Like many of us reading these pages, I was in the middle of that spring migration known as “bringing the kid home from college for the summer break” (and, we hope, the summer job). My daughter and I were having breakfast at the local diner with seven of her friends (who had helped us schlep her gear to the car–always a good idea to reward cheap labor), and I was asking them about their first year in college. What did they like about it? What didn’t they? What were the big surprises, how were the roommates? All those kinds of questions I’ve learned are fairly innocuous ways to get to know 19-year-olds and to pick up a little local flavor and some entertaining gossip. After a couple of sentences complaining about the food, they were ignoring me and talking between themselves. Talking about Aristotle. And Plato. About the nature of virtue in the Nicomachean Ethics and how Verdi captured love of country in “Va pensiero” from Nabucco. (“I’m not Italian, but I cry every time I sing it,” one of the girls said.) And what they were most excited about was coming back in the fall and studying the Bible. And the Gospel of John. In Greek. Like I said, I was stunned.
These kids loved ideas. And they spoke knowingly about them, but without arrogance or a pretended sophistication. They weren’t showing off for the visiting daddy professor; they were just doing at breakfast what they had been doing since September: thinking, and thinking about important things seriously but happily, too. (The importance of “fun” was part of the discussion.) The talk hadn’t been pushed in that direction, it happened naturally. These young men and women were truly college students. Studeo, from the Latin, “to be eager or zealous for.” They were eager for understanding. They had just finished their freshman year at St. John’s College in Annapolis—and they could hardly wait to get back.