FROM THE BELL TOWERS
A New President in Santa Fe
St. John’s Finds a Leader at the Council on Foreign Relations
Along with management experience, Michael Peters brings an international view
to St. John's College
At first glance, it wouldn’t appear that St. John’s College (900 students on two campuses) and the United States Military Academy (4,000 cadets) have a great deal in common. But Michael Peters, a West Point graduate and the new president of the Santa Fe campus, sees striking similarities between the two institutions.
Both colleges are founded on principles and missions and both have a clear sense of their own unique identities. More important, says Peters, St. John’s and West Point are among the few colleges still concerned with developing the moral character of their students.
“St. John’s and West Point both believe you can define what a virtuous life is and what a person of honor is. Both colleges believe that through exploration and thought and interchange a student can come to understand what it means to be virtuous, honorable, and a person of integrity,” he explains.
Both approach that goal the same way: “The instructors at West Point give the cadets a model of what it means to be a good officer. Similarly, the tutors at St. John’s give students a model for learning what it means to be a virtuous person and a good citizen,” Peters says.
On November 11, 2004, the college’s Board of Visitors and Governors chose Peters to serve as the sixth president of the college’s Santa Fe campus, bringing to a close a 16-month search to replace former president John Balkcom (SFGI00). Peters took office January 17, just in time to preside over the January freshman convocation. Prior to joining the college, the retired Army colonel had served as executive vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. A nonpartisan, foreign policy-oriented membership organization, research center, and publisher, the Council provides programs (over 300 a year) and services to 4,000 members around the world and the general public. It also publishes Foreign Affairs magazine and books on international affairs and foreign policy.
Along with experience in administration and international affairs, Peters brings to his new position a deep appreciation for the ancient world, rooted in his early life as the son of a military officer. His father was stationed in Ankara, Turkey, giving the curious teen the perfect home base to explore the great sites of the ancient world.
“My first two years in high school, I traveled all over Turkey, Cyprus, and the Mediterranean,” he says. “It really solidified my interest in history. So many of the classics we read at St. John’s are set in places vivid in my memories. I’ve been to Ephesues, Izmir, Iskenderun, Athens, and Cyprus. I remember walking through the Cilician Gate where Alexander marched his army to meet the Persians. As a teen, it was an incredible experience.”
Retracing Alexander’s route kindled a passion for history that led Peters to follow in his own father’s footsteps. After high school, he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 1968, he graduated and was commissioned an officer in the Army, taking command of a tank platoon in Vietnam.
After his tour ended, Peters earned a master’s in economics from the University of Washington, then returned to West Point to teach economics. “At that time every junior had to take the economics course. I had 15 instructors including the head of my department working for me. I was a captain at the time and had a full colonel teaching for me,” says Peters.
After teaching at West Point, Peters studied Russian then served as a Soviet military attaché at the American embassy in Moscow. Living and working in that city at the height of the Cold War was “a true adventure in every sense of the word,” he recalls. Ronald Reagan had just begun his first term as president, and U.S.-Soviet relations were rocky.
“You could never leave the apartment without coming back with a story,” says Peters. “There was the time I coasted into
the gas station running on fumes. Even getting gas was always an adventure in Moscow. There were very few gas
stations. The ones they did have were almost hidden—impossible to find. In those days you couldn’t pay cash—you had to buy coupons from the state, give your coupons to the attendant, then wait for the person to set the pump for the amount of gas you were allowed to buy. So I went to the window, my car on empty, and one of the coupons I had was torn on the
corner. The woman refused to take it. I kept telling her how badly I needed the gas. I even had the torn corner and offered to tape it back on, but no matter how I pleaded, she still refused. Finally I crossed my fingers and coasted off to another station that did accept my coupon—even with the tear.”
Peters left Moscow for Berlin, where he worked as liaison officer to the Soviet Army in East Germany, to work as a
conventional arms negotiator in Berlin. Later, during the buildup to the 1991 Gulf War, he led an elite Civil Affairs
Battalion in Saudi Arabia. He finished his military career by returning to West Point—this time as an administrator.
After retiring from the military with the rank of colonel, Peters went to work for the Council on Foreign Relations.
