific and mathematical fields due to the technical nature of the content, that many students fall into a pattern of rote memorization and dulling natural curiosity or questioning. The Great Books being a part of the curriculum at St. John’s is quite critical to learners because there is no premise that students will be taught what to think and express, but rather how to think and articulate. Looking through a pamphlet that was sent to me, I notice that there are many philosophical texts in the curriculum throughout all four years. I find this intriguing for in my own studies I have found that the force of my questions which drive me to explore the subject in the first place can stem all the way back to the three fundamental questions that philosophers question. For instance, as part of the curriculum at my school, seniors are required to complete a senior project. The project can be on anything, but each student is charged with coming up with a question, in hopes that the senior project may be an answer of sorts. I chose to study Special and General Relativity for my project. My question is what does relativity tell us about reality, and why it’s important at all. In my studies I have been reading about Einstein, and many people consider one of his greatest downfalls to be that this pioneering man rejected parts of the rising field of quantum mechanics. Einstein spent the later part of his life working on a unified field theory, looking for an underlying beauty and order to the universe.

This prompts me to wonder if the universe is beautiful or not. Perhaps it is in functionality and mechanics, but many parts of the universe are uninhabitable and violent. What we know about the destiny of the universe is quite bleak as well. Most of our endeavors in this world can be tied back to a philosophical question, but perhaps this is an ideal life. However, in my experience this is the truth, and I would like to continue my own and very human tradition of questioning. St. John’s fosters a life of the mind temperament that I think could last a lifetime. The curriculum at St. John’s is actually not that different from the curriculum at my school as I attend a Waldorf school. I began attending the Waldorf school when I was in 7th grade. From this education, I have not only strengthened immensely as a thinker and student, but as a person as well. I know the value of community and how to be a good friend. Waldorf school’s use a block system for teaching lessons that are roughly three weeks long. There are no textbooks, for each main lesson a student makes a main lesson book containing all original work. There is a substantial amount of time devoted to the arts and physical movement as well. All the classes are taught seminar-style and the most any classroom has is 25 kids. I have truly thrived in this kind of mindful learning environment, and think it would be imprudent to pursue an education that may be heavy in testing and memorization.

Andrew '20

To this day, I have found only two bookstores that carry The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino. The first is a small bookstore in Soho, New York City, and the second is the St. John’s campus bookstore in Santa Fe. When my mom handed me Cosmicomics in New York and said that I might like it, I was pretty skeptical. I am reluctant to fall in love with book someone recommends. It feels too much like an arranged marriage. But once I started it, I realized that I couldn’t help falling for it. The book is composed of short stories. Each one starts with a quote, which Calvino uses to explain and explore complex scientific theories. For example, he takes the reader through the creation of the universe, mitosis and meiosis, theories about space and time, dinosaurs, the moon, and many more. The complex tapestries he weaves are hauntingly beautiful, sharing only a common narrator, the ageless Qfwfq, who relays each story as though having witnessed it.

For example, the piece “t zero” is one of my favorites. This short story is about a hunter, Qfwfq, who has just fired an arrow at a lion. The lion leaps at the hunter, and in that second the hunter can’t tell if the arrow will miss or not. His life hangs in the balance. He has a 50/50 chance of killing the lion or being killed by the lion. The hunter then considers the possibility of remaining frozen in time in this moment of uncertainty forever, where every possible outcome could still happen, but hasn’t happened yet. The hunter spends the rest of the story thinking through all the possible ramifications that come with choosing to exist only within a single second. He refers to this moment as “t zero,” where t is time, and the moment he is experiencing is point zero. Although staying at t zero is appealing, upon the end of the story the hunter must inevitably move through time into the next second (t one) where his fate will be decided.

I chose this story as an example of a book that I consider great and has influenced me because it showcases the fun, yet calculated, way in which Calvino relates these tales. This story and others like it in Cosmicomics influence me to look at the world differently, and cause me to question things we take as fact. Calvino makes me ponder the deeper questions of the universe. Who are we? Where do we come from? Why is there something rather than nothing? Is love bound by the confines of space and time? Although I don’t love having a constant existential crisis, I do love reading things that push me to consider new ways of thinking. That’s why I consider this a great book, because it takes creativity and self-­reflection and ideas about love and brings them together in new and powerful ways that make me feel more attuned to my surroundings. Although his writing is not easy to understand at first, I find that it’s worth the struggle. Everything Calvino writes is the perfect mixture of scientific fact and fable-­like fantasy, and I’m so glad that I took my mom’s advice in that bookstore in New York.

