Ramsay Scholarship Brings Australian Graduate Students to Annapolis

March 8, 2024 | By Kirstin Fawcett

Michael Connors (AGI24) demonstrating a Euclid proposition

Growing up in Queensland, Australia, all Michael Connors (AGI24) wanted to do was play the trumpet for a living. He followed his dreams and received his B.A. in music before spending the following decade or so performing on cruise ships and serving as a high school music director in Sydney and Brisbane. But in his thirties, Connors started questioning the world and his place in it. He turned to books such as Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and other classical texts for answers. Amid this soul-searching, a friend who was researching opportunities abroad tipped him off to one that “blew my mind,” Connors recalls: the Ramsay Postgraduate Scholarship at St. John’s College.

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilization in Sydney has collaborated with St. John’s College since 2021 to bring Australian students who have completed university to the Graduate Institute in Annapolis. There they spend two years reading and analyzing foundational works by Aristotle, Heidegger, Herodotus, and more while earning their Master of Arts in Liberal Arts (MALA).

“I was becoming aware of my lack of knowledge in Western civilization’s great books, history, and culture,” Connors recalls. “Where do we come from, and how did we get here? I really wanted to get that education.”

Connors applied and was accepted to St. John’s, and he pursued a Ramsay Scholarship, which covers tuition and living costs. Coming to Annapolis, he dove into the St. John’s Graduate Institute Program headfirst, taking courses across segments ranging from Politics & Society, Philosophy & Theology, Literature, and Mathematics & Natural Science. Many of these readings were ones he was encountering for the very first time.

With some exceptions, liberal arts education is not common in Australia. Students attend university to pursue a specific career path and aren’t often exposed to authors, thinkers, and academics outside their focus area.

“I think Australians have a utilitarian view to their study,” Connors says, “whereas a contrast exists in the States where people might do their undergraduate degree in something purely because it’s their interest. Then they would go into a postgraduate program in something like law. But in Australia, you would go directly into law in college, get your degree straight-up, and go right into practicing law.”

Connors has classmates from Australia who are also enrolled in the GI through the Ramsay Scholarship. Their backgrounds range from law to education, and some opt to pursue internships and fellowships in Washington, D.C., thanks to the Annapolis campus’ proximity to the nation’s capital. A group of them, including Connors, share an apartment on Prince George Street dubbed the “Australian Embassy,” where conversations often continue late into the evening after class has ended. “When seminar stops, the conversation doesn’t stop; your thinking doesn’t stop,” Connors says.

Connors says his time at St. John’s College has improved his speaking and rhetoric. Engaging in roundtable discussions with individuals from across the world has taught him to substantiate claims, analyze information, and consider competing viewpoints.

“Having to read so much is obviously fantastic for the mind,” Connors says. “But the skills that you develop in communication are really important. You’re there to have a dialogue.” These will help Connors as he prepares for his next chapter: post-graduation, he plans to return Down Under as an “advocate for the liberal arts,” promoting Program authors in Australian schools along with a holistic education model that serves as a jumping-off point—not an end point—for lifelong learning.

Brendan Boyle, Associate Dean for Graduate Programs, says that he is honored to think that St. John’s, through this partnership with the Ramsay Centre, is playing a role in the revitalization of liberal education in Australia. According to Boyle, the Ramsay Centre is committed to liberal inquiry grounded in foundational texts, in much the same spirit as St John’s. “The Ramsay Scholars who return to Australia after their time at the College will surely have a transformative effect on Australian higher education. It will no doubt take time, but these scholars will be at the vanguard of a return to truly humane study,” says Boyle.

“Part of the St. John’s education, to me, is about enriching the whole person—the whole mind,” Connors says.