During his nine years at the Council, Peters served as senior vice president, chief operating officer, and director of studies, which entailed managing the research arm of the Council. His experience supervising scholars and researchers at the council will make him feel “right at home with the faculty and students of St. John’s,” he says.
Peters had been aware of St. John’s College for many years. After the executive search firm contacted him to gauge his
interest in the position, he took a trip to Annapolis to visit classes. He was impressed by what he saw and heard.
“I sat in on a seminar on Aristotle, then Ptolemy in math tutorial, and a Greek class translating the Meno. The experience really convinced me that St. John’s was a place I would like to be part of. The interaction between students and tutors, the commitment and enthusiasm of the students, and the respect that students have for one another, the tutors, and the books were all incredibly powerful. It convinced me to look seriously at the college and to find a way I could be part of the St. John’s community,” he says.
It didn’t hurt that in all their travels, Peters and his wife, Eleanor, found Santa Fe and the Southwest to be among the most beautiful places they have visited. They are particularly keen to attend the acclaimed Santa Fe opera—one of their new hometown’s many cultural treasures—this summer. “Wherever Eleanor and I would go in the world, we tried to take advantage of the local operas. In Moscow, for example, we quickly found out it was best to go only to Russian operas. Once you’ve seen Madame Butterfly in Russian, you’ll never see it again,” he says.
By John Hartnett
Michael P. Peters
At a Glance
Education: B.S., engineering, United States Military Academy at West Point; M.A., economics, University of Washington.
Recent Experience: As executive vice president, Council on Foreign Relations (2002-2004), served as the principal deputy for the council’s president in all areas of operations. Directed the research arm of the council, supervising a staff of 100, including 70 research fellows. For seven years (1995-2002), directed day-to-day operations of the council, including managing a budget of almost $30 million and a staff of over 200.
At West Point: As chief of staff from 1992-1995, directed day-to-day operations of the academy and led a community of over 10,000. Managed a $350 million operating budget. Directed a strategic review of the academy defining the mission and purpose of the institution for the 21st century.
Military Career: (1968-95) Chief, Conventional Arms Negotiations: Principal adviser to the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff, Army, on negotiation and
implementation of treaties to reduce conventional arms in Europe.
Commander, 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne): led an elite, 200-person, special unit responsible for working with local officials and populace in support of U.S. military operations. Deployed to Saudi Arabia in the first month of Operation Desert Shield; coordinated Saudi support for the logistical infrastructure required for the U.S. forces.
Coordinated the initial restoration of government services in Panama following the removal of Manuel Noriega. Executive assistant, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Soviet Foreign Area Officer. Assistant professor of Economics, United States Military Academy. Platoon leader, executive officer and Armored Cavalry Troop commander.
Recent reading: Snow, by Orhan Pamuk, a novel set in Turkey.
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Gilliam Hall Dedication
Linda Gilliam (right) with Christopher B. Nelson,and her daughters Alexis and Leslie
The newest dormitory on the Annapolis campus, Gilliam Hall was formally dedicated in a ceremony November 11. Family members of James H. Gilliam Jr., for whom the building is named, and trustees of The Hodson Trust, which provided most of the funding for the dormitory, attended the ceremony and toured Gilliam Hall afterward.
Gilliam was a trustee of The Hodson Trust and vice president of the Beneficial Corporation in Wilmington, Del., until his unexpected death in the summer of 2003. An African-American lawyer and business executive, he was also a respected civic leader and philanthropist who believed in advancing opportunities for others, particularly in higher education. To honor Gilliam’s memory, the first seven African-American graduates of the college attended the ceremony.
Long before he became a Hodson trustee, Gilliam came to know St. John’s through his service as a director of the Beneficial Corporation. He was chairman of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute when the foundation gave St. John’s its first grant, for $1 million. “He was proud that we received it, and it showed,” said Christopher Nelson, president of the Annapolis campus.
The college is honored that the new dormitory will bear Gilliam’s name, he added. “I came to admire Jim as someone who reflected the ideals of our community: he had a talent for thinking through problems and presenting solutions. He was humble and generous; he was someone who had achieved success in life and felt compelled to share his blessings with others,” Nelson said.
Finn Caspersen, chairman of The Hodson Trust, paid tribute to James H. Gilliam, Jr.