Emma '20

In society it is common for people to be lonely due to the lack of financial, emotional or physical needs being fulfilled, myself is no exception. However, the difference between them and me is that my loneliness is not from an absence of another person nor finance but an absence of people who share the same passion for learning as I do.

I absolutely “love” sharing my ideas and hearing the views and thoughts of others, especially when it comes to learning. To me, the idea of everyone having different opinions and thoughts about particular topics comes as such a beautiful thing. All individuals on this planet have different relationships, experiences, and environments in their lives. Through those distinct lives, they come to have different eyes in which to see, different noses in which to smell, different mouths in which to talk, different hearts in which to feel, and different minds in which to think about the world. Every now and then I wonder what amazing and creative notions are filling someone’s soul. That is the moment I need conversation with people who have different qualities that have ascended from their own distinct lives.

However, through my entire high school life, I was not allowed to have a conversation in classes. Being quiet was the unspoken rule of manner and etiquette, where the dominance of the teacher to teach and submission of student to learn by observation was naturally accepted by all members of every class. Yet that rule was toxic to me, whenever I learnt something I was always clamorous inside and out with tons of thoughts and questions floating inside me and desperately wanting to be shouted out and shared with others. Not only that, for me, saying aloud my ideas helps me to better understand and clarify my thoughts, and thus myself. Often I do not always necessarily filter or plan exactly what I say, however, while I talk I often hear myself say something and then make a judgment as to whether that is right or wrong and so from that I can arrange my thoughts from what I understand to what I do not.

Therefore, I was constantly stressed whenever I had to bottle up all that curiosity inside me and was not able to have a conversation in class to hear other’s views and project my own.

One day, I tried to break the unspoken rule. “Teacher, how about trying this way?” I said. The only reply that I got was the teacher saying, “We’ve got no time to waste our time on something that is not going to be covered in an exam right now.” With judgmental eyes staring towards me for interrupting the flow of the class from my teacher and classmates, I had become the weirdo who asked questions about useless things, which were in fact the most important things to me. What I considered important was different from what my school considered important as all their interest goes into exams. They talked about what the quickest way to memorize is and what is going to be in the test to memorize. Consequently, my interest and passion in other things only brought me loneliness in learning.

My values in education and learning had started to collide with the ones in my school. When I ask “Why is it so?” the educational authorities from my school responds, “It is what it is!” One day my Mathematics teacher called me to his office and told me that the problem with me was the constant question and doubts, saying, “Hannah you just have to realize how inefficient the way you study is.” Then, I thought, “What in the world does inefficient studying mean?” As I think learning has its own value in itself. The ways to achieve it are numerous and depends on what one’s purpose of learning is. In my previous experience of the education system that I was given in Korea had its purpose having the value that students could grasp a great amount of knowledge at short time from teachers lecturing. However my purpose was fulfilling my curiosity, rather than just memorizing other’s idea for the matter of winning or losing competition with my friends. Therefore the way I learn had to be different from the way of learning where the “efficiency”, which my school claimed, was mostly concerned.

Leo Tolstoy quoted, “All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.” The reason why I could not understand the education which I have been given so far, where students repeat the cycle of hearing a lecture, memorizing, taking exams through competition, it was not because it is wrong but because I simply didn’t love it. I think, for sure, there are people who found excitement from the education that I didn’t, and who are fond of it and get the best of it, however, what matter to me is what "I" love, what "I" find right for myself. Lack of love causes loneliness, and I think the reason I have been lonely in pursuit of learning is because of a lack of love from the people who love what “I love”.

Whenever I encounter something new, as my math teacher said, I have a habit of viewing it with the suspicious eyes. From the constant asking for fundamental understanding, I automatically start to approach it with various, yet ultimate views, such as, if this method is somehow linked to the one I learnt previously or if it could be applied in other ways. Then, why this way is or isn’t working or linked causes me to ponder continuously. For me, the process of learning is full of wonderful and surprising events. As I go with the flow of thinking, I often find myself at far-off place from where I originally started. Sometimes pieces of thought which seem to be completely irrelevant to one another, before I know become connected and make one amazing, completed puzzle of my own making. Not only that a realization as an extension of the confusing and scattered thoughts that I had over night, comes flashing out of nowhere into my head and all of a sudden align like a column of light while I’m brushing my teeth in the next morning. These unexpected enlightenments, which I call my “Ah-ha” moments, give me butterflies and make my heart flutter. These moments mean so much more to me than memorizing other people’s ideas for exam results. They are mine. Therefore, the “Ah-ha” moment that gets me excited cannot be overridden by artificial number in my report which my school thinks is so important.

