St. John’s College Seniors to Ring Bell in Annual Tradition

ANNAPOLIS, MD [January 29, 2024] — The bell of St. John’s College’s McDowell Hall will ring overnight Saturday into Sunday, February 4, between midnight and 1:30 a.m., as 100 students at the third oldest college in the country continue an annual tradition that marks a senior rite of passage. Each of this year’s seniors will be allowed one celebratory peal, marking the completion of the senior essay that is due that evening. The Mayor’s Office grants the college a special exemption to the city of Annapolis’ noise ordinance, allowing the long-standing tradition to continue.

Seniors will turn in their essays on Saturday, February 3, at the president’s house. They then return to campus to ring the bell in McDowell Hall’s cupola (done with the push of a button).

“In the senior essay our students use what they’ve learned over the past four years of demanding studies to delve into a topic of their choice. It is often thought of as the culmination of their work at the college,” says Dean Susan Paalman. “The essay is not a piece of scholarship or research, but the extended pursuit of a difficult question in dialogue with a great author.”

In the first semester, each senior selects a book (or, a play, piece of music, or poetry), a question, and a faculty advisor. The student and advisor meet periodically in the first semester to discuss the work and define the project. In the first four weeks of the second semester, senior classes are suspended for essay writing. Later this spring, seniors will participate in formal, hour-long oral exams on their essays. Some of this year’s essay topics include Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Augustine’s Confessions, Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk, Plato’s Laws, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Shakespeare’s King Lear.


St. John’s College is the most distinctive liberal arts college in the country due to our interdisciplinary program, in which 200 of the most revolutionary great books from across 3,000 years of human thought are explored in student-driven, discussion-based classes. By probing world-changing ideas in literature, philosophy, mathematics, science, music, history, and more, students leave St. John’s with a foundation for success in such fields as law, government, research, STEM, media, and education. Located on two campuses in two historic state capitals—Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico—St. John’s is the third-oldest college in the United States and has been hailed as the “most forward-thinking, future-proof college in America” by Quartz and as a “high-achieving angel hovering over the landscape of American higher education” by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more at

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