Finn M. W. Caspersen, chairman of The Hodson Trust, described Gilliam as an individual with attributes that Johnnies would particularly value. “He embodied good judgment. Even in difficult situations, he always had the right answers.”
Daniel Russell (A05) had two reasons to thank the Hodson Trust for its generous support of the college: He lives in Gilliam Hall and has benefited from a Hodson-funded internship that allowed him to experience life in a public defender’s office last summer. Russell praised the dorm’s spacious common rooms, the full-size kitchen, and the views of College Creek and the lower playing field. But he also noted that the addition of the new dormitory has enhanced the character of the campus.
“What used to be a dark and foreboding back campus has now become a much more lively area,” he said. “Gilliam Hall has truly been a wonderful addition to the already wonderful St. John’s College.”
Gilliam’s widow, Linda Gilliam, also thanked The Hodson Trust and the St. John’s College community for “this marvelous tribute to Jim.”
“With Gilliam Hall, his legacy lives on,” she said.
Work is already well under way on the second dormitory, to be built next to Gilliam Hall and available to students in January 2006. With eight dormitories, the college will be able to house about 80 percent of its students on campus.
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The Magnificent Seven
The Pioneers: From left to right (bottom): Joan cole, Martin Dyer, Carolyn Baker Brown. Top: Everett Wilson, Leo L. Simms, Charlotte King, Jerry Hynson.
Gathered together for the happy occasion of dedicating Gilliam Hall, the first seven African-American graduates of St. John’s College had a lot of catching up to do. Many
are retired now; some complained of slowing down just a little. Some are single, some married with children and grandchildren.
Perhaps, since they were already willing to attend a college in a segregated city and suffer the indignities associated with such injustice, they were remarkable people when they arrived here. Whether the college made a difference or not, one thing is clear: they are certainly remarkable people now. All went on to earn advanced degrees. In long and productive careers, they worked to improve the lives of others through education, advocacy, and education.
Groundbreaker Martin Dyer (class of 1952) capped a 30-year career in public service with another decade as a fair-housing advocate. He’s still active as a consultant to the Greater Baltimore Community Housing Resource Board, and serves on the college’s Board of Visitors and Governors.
After earning his master’s in clinical social work, Everett Wilson (class of 1956) also went into public service: 33 years helping youth in the state of Maryland’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration. Now, he counsels kids struggling with Attention Deficit Disorder.
Leo L. Simms (class of 1956)has retired from the business career he launched after earning his MBA from Boston College, but he stays active in his church in Chelmsford, Mass. After graduation, he served in the Air Force, studied to become a Russian translator, and worked for the National Security Administration during the height of the Cold War.
It’s the retired life, too, for Joan Cole (class of 1957), the first African-American woman to attend the college. She takes the trips she has dreamed of during a long and successful career in the New York Public Library system, where as a regional manager, she supervised 20 branch libraries. “I’m so glad I can read during the daytime,” she says.
Carolyn Baker Brown (class of 1958), another New Yorker, earned her master’s in social work and has worked in community services and mediation for many years; she’s currently a trainer for the city’s Children’s Services Administration and involved in community service in Queens, N.Y.
Jerry Hynson (class of 1959) has more time for genealogy and research now that he’s retired from a long career in Baltimore schools, where he was a teacher, then assistant principal. His published works on African-American history in Maryland have covered topics including runaway slaves and freed African-Americans before the Civil War. Charlotte King (class of 1959) was another graduate to spend her life in public service as a clinical therapist, social worker, and social services administrator. Her experience includes managing a $300 million budget.
It wasn’t easy to be pioneers in Annapolis before Brown V. Board of Education made segregated schools illegal. Martin Dyer came to Annapolis in 1948 and found the college much more welcoming than the greater Annapolis community. The Little Campus Inn on Maryland Avenue may have been an off-campus haven for a generations of Johnnies, but Dyer was never able to venture inside. Wilson remembers he couldn’t try on a suit in a downtown clothing store. And King was turned away from a church in downtown Annapolis, told that she would find a more welcoming congregation in another part of town.
“At St. John’s, I was just another student,” Dyer says.
“After the first semester,” says Hynson, “I knew this was the place for me.”