When I tell people about St. John’s College, I usually explain I learned about it from an Educational Broadcasting System (EBS Korea) documentary video called, “Why Do We Go to College”. My actual first time, however, to learn about the college was on an ex-St. John’s student’s family blog. When I was in my freshmen year in high school I was obsessed with the idea of traveling alone, and while surfing internet about it I came across the blog where the family’s life was posted, along with their travel stories. Despite the fact that I found the blog for travel content, I was immediately fascinated by the college where the daughter (she announced herself as “Ms. Cho” in St. John’s College) of the family member went. She had kept a journal about her time at St. John’s College since she was a freshman (she graduated in 2014). Thanks to her, I could experience St. John’s College indirectly since the very first day through her eyes, from the first picture of Santa Fe airport to her fantastic St. John’s College life. Even though it was depicted from her perspective, St. John’s College filled me full of awe. The first thing that captured my heart was, of course, the 100% discussion-based classes with students engaged with one another in the pure joy of learning. Especially, the math class she portrayed was exactly all I ever wanted. How all questions are open to discussion in class made my soul comfortable, even questions like “I don’t even know why we have to demonstrate this formula” as one of her classmates said according to her diary. It seemed to me asking was not a shameful or interruptive act. No matter how fundamental, deep or eccentric the question was, it was put on the table and students were willing to have a conversation about it with enthusiasm to share what they were thinking and to hear what others were thinking. Not only that, I was also excited learning about other things in St. John’s Santa Fe such as Waltz party, Holi Festival, rafting and hiking, music, Reality, sports (I am personally interested in Kettle Ball!) which I could not experience in my previous education.

While I was enjoying my ongoing imagination of my own of St. John’s College looking up every resource I could find such as internet and book, I watched a Korean documentary called Why Do We Go to College which was a naughty video towards the education in Korean. The video represented St. John’s College (ML) as the director’s opinion of an excellent example of education. Even though I’d already known about the college, seeing video that actually filmed the raw and vivid site of St. John’s College, I was intensely excited. The spectacle of students learning from each other in the seminar free from competition was so beautiful that it made my heart warm with the fire of passion for hope to be there. Even if nobody told them to do it, the students were eager to learn from each other, spontaneously, even in the hallway, dining room, and outside in the beauty of nature. Students were lying on the grass so peacefully reading a book yet eagerly talking with couple of friends who took same seminar and then going back to reading again. At the actual seminar at night, they sat around the big table and the exploration of ideas started to happen on the heels of each other. I, as well, could find unspoken rules there with some of students using their hands and eyes as a sign of wanting to talk when someone else was talking which was heavenly, as opposed to the toxic rules that I had to observe in my previous education. Above all, I was amazed how tutors and students were connected with each other. I couldn’t find any dominance or submission in the classes and everyone was truly involved in learning from each other, whether it was a tutor or student. Indeed, I could hear the words of tutor Ms. Hauler saying, “I come in to class hoping that I’m going to learn from my students just like they are hoping they are going to learn from me, and from each other.” in another video, SJC Summer 10 minute, on YouTube.

I am so grateful that I found this college and from the first meeting, it has been and will be the one and only college choice for me. Still, I know, I will have to withstand a lot of hardships, especially as an international student. I am also well aware of the fact that there will be a reverse side as everything has one. However, as recalling my childhood, I know I will make it. When I was young, I always used to run around at the playground wanting to catch my friends while playing hide-and-seek. I ran and ran sweating all over and out of breath with still not having caught them, but at the moment, I was smiling and yelling from excitement and happiness as it was what I love doing which makes it “playing”, not work. Likewise, there definitely will be times where I will run out of breath at St. John’s College. However, there will be full of happiness and excitements which make me smile surrounded by Johnnies who are willing to play hide-and seek to catch utopia of learning with others and myself. Without a question I know, St. John’s College is the best playground for a re-born child and I will be doing what I love with the people who love what I love, in the place where I love and doing what I understand with the people who understand what I understand in the place I understand. How could I ever want for more?

Cathy '19

When I read about St. John’s program, I know I have found my people. There are two kinds of students in the world: those who view education as a means to an end and those who view education as a means unto itself. I, and I think most Johnnies, fall into this second category. At St. John’s intellectual curiosity is not only encouraged, it is a requirement. Unfortunately due to a wide variety of students and mandated testing, my school district has been unable to provide the level of intellectual variety I crave.

