No matter what year you are in here at St. John’s, it probably only took you a little while to see the diverse opinions of the school from the student body. Many run into problems early on and form negative opinions about it. But others are able to get past that and form better opinions. And throughout one’s time here, there is a chance of getting outstanding opportunities from St. John’s.
When I came to St. John’s, I wasn’t sure of what exactly the school had to offer me other than what they stated on paper. I entered the University as a psychology major, thinking I knew exactly what I wanted to do after school. Things changed along the way, and come sophomore year, I was a journalism major. From that point on, the opportunities came.
I started writing for The Torch and after wowing my editor with my first film review, my second assignment was a little better: I would attend a press screening of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and subsequently interview the cast of the movie. Coming from Santa Barbara, Calif., I knew I was not going to get that same opportunity if I stayed at home and attended UC Santa Barbara. I’d get to see the celebrities that live in Santa Barbara sure, but interview them? Most likely not. After that first round of interviews, St. John’s has given me the chance to meet more celebrities: Jack Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D; John Cusack; Neil Patrick Harris and Kal Penn (better known as Kumar); the women of Sex and the City. Those are just some of the names.
But enough about me. I’ve talked with several students who will soon graduate from St. John’s about their unique opportunities. What I found were varied results, but one thing remained constant: St. John’s offered them fantastic opportunities that they will remember (possibly) forever.
Khem came to St. John’s from the windy streets of Chicago, Illinois. When I spoke with him, he had plenty of stories that shaped his admittedly enjoyable college years. After making some personal judgement calls on what was the best thing St. John’s offered him, he nailed it down to the friends he has made.
“Without meeting the people I did freshman year and staying in contact with them, I can honestly say that St. John’s would definitely not have been the place for me,” Khem stated. “Everything from being up for days on end to intense arguments about what exactly constitutes a sandwhich, to spring break road trips (and) passing out face down in the sand.”
The experiences he shared with this people have been what has made his college years such a phenomenal part of his life, he ended.
Dede is also from out of state, coming to St. John’s from the great state of Georgia. She too also had a mental book of stories to draw from, but one in particular from earlier this year came to mind as her personal favorite. It was the Urban Challenge in Camden, New Jersey this past spring.
“This was a weekend that I and a few student leaders went to one of the most dangerous cities in the United States and ‘lived to tell about it,'” she explained. The trip was part of the service initiative here at St. John’s.
Dede expressed her concern going into the trip. She knew very little of the area (outside of its bad reputation) and said her friends were sure to “scare the pants off of her about this community.” Her fear brought her close to stepping away from the trip, but her decision to go would not haunt her.
“This experience was one of the best experiences of my life. The people of Camden were so warm, friendly and had so much pride in the community that so many were afraid of. After spending a weekend in their community, I must say I share their love for the community and its people.”
Dede went on to say that the people acknowledged their community needs work, but proudly believe that it wil one day be loved by others the way they love it.
“Even though it’s a cliche term, I learned from this urban challenge ‘not to judge a book by its cover.’ I looked past the fear of the unknown and took a chance. I opened my heart to receive what the community of Camden had to offer.”
Laura comes from the sunny state of California, more specifically from San Diego. Her experiences couldn’t be nailed down to any specific moment from the past four years. But coming from such a dramatically different part of the United States, just the simple fact that St. John’s is such a New York City school has offered her more than she could have asked for.
She described New York City as a sort of “extended campus.” The city has offered her opportunities to expand her classroom learning. She was exposed to arts and culture, as well as the wealth of history about New York.
“Not only are these opportunities that I only have because of the fact that St. John’s is in New York, but St. John’s also makes them all accessible through the many programs and University-sponsored trips offered every semester. If I had just gone to a state school or something in California, it would have been a completley different dynamic,” she said. Had she gone to a California school, she continued, she would have spent most of her time on or around campus, because the New York-type opportunities wouldn’t exist.
My last subject, and another Chicago native. A good amount of her time over the past few years has been dedicated to St. John’s, through service-based programs and more. She said she didn’t know what was in store for her when she started, but she has had phenomenal experiences.
The first of her two came in her time spent studying abroad during the pilot of St. John’s’ Discover the World program. The program offers students the chance to spend 15 weeks in three countries. For most that would be memorable enough, but Carrie was able to do something a little more special on January 31, 2007.
“I was able to shake the hand of Pope Benedict XVI. Every Wednesday the Holy Father gives an address at what is called a Papal Audience. St. John’s gave us tickets, so I went.”
She arrived early for a good seat and the Pope started his walk down a long aisle soon after. Carrie was lucky enough to be one of those whose hand would be shaken. “The crowd was pushing me from all sides, above and below; everyone reaching for his hand. I was surprised when he grasped my outstretched hand. I remember him stopping to look at me.”
More recently, Carrie was able to spend some time around former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Access to this was granted through Carrie’s membership in St. John’s’ President’s Society. The event: the annual Laughlin Society Reception, an event held to honor monetary donors to the University.
Mr. Blair surprised the attendees of the event, coming as the guest of James J. Schiro ’67CBA, ’95HON (a member of the St. John’s Board of Trustees). “Tony Blair was gracious enough to take a picture with the group and then shook all our hands and congratulated us on our accomplishments,” Carrie said.
Later in the evening, Carrie said Mr. Blair addressed the atendees, telling jokes from his own college days. He even included a story about coming home from Oxford wearing his mother’s old curtains. But his speech was much more than that.
“His message was one of hope. Everyone starts somewhere, and someone has to step up and be the leader – why not you? His praise of the mission of St. John’s and his general respect for the University overwhelmed me with St. John’s pride.”
With these stories, you can see St. John’s has offered people plenty of different unique opportunities. There are plenty of other stories out there, and we would love to hear yours. What’s made your years so special?