Joan Cole, the librarian, never regretted her decision to attend the college—even though she remembers her name was left out of the program of a King Williams Players production for which she had made costumes. Her life-long love affair with books was nurtured here, and she enjoyed the poetry group in which she participated. “I found the education I was expecting here,” Cole says.
Each of the graduates has remained keenly interested in St. John’s after some five decades away from Annapolis. Their attachment was demonstrated by their eagerness to attend the ceremony and their ongoing support of the college’s efforts to recruit African-American students, helping the college find new ways to tell minority students about St. John’s. As Wilson says, many Johnnies find out about the college through word-of-mouth, often from a relative or friend who attended the college.
“Our job as alumni is to get the word out—through churches, sororities, communities, any way we can—that St. John’s provides an education for a lifetime,” he says. There may be no better evidence of that than these seven alumni.
By Rosemary Harty
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MacGyver Meets the Johnnies
The St. John’s Story, Redux
Lee Zlotoff checks out the view from behind the camera.
Quick CUTS of 4-5 students & 2 tutors as they open books and begin reading in various locations: dorm rooms, library, etc. Possible FLASH CUTS of author’s names, Hegel, Plato, etc. CUT to villainous East German spies racing up McDowell Hall stairs. CUT to MacGyver hastily assembling rocket out of seminar chair, shoestrings, and Coffee Shop French fry grease. He shoots up stairs to Bell Tower, rappels to safety. FADE OUT.
It’s fun to imagine what the St. John’s Story—the campy student recruitment film made more than 50 years ago—could become in the hands of Lee David Zlotoff (A74), the creator of the popular TV hero Angus MacGyver. Zlotoff, who has enjoyed a career
as a screenwriter and director since graduation, volunteered his time and expertise to write and direct a promotional video for the college—the first since a second movie was produced in the early 1960s. After serving for many years on the college’s Board of Visitors and Governors, Zlotoff knew well how the college struggles to explain itself to its various audiences. Last year, he proposed a new movie project to the board. Shooting took place in Santa Fe and Annapolis last fall. Now, Zlotoff is supervising the editing of more than 70 hours of videotape into a series of short videos that the college can show at college fairs, use as presentations to potential donors, and post to the college’s Web site.
Unlike past films that have tried to re-create seminar discussions, Zlotoff’s project starts with tutors and students preparing for seminar. The bells ring, and students walk into the classroom. It ends when the opening question is posed. Interspersed in the basic narrative structure are interviews with students, tutors, and alumni; scenes of campus life and student activities; and environmental shots showing off the beauty of Santa Fe and Annapolis.
All told, Zlotoff has already spent months on the project, which he describes as a labor of love. He ate in the dining halls and coffee shops on both campuses, hung out with students in downtown Santa Fe or Annapolis, and talked with tutors. He enjoyed reliving his own student days through the eyes of a younger generation.
“It was great fun to do and a remarkably insightful process,” he says. “At St. John’s, everybody does the same thing and in certain ways gets the same sort of thing; in another way it’s totally individual. If I had to title the experience it would have been ‘Chasing the Paradox.’ We tell students what to study but we don’t tell them what to think. It’s a small school, but in many ways, there is this amazing diversity of opinions and suppositions and life experiences that people bring to them.”
Tutor Nick Maistrellis led a mock tutorial for the new St. John's video.
The college has remained basically the same since his student days, but Zlotoff has noticed some changes—particularly in the students. “When I was at the college, there were students who were at St. John’s because they didn’t fit in anywhere else. On both campuses today, I see a great deal of awareness on the part of the students about what the college is about and what they’re looking for,” he says.
What took Zlotoff away from Hollywood to document life at St. John’s? “The college could go out and hire someone to produce a video, but they wouldn’t have had a clue how to do a film about St. John’s,” he explains. “I thought this was something that needed doing.”
By Rosemary Harty
“I’m Ready for My Close-up, Mr. Zlotoff”
Natalie Rinn (A05) was enlisted for a starring role in Lee Zlotoff’s movie. Here’s her account of life behind the camera.
Natalie Rinn: A Star is Born
“Now throw down your book like you just can’t make sense of it,” directed Lee Zlotoff from behind the camera.
