Plato in July: January Freshmen Finish First-Year Reading over the Summer
While most students begin the Program in the fall, a small but dedicated group of students arrive at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, at the dawn of the new year to become January Freshmen.
The JFs, as they are known on campus, are a diverse and ambitious lot. Some are 18 years old and some are in their twenties or thirties. Some are just beginning their college careers, while some are transferring from other colleges and universities or returning to begin school anew after a hiatus. The JFs start out one semester behind the rest of the freshman class and then stay over the summer to complete the second semester, so that by the time their peers return in August, everyone is equally prepared for sophomore year.
Samantha Ardoin originally went to a liberal arts college closer to her home in Massachusetts, with the goal of studying English and creative writing, even though St. John’s was her first-choice school. Just weeks into her freshman year, she realized she’d made a mistake and made plans to transfer as soon as possible.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to wait an entire year, so coming as a January Freshman was partly convenience and partly the excitement of coming out to Santa Fe. St. John’s is an even stronger community than I thought it would be. Because the Program is difficult, you have to rely on other people to help you through it, which is a good thing.”
James Spencer-Zavos was majoring in photography at a liberal arts college before he considered transferring to an art school like the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The more he thought about transferring, the more he remembered his time as a prospie at St. John’s College, Annapolis, and how at 17 he convinced himself that the application essay was beyond his capability. He decided to give it another try, this time choosing the Santa Fe campus because he was able to come right away in January.
Born in Russia, Nina Medvinskaya moved to New York City with her family when she was a baby. She grew up dancing and attended a ballet conservatory before getting her first professional job with the Maryland Ballet Theater. She lived near the Annapolis campus and found herself attending lectures and getting to know the students and the Program.
“I couldn’t believe it was a college,” she recalled. “It was unlike any other campus I’d ever encountered. I spent the majority of that year looking at what they were reading and realizing that I wanted to apply. Because I’m from the East coast and I’d already lived in Annapolis, I knew that if I was going to make this change in my life, I wanted to experience a different side of America by coming to Santa Fe.”
During their summer semester, the JFs are reading Aristotle and Ptolemy, and translating Plato’s Meno from Greek to English. They are also going on school-sponsored trips around northern New Mexico and getting to know Santa Fe. “We’ve been going rock-climbing at a gym in town a couple of times a week, and swimming at the Chavez Center,” Nina said. “We go on hikes all the time and we rent bikes from the Student Activities Center and ride downtown to the plaza or to Canyon Road, which is my favorite place. I’ve been to the Farmers Market—and I went to the rodeo for the first time! I’m having a blast. Before I got here, I was worried that all the JFs would be people who had been studying all their lives. I read, but I’d been dancing. But it all worked out. Opening up to these incredible texts has opened up a whole new world for me. I’m very pleased with my decision.”