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Annapolis Welcomes 156 New "Johnnies"
ANNAPOLIS - St. John's College opened the 2008-09 academic year with 492 students in Annapolis, including 156 freshmen who officially became a part of the college community during a Convocation ceremony Wednesday.
During the ceremony, each student signs the college Register, and each receives a copy of the Liddell and Scott Greek-English lexicon, a gift from the college that symbolizes a journey that begins with reading the works of Plato, Aristotle, and other great thinkers of Western civilization.
This year, the student body at St. John's comprises the highest number of new international students enrolled at the college in 15 years, with nine new undergraduates from Nepal, Georgia, Turkey, Montenegro, South Korea, China and Canada. Sixty-four Johnnies (sixteen of them freshmen) are from Maryland.
In his Convocation address, St. John's President Christopher Nelson spoke to how Plato's Republic provides an analogy for the distinctive academic program of St. John's College, where all classes are discussion-based and the books are considered the teachers. Mr. Nelson described Socrates' images of the form of the Good, the divided line, and the allegory of the cave—in which prisoners in a cave are shackled in a way that they can see only the shadows of the world outside cast on the wall in front of them. "Socrates gives us a drama to describe the great difficulty and pain we can expect in making the ascent from the world of images to the one source of all we can see and know. We cannot, on our own, turn around and see that these shadows are not real at all, but mere reflections of objects carried by people behind us who are passing in front of a fire which is the source of the light that casts the shadows. (Socrates) describes first the pain, then the disbelief, and finally the wonder experienced by a prisoner who is released from his bonds and forced to turn around and look into the light of the fire and see what the image makers have known all along."
The prisoner's education is "in the art of turning around, the art of seeing better, in a truer light, what is already really there, of seeing what ought to be seen," Mr. Nelson said. "Around here, we sometimes call this an education in the arts of freedom, or the liberal arts—the arts that liberate us to flee the bonds of prejudice, the false opinions, and the shadows about us, and see things as they truly are. Every image, every opinion expressed by the image makers and spin doctors around us, should be an occasion for us to pull ourselves, and others with us, out of our caves and into the light of the sun. We recognize that this sun is there for everyone in the cave to access. The entrance to the cave is open to all who are below."
Students read many of Plato's dialogues, but the Republic, a "beautiful book, filled with the richest of images" provides "the best account of what learning out to be," Mr. Nelson said. "It belongs to us at the college, and serves as a kind of model for our program of instruction. The book thus gives our students an opportunity to examine the education they are then engaged in, allows them to ask what it would be like to construct a curriculum fit for a philosopher king, and invites them to compare it to the one they are undertaking at St. John's."
Classes begin Thursday for both undergraduates and students in the Graduate Institute of Liberal Education, which welcomes 21 new students and 52 returning students.