So I did. And such was my week, the week that the St. John’s promotional film crew became extended-stay guests on campus and I became a movie star.
It all happened by chance. I sat in the Mellon courtyard on a warm Sunday early in September. I was puzzling over a paper in the senior lab manual. A young man approached me as I was crinkling my brow looking over the reading.
“Would you like to do a screen test?” he asked in a tone that lacked expectation.
Happy to set aside my confusion for a moment and intrigued by the words “screen test,” I accepted his offer. I was sat down in front of a camera and answered questions posed by Lee. After spurting answers in response to his questions about “what is it like to be a Johnnie?” I was told I would be contacted within a week and was sent on my way.
A week later, the call came. It was the young man, Jared Krause, the producer of the St. John’s promotional film. He wanted to know if I would be willing to be the subject of some scripted material for the film.
Apparently the look of confusion I wore when Krause first spotted me was the type of authentic St. John’s experience they wanted to be sure to include in the film. He told me that they needed images that would create a visual story of a student’s preparation for seminar: sitting in various places on campus reading, conversing with fellow students, looking
generally confused while paging through a reading. They thought I was a good candidate. Because they would capture these images without sound bites, the pressure to perform would be minimal. I agreed to his request and we arranged a date to do our first filming.
The day arrived. I sat in a bath of synthetic light and rested on the quad while the production assistant applied makeup to my face. I felt I was experiencing the clashing of two worlds: The world of St. John’s and the outside world that was straining to look in. Providing a window of exposure into the Johnnie world felt unnatural at first. Could we, as props arranged to tell the Johnnie story, really communicate the essence of the Johnny experience? I was told to assume
my look of confusion as I sat in the quad and affectedly discussed a seminar reading with classmates.
The lights glared, the camera rolled, and then, a funny thing happened. Under a tent of surveillance and heat, I embodied all too easily the confusion with which I was so well acquainted. Though the scenario was staged, my two classmates and I had so often been genuinely confused throughout our time at St. John’s that to reproduce the appearance of confusion, even in a feigned discussion, was second nature. I then realized very little acting would be required in order for the film to communicate even a taste of true Johnnie life.
Throughout the next week I spent several hours with Lee and his crew performing several takes of “seminar preparation.” While the repetition of takes at times grew tedious, I was confident the finished product would convey to the world outside something true about our microcosmic haven. And I, for one, was more than happy to reproduce that truth under the lights.
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St. John’s in the News
For those involved in the three days of shooting on the Annapolis campus, the Today Show segment on St. John’s that aired December 30 might have seemed disappointing—after all there was no mention of great books, tutors, or seminars. A quick glimpse of tutor Peter Kalkavage leading a chorus, a seminar, a Waltz Party in the Great Hall, shots of crew on College Creek, and the story of a “tiny college next to the Naval Academy” was over.
But brief as it was, the story couldn’t help but be good press for the college, and about 6 million viewers watch this most popular of morning news programs. Roger Martin, president of Randolph-Macon College, had spent a sabbatical from his college in Ashland, Va., to find out what life is like for freshmen at St. John’s. For the fall semester, he attended seminars, rowed with the crew team, and got to know Johnnies. A Washington Post story on Martin’s experiences caught the eye of an NBC producer, and a crew came to campus in mid-December.
Two observations on the experience: Students can summon a mid-week Waltz Party on about a hour’s notice. And students and tutors assembled for a mock seminar will have a serious discussion on Thucydides that will go on long after the crew packs up and leaves.
NPR’s Weekend Edition also carried a short story on Martin’s experiences at the college, as did more than 60 newspapers. (An essay by Martin will run in a later edition of The College.)
The college continues to attract attention from a perplexing assortment of media. In September, CosmoGIRL! magazine included St. John’s on its “first-ever guide to the 50 Best Colleges for CosmoGirls.”
Sometimes national press attention is just a passing mention, but in the right context, it’s enough to make Johnnies swell with pride. An Atlantic Monthly article entitled “Who Needs Harvard?” analyzed the competition to get into top schools and mentioned St. John’s—in the company of colleges such as Bryn Mawr, Notre Dame, and Oberlin—as “schools [that are] not in the top twenty-five, yet may be only slightly less good than the elites.”