I have been in the same school district since I started kindergarten. It is relatively small, with fewer than four thousand students in the entire district. Due to budget constraints, there are less programs and classes for more advanced student. In the advanced classes that are offered, my fellow peers and I were able to learn more facts, but we there wasn’t enough time for a deep exploration of underlying issues. Often, more advanced classes only meant having more memorization in preparation for AP tests: not more critical thinking. I didn’t have to analyze things on a new level, or expand the way I think. This is characteristic of the greatest weakness of my formal education: it teaches us to pass a test, not to think independently about the concepts we learn.

Even though they had to teach us to pass state assessment, the teachers I have had throughout the years have made all the difference. They have answered questions I have had about topics outside of class, or topics that we didn’t cover in-depth in class. They are one of the reasons I have enjoyed my education as much as I have all this time. When I decided to take dual enrollment courses my junior year, I was glad to find professors were just as accessible as high school teachers (if not more accessible). I was able to visit them during office hours when I had trouble or wanted to dig deeper into a topic. My philosophy professor and I have spent many an hour discussing some system of logic or some difference in philosophical ideas. I learned that it is my responsibility to seek intellectual stimulation, not my school’s or my teacher’s.

Research on the website and talks with an alumnus (my philosophy professor) have convinced me that St. John’s is the place to seek and ultimately find, the intellectual stimulation I have craved all my life. I have heard what Johnnies are like; curious, motivated, with a love for challenging themselves. They want to learn all they can, not to pass a test or get a job, but because they simply want to have the information. In my classes up to now, I am usually the student who want to know more; at St. John’s, every student is that student. I look forward to reading and discussing great thinkers with other people who enjoy reading them as much as I do. I look forward to attending croquet matches, waltz parties, or dramatic reading of the Iliad. In short, I look forward to being in an intellectually invigorating atmosphere surrounded by people who love to think. A place I have dreamed of all my life.

Billy '19

I first heard about St. John’s from my dad, who researches and visited the college seven years ago with my older brother (who, alas, ended up elsewhere). He explained how everyone in the same year studies the same texts, how classes are formal but comfortable, how the college is one of the few places it’s possible to get an ancient education in the modern world. When I was younger, I didn’t quite get the appeal, but as I’ve figured out how I really learn, I’ve realized how amazing St. John’s would be for me.

I’ve been homeschooled my whole life, and that itself represents both a great strength and a tangible weakness. From the beginning, my education was almost entirely self-led—my parents provided guidance and hands-on experiences whenever I expressed a new interest, but they let me learn at my own pace and never insisted on a formal curriculum.

While I wouldn’t have chosen to grow and learn any other way, my lack of access to proper school labs and teachers means that I didn’t have the same kind of additional experience that most high school students do. Apart from any academic consequence, this had the interesting side effect of making me feel like I would be totally unprepared for what I assumed would be the vastly different college experience. Movies (and my brother’s stories) made it sound otherworldly, with four fifteen-page papers due every week and roommates with whom you have nothing in common except gender. And the classrooms! Until I started attending classes at Drexel University when I was 15, I’d never been in a formal classroom, and I didn’t know how I would do interacting with so many different people who already knew how to act.

That fear didn’t last long, as I found myself on the first day of class talking and relating to people I’d met five minutes previously. (It probably helped that I looked five years older than I was.) I’ve always sat in the front of the class, and I raise my hand when a question is asked. I’m frequently the only one doing so, though, and it’s discouraging sometimes. It has often felt like the other students in my class are scared of being wrong, and a lot of the time it feels like I’m the only one who wants to be taking the class.

A couple of my Drexel classes, though, have felt more like conversations and less like lectures, especially my Ethics class last term. Forty percent of the grade for that class was participation; students were awarded a point every time we made a substantive contribution. While the incentive seemed a little heavy-handed to me, the effect was very positive—it helped me discover that I think and learn best when I can talk to people about what they believe and why they believe it, and it seems to me that St. John’s is built on that.

I’m fascinated by the idea of a shared curriculum based solely on primary texts. As I saw during one spring I spent exploring Plato’s Republic with a group of other teens, shared inquiry inspires many different yet legitimate answers to the same questions. The classroom environment also appeals to me greatly; the way students learn primarily from one another rather than from a teacher lecturing at them is exactly my idea of a good experience. Reading is a central communal activity at St. John’s, and knowing that everyone around me will be as involved as I am in this approach to learning makes me feel like I’ll always have a connection with my fellow students, no matter what our differences might be. St. John’s—this small, community-heavy, inherently respectful school—sounds like home.

