In the Cockpit with Graduate Institute Alum Amy Wilder

December 1, 2023 | By Kirstin Fawcett

“Perfect timing” is an oxymoron, at least in Amy Wilder’s (SFGI18, EC21) view. Between juggling work and raising a family, the onetime newspaper reporter in Missouri could seemingly never find the bandwidth to pursue a longstanding dream: attending the Graduate Institute at St. John’s College. After experiencing a string of personal crises, however, it gradually dawned on her that “there’s never a perfect time to pursue your goals and your dreams,” she says. “Being confronted with the fragility of human life makes you reevaluate this.” 

Amy Wilder (SFGI18, EC21)

Today, Wilder holds not just one but two master’s degrees from St. John’s: one in liberal arts, the other in Eastern Classics. She also serves as managing editor for Plane & Pilot magazine and is on the cusp of earning her private pilot’s license—a long-buried ambition she gained the confidence to pursue after tackling some of history’s hardest texts.

St. John’s College landed on Wilder’s radar in 2003 after the self-professed literature nerd received its “iconic stack of books postcard” advertising the Program, she recalls. She had just finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Central Missouri, and between the mailer and a Smithsonian article she had read on the school, she was hooked on the idea of attending graduate school there. But as other life chapters unfolded—a severe battle with Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, having kids, and landing a features writer job at the Columbia Daily Tribune—Wilder put grad school on the back burner until getting laid off in 2016. Shortly after that, one of her brothers ended up in the ICU for a month with a lethal combination of influenza and a coronavirus. Visiting him in the hospital and “thinking about how quickly time gets away from you” inspired Wilder to finally take the leap and apply to Santa Fe’s graduate program in liberal arts.

St. John’s ended up being the perfect place for someone like Wilder who had found herself at a crossroads in life personally and professionally. “You’re entering this conversation [through the Program] that has been going on for centuries about what’s important in life, and how we should evaluate these things in a way that makes sense,” she reflects. “And then we take that into our lives in a practical way. I felt like I came out of the Program freed from a lot of things I didn’t even realize I had put on myself that were holding me back.”

Wilder earned her Master of Arts in Liberal Arts in 2018, and post-graduation she was working in Missouri as the marketing director for a professional theater when COVID-19 hit. She had once had a hard time choosing between St. John’s MALA and Eastern Classics programs; now in quarantine, with the latter newly available as a low-residency option, she decided to return to St. John’s Santa Fe—this time, virtually. The conversations were just as revelatory as she remembered, and while they weren’t unfolding in person, “I was interacting with people from all over the world,” Wilder says. “I had people in my classes from Europe and Asia and all over the U.S. We wouldn’t have all come together without this opportunity.”

Wilder completed her Master of Arts in Eastern Classics in 2021 with more than just a second diploma: “I learned to approach something that seems impossible,” she says. “Before St. John’s, I could never imagine myself learning Greek, or classical Chinese. And then you find out that you can just do it step by step at a time, and these seemingly impossible, out-of-reach things become possible.”

That realization soon led Wilder to attempt the seemingly impossible: becoming a pilot. She’d long ago caught the bug from her brother-in-law, an Air Force pilot who gave Wilder her first flying lesson when she was 14. She’d initially pursued aviation in college and even at one point attempted to join the Navy wanting to fly. But lessons were expensive, and ultimately, she says, “it became one of those things where it kept getting like kicked down the road. Eventually, I thought, I’m just never going to do it. I’m too old. I’m never going to fly.” When Wilder saw on social media in 2022 that a friend she’d met in the liberal arts program at St. John’s was taking flying lessons, “it just hit me: I can just call up an instructor; I can take a lesson. I can do it. So I did. And it’s just been one lesson at a time.”

Seven months or so into her flying lessons, Wilder saw on LinkedIn that FLYING magazine was hiring—a perfect job fit, given her interests and experience. She scored a copy-editing job with the publication and was soon promoted to managing editor of its sister publication, Plane & Pilot. She loves the work, and her St. John’s education comes in handy at a title that covers science, engineering, and business. “I’m never going to sit in a work meeting and talk about Nietzsche or Kant or translate Tang Dynasty poetry or recite Chaucer in Middle English,” Wilder says. “But I can think about things through a different lens than someone who’s been trained in just one area.”

Outside of work, Wilder is still asking the same big questions she first took the time to explore at St. John’s, knowing by now that new life stages reveal fresh answers. “What will I regret not doing 20 years from now? What am I going to look back on and say, ‘I really missed an opportunity to do that?’” she says. “I think it’s really easy to find reasons to not do something. But many times, in spite of those reasons, there’s a way.”