Now that’s good press.
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A New Online Community for SJC Alumni Awaits Members
The college is pleased to unveil a new online community created to enable alumni to stay better connected to each other and to the college. The address is: http://alumni.stjohnscollege.edu.
Shortly after launching a new Web site last year, the college also rolled out an online alumni register, but after a rough start never improved, the application was scrapped. The college chose YourAlumni.com to provide a broader range of services to alumni.
The site does require registration to take full advantage of its features, but alumni can still choose to hide all or some of their personal information from public view. Register as a member, and you can view the personal listings of all alumni who have also registered. Alumni can add much more information than has been provided in the paper directory, last published in 2001. There is space to add occupation, employer, graduate school, birthday, and other information such as career changes, moves, books read or written, and births of children. Johnnies can post their own photo, and create a gallery of their children, new home, pets, or vacation to Greece.
- Take part in online forums.
- Submit alumni notes online.
- Find out about college news, chapter events, and college-wide events.
- Search for members by multiple criteria: e.g., campus, class year, location, occupation. (Please note that results will be limited until more alumni become members.)
- View class homepages and photo galleries.
Another improvement of the new site is ease of registration: in most cases, alumni will not need to wait for approval from the Alumni offices in Santa Fe or Annapolis—it’s automatic. Even when staff intervention is needed, action can usually be taken in one business day. Users can also select their own passwords.
The college chose a membership-based application in order to restrict personal information to the alumni community and protect privacy. However, alumni can still access a static directory—which the college will update periodically—that lists alumni, class year, city, and state. While this information is of limited use, it’s the member directory that should be genuinely useful in creating a community. All it needs is members.
Contact the Alumni offices with any concerns or questions about the site: in Santa Fe, Roxanne Seagraves at 505-984-6103 or email@example.com; in Annapolis, Jo Ann Mattson at 410-626-2531, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Mellon Grant Supports Faculty
A $500,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will allow St. John’s College to raise faculty salaries and provide funds for faculty study groups on both the Annapolis and Santa Fe campuses.
One of the college’s most important strategic goals is to bring its faculty salaries closer to the mid-range of comparable liberal arts colleges. Attracting and retaining exceptional faculty, and compensating them fairly in cities with a high cost of living, are key to preserving the college’s discussion-based education program and small classes. At St. John’s, the tutor-to-student ratio is 1:8.
Almost important as improved compensation is the need to provide faculty with continuing opportunities to deepen their own knowledge of the subjects they are teaching. Funds for study groups will support faculty members who plan and organize the material for the sessions, and compensate faculty for the additional time they spend in such groups. In the past, study groups at St. John’s have included topics such as Apollonius’ classical geometry, advanced reading in ancient Greek, and the poems of Wallace Stevens.
“This generous funding from the Mellon Foundation for faculty salaries and faculty development will allow the college to demonstrate to our tutors and our students, as well as to the college community as a whole, the value we place on our faculty and the commitment we have made to them for the future,” said Christopher Nelson, president of the Annapolis campus.
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Ringing a Bell for St. John’s
Melinda Miller-Klopfer (SF07) Hits her bell to signal a "yes" in response to her Annual Fund call.
Bell-ringers were all over town in Santa Fe last December, but bell ringers of a different kind–without the Santa Claus suits and red kettles–were also making appeals from Weigle Hall at St. John’s College. Telephones rung in homes across the country as students participated in a phonathon for the college’s Annual Fund.
The Annual Fund helps pay for tutors’ salaries, health and counseling services, admissions, athletics, and campus maintenance and, perhaps most vital to the group making the phone calls, student financial aid. Tuition meets just 70 percent of the cost of educating students, and about 60 percent of the college’s students receive financial aid. A gift of $100 to the Annual Fund has the same effect as $2000 in the endowment, since the college draws a 5% from the endowment every year for operating expenses. Gifts to the Annual Fund can be put to immediate use.
Phonathons take place on both campuses toward the end of the calendar year, and again in the spring, as the college’s fiscal year comes to a close June 30. Alumni, students, and staff take part in the calling. To heighten the fun and foster a little gentle competition at the Santa Fe phonation, held on a blustery December evening, students had bells next to their phones that they could ring each time a call yielded a gift. The group of eight students together made 317 phone calls, and there was a lot of ringing: they raised $2,245 in gifts and pledges.
