| May 9, 2005
To the College Community:
Mark St. John is an invaluable member of the college community. Upon learning that he may be fired from his job as the director of the Outdoor Program, I was outraged and have been able to think of little else the past three days. Every student (and a few tutors) that I have told about this has also been outraged. Mr. St. John has made more of a contribution to student life than any other staff or faculty member I know. He is a role model for any student that knows him, and he knows many students because he actually spends an enormous quantity of his time with them. It is because of him that forty or fifty students every year are able to go on a trip of a lifetime down some of the most beautiful red-rock canyons on earth. I can think of no other person that could ever fill Mr. St. John’s shoes in making that trip the cohesive, team-building, exhilarating, breath-taking time of life-lessons that it is. When he is not rafting or camping with the students, he is taking them on ski trips or day hikes. The programs and trips that he has instituted teach students how to apply the education they receive at St. John’s. Think how much more valuable our education is when we are given chances to apply it to the world- for example, because of the outdoor program and Mr. St. John’s direction of it, rather than conjecturing about phlogiston, students can actually learn how to build fires and properly put them out. It is not merely the outdoor program that I am commending, but the way that Mr. St. John has chosen to run it. He directs it in such a way that it exists for the students, and he does not try to run a trip like a drill sergeant. Nearly every night around the campfire the students on the spring break rafting trip reflected on how glad they were to have an Activities Director like Mark, who obviously loved sharing his love of the outdoors with students. Many of us who do not have fathers, or do not have the kind of fathers we would hope for, often exclaim how we wish our fathers could have been more like Mr. St. John. He is a role model and an inspiration because he loves teaching students how to be outdoors, and he cares sincerely about every student he knows. It was a tribute to him that in last year’s senior prank skit, Mark St. John had the closing remarks. He told the college “not to become cynical.” He is one of the few adults that still loves life and loves to show students how to enjoy life. I have learned at least as much from Mark and the river as I have in my formal St. John’s education. Rather than a mere theoretical perspective, they have given me the chance to have confidence in myself in real-life situations, to be a leader, and to have courage. What good is a St. John’s education if students do not also learn how to use it and believe in themselves? Annapolis does not have the advantage we have in Santa Fe. We are surrounded by mountains, rivers, and canyons. How limited my view of life would be if I never explored the treasures that are right in my backyard. Mark St. John not only inspires people to do this, but has quite extensive knowledge of all the hidden beautiful places and how to explore them safely.
Should the college decide to fire Mr. St. John, I fear that it would only be an indication of a greater problem growing within this school that I love. Our school cannot exist without faculty and staff that care deeply about the students and their lives after St. John’s. Yet it seems that the school is putting a greater and greater emphasis on ‘following the rules’ rather than fostering trust and mutual respect in the community. Perhaps when Mr. St. John is told to “jump” he does not respond with “how high?”, but is that kind of person really who you are looking for to be a role model for your students? Perhaps that is the kind of person you want, the kind of person who blindly follows authority and does not question whether what is being done is the best thing to do, but does not that kind of mentality directly contradict the aspirations of the Program? How can students come here bright-eyed and thankful that they have found an institution they can believe in and an education that might actually make a difference, only to find out that the administration is more interested in who can obey and make the most money and make the glossiest appearances? Once students find out they cannot trust that the school does not uphold the principles it preaches, they will leave bitterly. (And the school will lose money.) If the idea you are promoting is to make the school more ‘ivy league’ and a place of appearances, then you must also change the Program. For the Program itself is working against that idea.
Mark St. John perhaps represents the past of St. John’s, something you are trying to move away from in the name of “progress”. But where are you going, St. John’s? Is it really a direction that this school ought to go in? Mark St. John cares about the Program and all of the students that have come through St. John’s. He touches many, many lives and inspires greatness in the students. He exemplifies the values this school professes to uphold, and it would be a great loss to end his career here for petty, image-conscious reasons.