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Letter Home, Summer 2009
Commencement 2009: Questioning and Courage
One hundred ten undergraduates received a Bachelor of Arts degree and thirty-nine students received their Master of Arts in Liberal Arts degrees during the college's commencement ceremony, May 17, 2009.
Heavy rain Sunday morning required the college to hold the ceremony indoors, and some guests of the graduates viewed Commencement on television screens set up in the FSK lobby and Conversation Room.
Tutor Anita Kronsberg (class of 1980), completing her third term as assistant dean this spring, was the commencement speaker. She told graduates not to worry if they fail to remember in perfect detail the paradigms and proofs they studied in their time here: "What is essential is a disposition to discover and to live that life, to inquire into and pursue what is good, what is right, what is beautiful—and this disposition you have cultivated in your time here."
Ms. Kronsberg's speech focused on courage—the kind of courage needed to enroll in a college such as St. John's, and the kind of courage needed to make a lifelong habit of subjecting one's own opinions and beliefs to constant scrutiny. "What is good is difficult, and questioning the opinions we cherish is among the most difficult things to do," she said. "It requires courage, and when you leave this college it will require more courage, for you will often be without communal encouragement to it. But you will carry with you a disposition to seek out this and other forms of what is good, and this is a resource."
In her address, Ms. Kronsberg likened the journey students take through the Program to that of the hero of Homer's Odyssey—in part because Johnnies spend their four years reading the works of long-dead authors, and Odysseus travels to the Land of the Dead. But while Odysseus made his trip to the dead alone to speak with the shades there, Johnnies are in the company of their "shipmates" as they encounter strange new things. They draw courage from each other.
"The illumination and enrichment of your life through your efforts to coax the dead into a living conversation will be different for each of you," Ms. Kronsberg told the graduates. "Some of you may have heard here what sort of life lies ahead for you, many of you are, just now, overwhelmed by the welter of possibilities. All of you have the disposition to enter into the experience of another as far as possible while remaining the author of your own opinions. Knowing better who you are, you know what it is to have the 'courage to use your own understanding.'"