Chris McGowen (A19) is a US Navy veteran and undergraduate at St. John’s College in Annapolis.
St. John’s College: How did you come to St. John’s?
Chris McGowen: St. John’s was an opportunity that I didn’t know about until I was stationed at Fort Meade [in Maryland for the Foreign Service Institute]. My wife and I decided to buy a house in Annapolis, and I was riding a bike around one day and saw the college. I googled the Program and thought, “Yep, that’s it.” I knew that was what I wanted to do.
SJC: What was your role in the Navy?
CM: I learned Chinese in [Monterey, California]—Mandarin for 63 weeks. That’s where I met my wife. She’s also a Chinese linguist and we went to Hawaii after that and spent three years there. [On our] way back [to Maryland] they sent me to another language school and I learned Hausa, a Nigerian dialect. And that was it. I was done with the military on August 21 and I started here on August 27.
SJC: With your language background, how have you enjoyed learning Greek?
CM: Chinese is different from anything anybody can imagine. [Greek has] been easier than it would have been. I remember taking Latin in high school and it wasn’t particularly difficult but it was still foreign. Now having done a couple of languages before Ancient Greek the foreignness isn’t a big issue; you can see the web of ideas more than the words. And I think that is what we are trying to get at here with Ancient Greek—[it] is more of the idea of language than a specific language.
SJC: How has the military informed your time at St. John’s?
CM: The military gives you a very specific style of discipline, which sometimes doesn’t come as naturally here. I’ve actually had a little bit of an issue with the amount of freedom that I have now. My life prior to this has been: show up at six in the morning and go home at four and do your work and that’s it. No free time in the middle of it to make your own schedule.
SJC: What has been your favorite reading so far?
CM: So far I think my favorite has been Plutarch, specifically Lycurgus. I’m curious about the intersection of culture and law [in Sparta]. Their laws lasted for five hundred years but didn’t need to be written down; it was something that was so ingrained in people. That’s their morality, that’s the way they are going to live. Do we make our laws because of our morality, or are our laws shaping our morality?
SJC: What do you plan on doing after graduation?
CM: I’ve been going to a lot of the events that the Career Services Office will put on. I can’t even imagine what four years from now will be like and what the opportunities will be. It feels easy to go back to the government side. If that is what happens, that’s fine, [but] there’s so much more that I didn’t think about before.
St. John’s College values military service and provides Yellow Ribbon funding to every qualified applicant who is accepted. We enthusiastically welcome veterans and their dependents to both our undergraduate and graduate programs. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
—Brady Lee (AGI14)