James '19

A teacher I’m especially fond of—herself a St. John’s MA candidate—introduced the seminar-style classroom to my high school. The same teacher facilitated multiple after-school Socrates Cafes: public discussions of eternal questions in the spirit of Socratic dialogue. I thrived in and enjoyed these academic pursuits, but they were only a treasured anomaly of my secondary education. The traditional approach of public schooled burned me out, and throughout the latter part of my four years I turned from my school-assigned studies to works of great masters for educational enrichment.

The St. John’s curriculum is a smorgasbord of works I planned to read on my own, mixed with some others I’m intrigued by. The great books approach was the first aspect of the St. John’s experience that captivated me, as it was mentioned to me in passing by the aforementioned teacher. At every other college I was accepted at, and even that I applied to, I felt that I would be left desiring an education more focused on intensive study of classic works of literature and philosophy, which caused me to choose a public institution instead of my top choices. I’ve gathered that I won’t face that issue at St. John’s.

The discussion-based classrooms only furthered my conviction that St. John’s is for me. There is no better way—certainly for me, at least—to build upon personal learning and to achieve the level of friendship described by Aristotle and in Notes in Dialogue.

I connected in that way with the kids I met at Summer Academy, and I expected I would with all students in such a setting. The great books program piqued my interest, the discussion-based classroom confirmed my affinity for the college, and meeting Johnnies made me very excited at the prospect of coming back. St. John’s is new to me, it’s different, and it’s the only true fit I’ve found.

Cate '19

Even before I could read I loved books. Most children slept with stuffed animals; I slept with books. I loved tracing out the shapes and letters, turning the pages, pretending I could read. The only thing I didn’t like about books was when people would read them out loud (and idiosyncrasy that continues to this day). When I finally learned to read, my love of books only increased. In elementary school I could always be found with a book in my hand. I read books about pioneers, astronauts, ordinary kids doing extraordinary things. I even attempted King Lear in third grade. I wasn’t quite able to read the original, so I was forced to resort to the “No fear Shakespeare” version.

This love of reading continues to this day. However, my reading material has changed since elementary school. I appreciate nonfiction more than I did as a child. Ever since I took my first philosophy course, when I am seen with a book in my hands it is a philosophical work. Reading philosophical works relaxes me. And I though King Lear was hard! In my opinion, Ludwig Wittgenstein beats William Shakespeare any day. Sometimes the difficulty makes reading the book more rewarding. There is nothing more satisfying than finally understanding a passage I couldn’t understand before. That moment of clarity makes the reading worth it.

The biggest moment of clarity that occurred through a book came from my ethics class. We read David Hume’ Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. In it, Hume argues that sentiment is the principle of morality and not reason. This was the complete opposite anything I had seen argued before. Plato and Thomas Aquinas, for instance, had both made reason and integral part of morality. Aquinas’s view is known as Moral Rationalism for a reason. When we read Plato in class, I had agreed with him. I considered feelings something to be controlled by reason. Acting rationally is something I strived for. Yet here was Hume, acting like reason didn’t matter.

I was a little wary at first. After reading Thomas Hobbes, all I wanted was someone to unite Plato and Hobbes’ theories into on cohesive theory. I didn’t think feelings would help accomplish that. Yet, as I began to read Hume, I realized he was doing everything that I wanted (and doing it better than I thought anyone could). It made me reconsider my thought towards feelings. Why did I think they were so bad and needed to be controlled? I realized I had been focusing on the bad aspects only. I had only been thinking about all the horrors man could commit because they became emotional: murder, rape, theft. These seemed to me obvious reasons for not letting emotions have a say in my actions. I was forgetting all the good tings men do because of emotion: feed the hungry, help the poor, support others. This is what won me over. Hume didn’t speak of letting anger, jealousy, or depression rule us; he said benevolence should rule us. Reason is inert; emotions are the only things that can make us do things. Therefore, emotions (mainly benevolence) are the impetus for morality.

The thought that reason isn’t the end-all-be-all of morality had a great impact on me. It made me think about my own motivations for doing things. I was forced to acknowledge that emotions don’t only do harm, they actually can help people. Reason alone cannot do everything and thus needs benevolence’s help. This is not to say I simply let my emotions run wild now; I am simply more aware of the various factors influencing me and can more effectively weigh them to make the right decision.