Tiffany Simons (SF06), a phonathon veteran, gave an enthusiastic kickoff speech to first-timers. “Make sure alumni understand that gifts of any amount are greatly appreciated,” she said. “If everyone on this list gave only five dollars, we’d be way above where we were last year in terms of alumni participation.”
Zack Boring (SF08) working the phonelines.
Students say they get a great sense of pride in volunteering for phonathons. Some start out reluctantly, afraid to make a phone call to a stranger and reluctant to disturb a quiet evening to ask for money. But when they secure their first gift, they beam. Melinda Miller-Klopfer (SF07) has worked several phonathons, and each time she rifles through the list of potential donors to find alumni in California. She, too, is from California and taps the West Coast connection to establish a personal association with the alumni she calls. Some she has talked to several times, and even though they have never met, they catch up like old friends over the phone. Helping the college raise money, Miller-Klopfer says, strengthens her appreciation for St. John’s.
“After all,” Miller-Klopfer says, “my St. John’s education is a gift—from my parents, my tutors, the financial aid office. An education of any variety is a gift, but a St. John’s education is a blessing as well.”
By Andra Maguran
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Reunion Class Leaders
Increasing Alumni Involvement
A family affair: Rick (A77),Carol Plaut (A79), Emma Plaut (A07)
Johnnies like talking with other Johnnies. They get a chance to exchange ideas particular to the college, and they understand what a genuine conversation is. That’s one reason many alumni accept an invitation from the Advancement offices in Annapolis and Santa Fe to serve as “reunion class leaders,” joining Philanthropia volunteers in making alumni aware of their role in supporting the college. When your job is to reconnect with members of your class to strengthen their ties to the college, it’s more fun than work.
Tapping everything from nostalgia to technology, reunion class leaders work at bringing the St. John’s experience back to alumni who have gone on to other pursuits five to fifty years after leaving their campuses. “It’s so easy to keep in touch with old Johnnie friends—which is why it’s weird that a lot of them don’t realize how important it is to give back to the school,” says a new reunion class leader, Anna Christenbury (SF00).
One of the major goals of the volunteer effort is to increase awareness of the importance of the Annual Fund to the college and increase the number of alumni who make contributions. Gifts to the Annual Fund are vital to supporting the college’s day-to-day operations.
Often, serving as a class leader is the first time some alumni have had an opportunity to volunteer for the college. “We’re fortunate to have reunion class leaders who are exceptionally enthusiastic and energetic,” says Suzanne Thornton, advancement officer in Santa Fe. “Many of them find it extremely rewarding to be able to do something for the college.”
From Annapolis, volunteers are recruited for 10 reunion classes; eight classes in Santa Fe have reunion leaders this year. The college offers training at Homecoming each year to inform volunteers about the needs of the college and to provide an opportunity for new recruits to talk with past RCLs about the program.
Bruce Preston, class of 1965, said he took on the job because he wanted not only to reconnect with the college, but also to become more directly involved and aware of what’s happening at the college today. “I owe St. John’s a debt of gratitude,” says Preston, an architect in Washington, D.C. “It opened me up to appreciating the eloquence of an idea, of a
well-reasoned argument. I may have felt oppressed by it all while I was there, but now it’s a kind of heaven in my mind—a golden, shimmering memory.”
Christenbury, who has been composing music since graduating, has more than a few ideas on how to get members of her class back to the college. Assisted by other class members, she’s assembling digital photo albums and organizing regional get-togethers. The most important part of her job, she says, is taking the time to explain to alumni why it’s important for them to help support the college. Preston says that the most successful outreach in the past has been making and selling home videos from college days.
Other reunion class leaders have sent handwritten thank-you notes to alumni who have made a gift, contributed material for class Web pages, sent out postcards with senior class photos, and arranged class gatherings for Homecoming.
Putting one Johnnie in touch with another invokes the sense of community shared at the college, and that’s what reunion class leaders strive to do: encourage their friends and classmates to keep giving to ensure that more students can learn what it is to be a Johnnie.
By Roseanna White (A04)
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