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Santa Fe Campus Celebrates Class of 2019

May 21, 2019 | By Kimberly Uslin

Students on the Santa Fe campus celebrated Commencement on Saturday, May 18. 

The St. John’s College Class of 2019 celebrated their Commencement on a bright, windy Saturday in Santa Fe this past weekend.

A class of 70 undergraduates and 18 Graduate Institute students received their diplomas on the Placita, while the St. John’s College chorus sang “Sicut Cervus,” “Sitivit Anima Mea,” and “An Irish Blessing” at turns and family and friends looked on from the grassy knoll.

Among the day’s highlights were the presentation of awards and prizes. Two seniors took home the coveted Best Senior Essay Prize—Silas Casimir Blunk (SF19) and Thomas George Samuels (SF19), while Jack William Isenberg (SF19) was given the Faculty Award for Sustained Academic Excellence. Adna Arnaout (SF19) received the Senator Millard E. Tydings Memorial Prize for public speaking, and Loren Carol Mudd (SF19) received the Don Cook Student Leadership Award. Rebecca Lynn Sprague (SF19) earned the Dean’s Award for College Service, and Adashi Margaret Odama (SF19) was honored with the Walter S. Baird Prize for achievement in the Arts and Literature. Finally, the following seniors received the St. John’s Activity Center for their leadership, professionalism, hard work, and good will: Ngonidzashe Bhejana (SF19), Oona Bella Bjornstad (SF19), and Joshua Burton Hirsch (SF19).

Undergraduate and Graduate Institute “underclassmen” received recognition, too, with prizes awarded for Best Essay—Lincoln Anthony (SF22), Madeleine Pugsley (SF22), Portia Abbott (SF21), Tang Li (SF21), Kaitlyn Josephson (SF20), and Philippa Scott (GILA)—original music compositions, mathematical problems, original fiction, Greek translation, French translation, and other accomplishments.

The lovely day, said commencement speaker David Neidorf (SFGI86), was a far cry from the weather at the very first of the campus’ Commencement ceremonies in 1968.

“As it happens, I was present as a very small child at the first graduation on this campus,” he recalled in his speech. “Things run a lot more smoothly now. Back then, it rained hard—everyone got good and wet, and only then was the ceremony moved into the dining hall.”

Neidorf, the president of alternative education institution Deep Springs College, has strong ties to St. John’s. In addition to his status as an alumnus of the Graduate Institute, he is also the son of longtime St. John’s tutor and Santa Fe dean Robert Neidorf, and father of graduating senior Sonia Neidorf (SF19).

In the decades since that damp debut, however, he argues that the atmosphere hasn’t changed too much.

“The disorder felt natural somehow, because it felt to a lot people … like the country was coming apart, like things that had been stable were shifting, like the political norms that the population had grown up with were melting away before their eyes,” he said. “Just a few weeks before that graduation in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated … and male students at the college were wearing blue jeans and growing their hair long and turning into hippies.”

“Imagine for a minute, this atmosphere of high cultural tension, soggy programs, streaking makeup and damp clothing on shivering bodies, shuffling chaotically into the dining hall,” he continued. “And now imagine the commencement speaker delivering what I remember as at least an hourlong diatribe about the Cold War. I’m pretty sure he called it the attack of the Slavs … I assumed he was talking about those dirty hippies and it was the attack of the ‘slobs.’”

It’s a funny scene, he explained, but the crux is the same: a commencement speaker laying out the “crisis state of the world” and encouraging the graduating class to go out and fix it, to address the failures of previous generations and push forward against ever-stacked odds.

“The work of saving the world, therefore, is the work that you already know … miracles of devotion, persistence, friendship, and understanding. It gets done the same way you wrote your senior essay or your last Graduate Institute paper. It gets done slowly and dramatically, by fits and starts, sentence by sentence. Some people finish early, some people finish late, but eventually that first paragraph pointed the way to the last page. It wasn’t just a good practice for life. It is life.”

After Neidorf’s speech, degrees were conferred to each of the new Johnnie alumni, and President Mark Roosevelt addressed the class a final time.

“I hope as time goes on that you will be as proud of what you’ve done as we,” he said in closing. “And I hope that you’ll remember as Johnnies when people, advisors and others, try to convince you that it’s who you know in the world that matters, you as Johnnies will be able to say ‘No, sir, it is whom you know in this world that matters.’”

Congratulations to the Class of 2019!