Brendan '19

Since September of my sixth year, when I sat down in my big green chair with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and taught myself to read full sentences, I’ve read anything and everything that interested me. My house has always been full of books, from P.D. Eastman and Dr. Seuss to an ‘80s edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica my parents rescued from a sidewalk and the entire Great Books collection we inherited from my grandmother. No matter how many times we organize, a week after the last effort I’ll come across a scientific cookbook (Cooking for Geeks) next to a German-English dictionary (Cassell’s) and Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. The only bookcase in my house I can reliably locate things on contains my Doctor Who novels, whatever Shakespeare plays I haven’t taken out, and a selection of classic sci-fi.

I’ll pick up books I think look interesting and start reading them, usually because I know the author or I’ve seen the book on a list of amazing books you have to read before you die. I’ll often read four to five books at a time: in my backpack right now I have William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (a disintegrating 1959 edition that I started reading because I’d heard it fairly accurately represented the breakdown of civility when faced with an utter lack of societal support) and terry Pratchett’s Night Watch (bought today, to be read for a third time). The book next to my bed is Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (a book I’ve been looking at for years but hadn’t picked up until two days ago), and the other two floating around right now are Sophie’s World (a novel that doubles as a primer on Western philosophy) and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods (which I’ve declared my intention to start reading, although I have so far only had time for the first page).

Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy,which I read for my Introduction to Western Philosophy class at Drexel, significantly influenced how I view the world. Descartes starts the book with this passage: “Several years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, […] and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted.” This idea—that we can go through life holding just as many, or even more, false beliefs as true ones—really hit me.

Since reading it, I’ve reflected every day on Socrates’ statement that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” I try not to take anything at face value, and I challenge institutional assumptions whenever possible. It would be all too easy to let my constant busyness and the distractions of daily life keep me from trying to understand the world and my place in it, but I won’t let that happen. I will forever be aware of myself and others, and I hope to never act on an unconscious bias. I know that Descartes was thinking that everything told to him by his senses might be wrong, but I think his revelation applies more usefully to behaviors and biases we learn from a young age as well.

Becca '19

I live a double life. It’s kind of like Hannah Montana’s, but without the wig, the singing, and the funky wardrobe. In one world, I am a fairly average middle child. In the other one? Well. I am riding a sad train with Anna Karenina, killing kindergarten with Junie B. Jones, plotting murder with Hamlet, sailing the world with Odysseus, burying the dead with the Bundrens, and kissing vampires with Rose Hathaway.

The Junie B. Jones series, by Barbara Park, was my real introduction to reading on my own. Before the B, as in Beatrice, I was content to have my dad read to me until he fell asleep. I was in Kindergarten when I got my first Junie B. Jones book. I couldn’t read it by myself yet, and my dad was in the middle of the first Harry Potter book, so the pick checkered cover was put on a shelf. When I was six, we moved, and a box of my books turned up in my new room. Right on top was Junie B. Jones. I was enraptured. I collected the series, and when I finished with the ones I had, I reread them and begged for more. Before the series, I had no real interest in books. I loved stories, and I liked scribbling on pages and pretending to write books, but turning the pages of other people’s words never caught my attention. I don’t know what made Junie B. Jones so special. I suppose it was the relatability. This double life that I live now is so different from what it was in the beginning, when I was a normal kindergartner, just like the heroine. It wasn’t like reading Plato, or studying Mark Twain, where I feel cultured and empowered, adventurous and brave. My favorite protagonist and I grew up together until I moved on from the third grade, finally outgrowing that special connection. But reading the Junie B. Jones books taught me to connect in different ways with other texts. I knew what to look for, what it felt like, and I desired to find that connection in other places. Junie opened my eyes to a world of possibilities, and saved my dad a neck cramp from sleeping at a weird angle.

Now, I keep my library card thin and toned, exercising it regularly. The workers at our local bookstores know me by name, and I keep business booming all the time.

I still get this feeling when I read, where I connect on this deep level with the characters in a good book. It doesn’t matter if I’m reading to my nephew or for a school assignment, there’s an emotional element to reading that I crave. When the plot thickens, I get anxious in anticipation, and it doesn’t matter if I’m reading presently or not, I’ll feel it. When a chapter closes in anguish, I’ll tear up until the mood shifts. When the main character is joyous, I smile for the rest of the day. If I’m reading discourses or intellectual material, I get excited when new topics are introduced, and I become pensive and talkative. It’s hard to leave the subject alone until I’m beating a dead horse!

