Graduate Institute Student Spotlight: Cynthia Crane (AGI25)

January 26, 2024 | By Shirley Quo (AGI25)

Since 1967, the St. John’s College Graduate Institute has welcomed individuals from all walks of life, united in their quest to learn from history’s greatest writers, philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists. Spring 2024 was one for the books, with 118 scholars enrolled in the Annapolis program and 87 in Santa Fe; together, they comprise the GI’s largest headcount in decades. Among their ranks are teachers and lawyers, artists and musicians, retired professionals and investment bankers, part-time and full-time students. Some live and work nearby; others come from far away or do the program remotely through the Low-Residency Program.

In our new Graduate Institute Student Spotlight, Dr. Shirley Quo (AGI25)—who hails from Australia and worked as a senior law lecturer before matriculating at St. John’s as a 2023 Ramsay Postgraduate Scholar—profiles her peers in Annapolis and Santa Fe. By highlighting their wide-ranging interests and backgrounds, she’ll show that just like there is no one-size-fits-all analysis of a great book, there’s no one-size-fits-all GI student.

Cynthia Crane (AGI25) and her honorary Johnnie canine, Frankie the poodle

Cynthia Crane and her standard poodle Frankie are an Annapolis Graduate Institute student/service dog team who joined the St. John’s College community in Fall 2023. I asked Cynthia about her reasons for studying at St. John’s and why she chose to pursue a Master’s Degree in Liberal Arts (MALA).

Cynthia, who identifies as a Baby Boomer—a member of the generation born between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s—credits her mother, Mary Ann, as a strong influence. Mary Ann graduated from the University of Cincinnati in the 1940s with a degree in chemical engineering and fascinating memories of participating in the war effort as a student researcher.

During World War II, natural rubber supplies from Southeast Asia were depleted; the U.S. government was concerned that the military would run out of tires for their cars, trucks, tanks, and aircraft. In response, industry, universities, and government laboratories joined forces to produce synthetic rubber and to make and test tires from this material.

As an undergraduate work-study student, Mary Ann assisted the team who conducted research for Goodyear Tire & Rubber and the University of Cincinnati in working on a common formula to produce synthetic rubber. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati, she worked for Procter & Gamble before leaving the workforce and becoming a homemaker. Although Mary Ann came from a STEM background, she had always been interested in pursuing liberal arts studies: later in life, an unrealized dream had been to complete the MALA graduate program at St. John’s College in Annapolis. This is how Cynthia learned about the school and ultimately decided to attend herself.

Cynthia is married with three adult children. She grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio; moved to Connecticut to study at Yale University, where she majored in English; and lived in Massachusetts before settling in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has been published in the Charlotte Poetry Review, the Charlotte Jewish News (which she also helped to edit), and Blue Moon literary magazine.

For decades, Cynthia suffered from an underlying medical condition that was not diagnosed or treated early, resulting in serious long-term health problems and a reduced quality of life. A turning point, however, came in 2023 when her health had improved sufficiently enough to consider moving to Annapolis to study full-time for a MALA degree. In addition to fulfilling her mother’s dream of attending St. John’s, Cynthia was attracted to its classical-based model of reading and discussing the great books of the Western canon. Another part of its appeal for her lies in its seminar format and Socratic method of teaching and learning.

Cynthia moved from North Carolina to Annapolis instead of pursuing a low-residency master’s degree because she desired the on-campus classroom experience and to be part of an intellectual community in an academically enriching environment (i.e., Friday Night lectures, Socratic Society meetings, etc.) Extracurricular events and activities offered by St John’s, ranging from movie screenings to concerts, were also appealing to her.

I shall leave the last word to Cynthia. This is an extract of an email she sent to the St. John’s College Polity in August 2023 to explain her furry companion’s presence:

Frankie is a six-year-old standard poodle that I rescued from a breeder when she was a puppy. When she was a two-year-old, she started to warn me of oncoming health situations, giving me time to take medicine and avert a problem. We then did further training and a couple of years ago I began to go out of the house alone, then to drive, and now here I am at grad school and living independently.

If you see Frankie without her service vest, please come over and say hello. She knows when the vest is off that she is not working, and she will be thrilled to greet you.

Cynthia Crane