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Alum Commemorates Impact of Eastern Classics Program

June 20, 2019 | By Kimberly Uslin 

Creig Hoyt (SFGI10) considers his education in the Eastern Classics program the most significant academic experience of his life.

When Creig Hoyt (SFGI10) first heard of St. John’s College as a high schooler in the late 1950s, he admits to being intimidated by the rigorous four-year Program. Fearing it would be “tougher than [he] could manage,” Hoyt opted instead for another small liberal arts college.

After an illustrious decades-long career as a world-renowned neuro-ophthalmologist and medical educator at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), however, Hoyt found himself thinking again of St. John’s.

“I was in a position in my medical career where I was doing a lot of administration that I didn’t like very much,” he says. “I decided that I really wanted to go back to school and learn something I don’t know anything about. That’s literally all I wanted to do—just learn anything.”

Hoyt, a frequent traveler (and, incidentally, the first American finisher of the famous Paris-Brest-Paris cycling event) had spent a lot of time in Asia, and when he rediscovered St. John’s Eastern Classics program with the help of his wife, Deborah, he was immediately drawn to it.  Within a fairly short period of time, Hoyt retired from his position at UCSF, the couple rented out their home on the California coast, and they signed a lease in Santa Fe.

It was well worth it.

“From my point of view, it was the single best year of education in my life, despite the fact that I basically have worked in universities from the time I went to college (except for my time in the Navy),” he says. “I think the format of the college really worked for me at that point in my life. It was really challenging. The seminar format was ideal for me; I’ve never really felt that lecturing was a very effective way of transferring information, even though I do it a lot.”

He was particularly fascinated by his seminar on The Three Kingdoms, a Chinese novel from the 14th century. Having studied the novel and other Chinese works, he says, enriched his relationship with the Chinese surgeons he teaches through his volunteer work with Lifeline Express.

The Three Kingdoms turned out to have considerable personal significance, too. Hoyt’s preceptorial was led by Peter Pesic, who became his mentor and close friend—and in whose honor he would later make a large donation to the college.

“We became friends right away because I realized that he was an extraordinary person and that his participation was really amazing—to come into something like that with such zest and naturalness, as if he’d been doing it all his life, was extraordinary,” says Pesic of Hoyt. “He just became totally absorbed in it, and the other students had the greatest respect for him. He always presented himself as equal to everyone else, even though he was older and much more experienced and clearly a person of great accomplishment and distinction.”

When Pesic heard that Hoyt was making a donation in his honor, he was “humbled and delighted.”

“His devotion to the college and his generosity is just overwhelming,” he says. “I’ve been amazed on a number of occasions and very moved just to realize how deeply the experience of being at the college affects people. The way in which our Program wins friends from people that even come to it later in life or with established ties to all kinds of other institutions—it seems to me a great testimony to the value and the compelling power of what St. John’s represents.”

Though Hoyt has been a supporter of St. John’s for nearly a decade, he decided it was time to make a more significant donation in 2019. His  gift is allocated toward the recruitment and retention of Graduate Institute students on the Santa Fe campus.

“From a selfish point of view, I want St. John’s to thrive,” he says. “When I describe [the program] to people, they’re very excited about what they hear. I have a friend at the gym who I work out with who’s handicapped, so he couldn’t come down to St. John’s, but he’s enrolled in an online program at Harvard now.”

The pursuit of knowledge at all stages of life is critical, he says, though he prefers not to use the term ‘continuing education.’

“I don’t see what I did at St. John’s as continuing education. I see it as a disruptive force. It was stuff that was completely new to me,” he says. “It made me rethink a lot of things and forced me to make very serious arrangements to my priorities and what I was going to do from now on.”

Hoyt eventually returned to medicine and is back to teaching medical students—but this time, he’s approaching things the St. John’s way.

“We use the seminar style. We’ll see patients from 6:30 in the morning through 1:00 in the afternoon, and then we’ll sit down for an hour and talk in seminar fashion. I tell the residents that I want them to keep a series of notes during the day, and I say to them, ‘Okay, what was the most interesting patient you saw today? What should we talk about?’ I try not to moderate.”

Like a tutor, then?

Hoyt laughs. “Maybe a poor man’s.”