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A Warm Welcome in a Cold Winter

January 20, 2017 | By Samantha Ardoin (SF16)

Santa Fe students Sierra Engdahl and Will Thompson are organizing a dinner for January freshmen.
Santa Fe students Sierra Engdahl and Will Thompson are organizing a dinner to welcome January freshmen.

It takes a certain kind of boldness to begin studies at St. John’s College at the peak of the winter season, especially in Santa Fe and at breakneck speed.

Still, one group of Johnnies attempts this challenging feat each year: January freshmen, who complete freshman year on an accelerated track that propels them through the summer.

Though trips to the opera or Abiquiu Lake boost student morale during the hot summer months, completing the program in 3 ½ years can be demanding. Success requires support from the entire community.

So, what better way to welcome January freshmen to the Santa Fe campus and integrate them into the St. John’s community than to invite them to dinner and a lecture?

Enterprising freshmen Will Thompson and Sierra Engdahl decided to make this idea a reality. Besides their entrenchment in Thucydides and Plato, they are now in the midst of organizing a special dinner, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on February 3, right before tutor Michael Grenke’s lecture on Aristophanes’ Birds.

A’viands will cater a buffet-style meal for the January freshmen, several tutors, and the first 25 fall freshmen who RSVP. More than 20 fall freshmen already secured their spots.

Grenke will also attend the dinner and briefly discuss the topic of his lecture. All January freshmen, known commonly as “JFs,” are welcome and encouraged to attend.

“Will and I were trying to think of different, yet fun, events to introduce the January freshmen to the school, and Friday Night Lectures are a part of the curriculum that often gets overlooked,” Engdahl says on the inspiration for the event.

Many students, alumni, and members of the Santa Fe community attend these lectures, bringing about a sense of vitality for the classics.

As attendance at the lectures is not required, some students forego them for some much needed end-of-the-week rest and relaxation. However, these lectures, and the often-heated question-and-answer sessions that follow, offer pivotal moments in a Johnnie’s intellectual life, and give students an opportunity to get to know their peers and tutors in a different way.

“We thought doing a dinner before would be an exciting way to make them comfortable with coming to the lectures while also getting to meet with peers and tutors,” Engdahl says.

Neither Engdahl nor Thompson have any prior experience with event organization, but when they talk about the process they speak as if it’s been a breeze, reflecting the administration’s enthusiasm as well.

“We’ve been working really closely with the Dean’s office to plan everything,” Engdahl says. “They’ve been so helpful throughout this entire process. (Dean Matt Davis) was so supportive of the idea and even fellow students we’ve talked to about the dinner have offered to help in any way they can.”

Thompson says he and Engdahl were able to procure funding for the event through the Carol J. Worrell Annual Lecture Series, which helps promote gatherings related to literary lectures.

“Everyone has been excited for this event,” Engdahl says. “We’ve received lots of positive feedback from current freshmen and faculty.”

With such a response, it is easy to imagine this event becoming a tradition for years to come.