I love to talk about what I’m reading. Discussion, for me, is a natural part of the reading process. The written word isn’t meant to be a solitary thing; it’s meant to be shared. For a long time, I bombarded my family with a constant but ever changing stream of chatter on my book of choice. Then, in eighth grade I was introduced to annotations. At first I thought they were tedious and annoying, but given time, I grew to appreciate the exercise. Now, instead of tiring our ears, I work away pencils, marking when I find something powerful, noting my thoughts in the margins of the pages. Then, when I’ve finished, I go back and read my own insights.

I think I owe it all to Junie B., and I’m grateful for Barbara Park’s creation. Reading is a central part of who I am, and I’m not sure if I’d be the same person I am now without my first heroine to guide me there.

John '19

I love a good book. Reading has always been easy for me, and I do not remember a time in which I did not enjoy exploring the world of books. I read whenever I have spare time. During my competitive skating years, my family commuted an hour and a half each way every day to the University of Delaware where I trained to compete in the National Figure Skating Championships. Studies and reading easily filled those three hours. I always had my nose in a book, whether I was in the car or between training sessions at the rink. I still read every night before I go to sleep, immersing myself in the world and story of a well-structured fantasy, or taking apart and analyzing books on political thought, such as the works of Mark Levin. The scope of my reading has ranged from the works of R.A. Salvatore, T.A. Barron, George Orwell, and Ted Bell, to Plato’s Republic. Some of my other readings include: short stories by Bobbie Ann Mason, D.H. Lawrence, and Joyce Carol Oates; poetry by Edgar Allan Poe, Wilfred Owens, William Blake, and Rudyard Kipling; and twentieth-century novels by J.D. Salinger, John Steinbeck and William Golding. I will always find something to acquire from a book, even if it is the simple enjoyment of a good story. My preferences gravitate toward science fiction and fantasy, my favorite of which is definitely J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

My more recent reading pursuits have included political thought, philosophy, and historical fiction. Last summer, I finished a pair of books by Glenn Beck: Dreamers and Deceivers and Miracles and Massacres. Each is a collection of short stories about historical figures and actual events. Prior to reading these books, history, seeming to be filled with disconnected facts, had not been my first choice of subject matter. However, Beck’s writing style in these stories brought me a new appreciation for history. Beck’s rich treatment of these famous characters takes them off the page and into the imagination, where they cease to be just names connected to dates. They become real people making decisions that affect us to this day. The most memorable of these was the Alan Turning story about his struggle against the Enigma machine, which was developed by the Germans during the Second World War. Turing’s brilliant decoding, in the midst of his fight against depression, could inspire even the most apathetic history student. Having read these books, I now view history with a newfound appreciation. In fact, I now enjoy learning about history. These two books helped change how I approached my learning process.

When I leave the house I usually use my Kindle for convenience. Technology has a few benefits, like being able to have many books in one place. I can have a large waiting list of my preferred books, all downloaded and ready to read. I am able even to buy and download anything I desire from the Amazon website whenever I want. However, as convenient as technology can be, I still prefer holding a book in my hands. I have always treasured the sensation of paper on my fingers as I flip through the pages of an engrossing story.

Reading has always been my passion and it likely always will. I have done most of my studying up to this point at home, and I believe I am ready to move forward into a new setting. The environment at St. John’s is stimulating, and I think it offers me a great opportunity to advance. I am excited about being able to break down and analyze the great philosophers and scientific minds of history, and I believe St. John’s will give me the best opportunity to do just that.

Emily '19

Discussing my reading habits is a little bit like discussing my breathing habits. I suppose I have breathing habits. I breathe through my mouth more often than my nose. I like to practice deep yoga breaths before tests, and when I run my breath falls into a nice steady rhythm in time with my feet. But the bottom line is that I breathe constantly because my life quite literally depends on it. I have a similar relationship to reading, which is why the questions, “Wait, you read for fun? Outside of School?” is completely bizarre to me. Of course I read outside of school. I have to read out of school. Reading is an integral part of my life—without reading, I would be a completely different person. I read the way most people breathe—constantly, voraciously, and so naturally that I hardly realize that I’m doing it.

