From Summer Classics to the Graduate Institute: Amit Sheth (SFGI26)
March 4, 2023 | By Eve Tolpa
Summer Classics at St. John’s College tends to instill loyalty in participants. Since 1990, when a group of attendees convened on the Santa Fe campus for a seminar on Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, many have returned annually to partake in the school’s discussion-based courses on literature, science, poetry, philosophy, and film.
Proponents of the seasonal program, which offers four week-long sessions and a variety of class schedules, have described it as “an intellectually invigorating kaleidoscope” and “the most stimulating way to spend my time.” Then there are those like Amit Sheth (SFGI26), for whom Summer Classics was nothing short of life-changing.
In July 2023, Sheth traveled from Mumbai to Santa Fe with his wife, Neepa, to read and discuss Dante’s Purgatorio and Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Now he is attending the St. John’s College Graduate Institute (GI) as a part-time low-residency student working toward his Master of Arts in Liberal Arts (MALA) degree.
Sheth’s journey to St. John’s began after he fulfilled a lifelong goal of finishing Don Quixote. Long ago he had encountered excerpts of Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th-century classic while still in the eighth grade. He tried many times to read the whole novel in adulthood but often stalled at around 50 pages. This time around, Sheth supplemented his reading with a Yale professor’s YouTube series chronicling an entire semester’s worth of lectures. “I realized that what I was grasping from Don Quixote was perhaps just 10 percent of what this man was talking about,” says Sheth.
What if, he wondered, there were that much value—or more—to be gleaned from all the other books he wanted to read? What if there were an institution entirely dedicated to the kind of literary immersion he had just experienced? Strategic Google searches led Sheth to a St. John’s Continuing the Conversation video, and eventually he landed on the college’s website—and its Summer Classics section. The next step, he says, was obvious.
“I had never been in a room full of people who embodied so much love for enquiry,” Sheth recalls of the Summer Classics seminars he attended last year. “There was this tutor, David Townsend—I have not met a human being as full of wisdom and intelligence as that man,” he says. His group’s deep exploration of texts left him “happy, excited, and joyously exhausted.” By the time the week ended, Sheth was already hooked on the St. John’s method of pedagogy. He left Santa Fe determined to find a way to pursue a MALA and read books that, in the words of Cervantes, “can be a light to the soul.”
The owner of a thriving business, Sheth already holds four degrees, though none have provided him with what St. John’s offers. He received his bachelor’s in accounting, a master’s in plastics engineering, and an MBA, and then completed a law degree to become a better businessman, industrialist, and global citizen. “But now doing this master’s in liberal arts, I have no need except the love for doing it,” he says. “Engineering school and business school prepare you to make money. They don’t teach you to how do live a good life, how to deal with a personal crisis or an emotional crisis or a philosophical crisis.”
The GI is already challenging Sheth to reconsider many long-held personal assumptions, and he is becoming more aware of the circumstances that led him to make them in the first place. “I’m 57 years old and have been fairly successful in life,” he says. “When your life goes like that, you start trusting your own judgment and believing that what you are saying is the truth, and sometimes the whole truth.”
Part of the value Sheth receives from St. John’s is the space to reorient his reading approach through collaborating with classmates. “I thought I knew what a text was saying, and yet somehow there were 12 other people who saw it completely differently, and they were all spot-on as well,” Sheth reflects. “As an individual, we have maybe one or two interpretations; we are limited by our experiences and our life. But when you sit in that class, you’re essentially reading it 12 times.”
He is also beginning to discover for himself what tutors mean when they talk about a “close reading.” “Often in, say, a 700-page book, you’re essentially missing perhaps two or three hundred pages. You think you’ve read them, but you have not read them because you gloss over so much,” says Sheth. “Now I’ve slowed down to ensure that I do not presume what is in a line.”
Now several months into the GI, Sheth’s commitment to his St. John’s education keeps growing—while also, paradoxically, coming full circle. “I am planning to go again for Summer Classes in 2024,” he says. “As long as I can afford it and as long as I can travel, I’m going to keep a connection with that campus. Because to be in the company of people who are so well-read and articulate and polite is priceless.”
Summer Classics includes 32 curated seminars, offered over four weeks, either online or in person on the Santa Fe campus. They allow participants to consider the heart of the matter in the topic or text of their choice. From history and literature to mathematics and science, from poetry and philosophy to cinema and opera, we invite you to gather around the summer seminar table where essential themes from great books inspire great conversations. Registration is now open for 2024. Explore our Summer Classics catalog.