At a recent student retreat, everyone in my class was asked to draw a timeline of our lives. There are a lot of ways I could break up my life timeline, from states I lived in to schools I’ve attended, but I could also break it up by my favorite book (or books). In first grade, my mother bought me the first five Junie B. Jones books, and I was hooked. My parents couldn’t figure out why I had suddenly become afraid of the dark until they realized that I was only asking they keep the closet light on so I could stay up all night and read. I loved Junie B’s adventurous spirit and offbeat humor. And most of all, I loved that she was a loud-mouth like me. I was a bookish child, but not a quiet one. Like Junie B, I knew what I wanted and I was always ready to ask for it. The series had all the traditional morals of childhood (be kind to your friends, tell the truth, etc.), but it also taught me that sometimes speaking up is better than sitting down, a lesson I still remember today.

In middle school my two favorite book series were Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Luna Lovegood was my hero in the fifth grade. I’ll admit, I was a strange child, and my parents called me spaced cadet because I spent so much time staring off into the air, unknown stories forming behind my eyes. Luna was weird, probably even a little weirder than me. She thought wrackspurts caused distracted thoughts and read the tabloid magazine of the Harry Potter word, The Quibbler. What I found so appealing about her character was how unapologetic she was about her oddities. When the other students at Hogwarts made fun of her and called her names she responded with kindness, because she knew in her heart she was brave and smart, and didn’t seek anyone else’s approval. I drew on her strength often during the rough and awkward moments of middle school.

By seventh grade, my fictional role models of the moment were Percy Jackson and Annabeth Chase. The Percy Jackson series was my first introduction to the world of Greek mythology, which would soon become one of my favorite topics, but that wasn’t the only reason I loved the series. Like me, Percy and Annabeth both had learning disabilities and yet, they were brave, smart, and heroic. It was the first time I had read a book about someone like me where they weren’t used solely as a token character or a source of inspiration. Instead, Percy and Annabeth’s learning disabilities were relevant parts of their character without overtaking their entire being. This not only encouraged me on a personal level, but it reminds me to this day the importance of diversity and representation when I write stories. I understand how important it is to see yourself in media for the first time because I experienced it. While these books will forever remain etched in my heart, the book that shapes my thoughts the most today is Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo.

When I read Les Miserables it changed my entire relationship with reading. I have a very good friend at my high school named Maddie. She is quite possibly the smartest person I know, and she used to constantly critique the way I read. She reads very slowly, often reading three or four books at one time, and even stops halfway through to write about the books she’s reading. Maddie would berate me for bulldozing through books, not paying attention to the themes and nuances, which often forced me to read books twice to fully grasp them. She was shocked that I, a self-professed book lover, had no concept of sub-vocalization. I didn’t even try to hear the words in my head, I just plowed through sentence by sentence, speeding towards the end.

This is a perfectly acceptable way to read books for fun, but it is not way to enjoy a truly great novel. When I undertook the task of Les Miserables I thought that I had prepared myself. I had already read two different unabridged versions and done some research. I know it took some people years to finish, but I was dedicated. It wasn’t until I realized that the main character was first mentioned nearly eight pages in that my traditional reading style wasn’t going to work. I decided to take Maddie’s advice. I slowed down—It wasn’t like I was racing anyone—and tried to hear every characters voice, hear the nuances of the words, and imagine how it would sound aloud. The book took me a full two weeks to finish, the longest it has ever taken me to finish a book in my life. And this experience opened up a whole new side of reading for me.

Les Miserables changed how I read. For the first time I could remember, a book had challenged me. I started reading more actively, highlighting and noting in the corners. Describing tone, syntax, and diction, a task once painful for me, became simple as I practiced sub-vocalization. I simply slowed down and tried to hear the words in my head. I once condemned poetry as a pretentious and boring, but I realized I was reading poetry completely wrong. Poetry isn’t about plot, it’s about beauty. You have to slow down to appreciate how the words sounds, how they flow into each other and then slowly drift away. I even began to write poetry, after years of telling myself that I was destined to write prose and prose only for the rest of my life. I began to appreciate the nuances of a person’s writing style, how diction, syntax, sentence length, and dialogue could play together like chemicals and making a book simmer, bubble, foam, or explode. And an appreciation for the finer point of writing has widened the genres I read—from fantasy to classics, autobiographies to mysteries, nonfiction to adventure and beyond. I still read voraciously, but now I read deeply as well.

Books are my lifeblood. There are so many in my room I think they’ve started breeding. I’ll move a chair or look under my bed and a pile of books will have mysteriously appeared. I read on my kindle, my computer, and in print. I read books, magazines, newspapers, and poems. No force on earth could keep me from books, and I hope that my breakthrough with Les Miserables is just one of many. I want to spend the rest of my life becoming a better reader, and just maybe, becoming a better person because of it.

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