By Kimberly Uslin
Christine Mooradian (AGI19) is currently finishing her last year of the Graduate Institute (GI) at St. John’s College—though she’ll be staying for an extra semester because she doesn’t want to miss a single section. Her son, Jack Mooradian (A18), is a recent graduate of the undergraduate Program and helped inspire Christine to take a seat at the seminar table.
How did you first hear about St. John’s?
I have four kids, and as their college years got close, I was looking up good colleges, and this one came to the top. It was on my list of suggestions to my kids. But actually, when they were Boy Scouts years ago, we took them to the [U.S.] Naval Academy. I dragged them all here and we sat on the front lawn—and while they were very young to be introduced to St. John’s, I remember it.
What sparked your interest in the Graduate Institute?
It was a long road, but I have friends who are alumni—they’re a married couple, and both graduated from St. John’s. As we would talk about things, Bonnie would say ‘You know what Christine, you should go to the GI program.” That was eight years ago. But then, I was on campus one time, and I spoke to [tutor] Eva Brann and, as we were talking, she said the same thing—“You know what, you should attend the GI program.” Several other people encouraged it, but I just didn’t think it would fit into my life.
Then Jack came to school here, and I watched what he was doing and how much it changed him and how much he grew. He would share what he was reading with me, and one summer, they had read Plato’s Republic. He said, ‘Mom, you’ve got to read this.’ I really enjoyed it. He and I had some preliminary discussions that really got me interested in the style of teaching and learning here, so at one point, I thought ‘I’m going to fit this into my life.’
My last child is my daughter, and in 2017, I drove her down to Philadelphia, dropped her off at art school, and that same day, drove down here to start the program. As I put it, none of that empty nest stuff for me.
Did you and your son Jack discuss the readings?
When he graduated, he went to Armenia with the Armenian Diaspora Program over there for a year of service. But we would talk by video chat. And I was in Euclid, so I’d be at home working out the practice problems on the whiteboard, and he’d want to talk—about Euclid. That would be our conversation—not ‘what are you doing?’ ‘how are you doing?’ do you need money?’ I’d get the whiteboard out and turn the camera around, and we’d work out Euclid problems from here to Armenia. It was so much fun. It’s really created a greater bond with me, and I see that it will do the same for other people in his life.
I do wish my other children had come here. I know there are some families [in which] all the children go through St. John’s, and I do wish they’d all come.
How would you characterize your time in the Graduate Institute?
As I have told other people, my experience has been better than I expected, and my expectations were very high. It hasn’t been easy. Some [parts] have been more challenging than others. Some of these topics are absolutely brand-new to me. I have a master’s degree, but I’ve spent the last 25 years raising kids, and that takes a lot of your brain space. So I really see this as a time to dive into a lot of thought and ideas and authors and thinkers that I haven’t had the chance to [study] before.
Is there a part of the GI program that has particularly captured your interest?
I think the math section, because if I was going to leave one out, it was going to be that one. But I absolutely enjoyed it. It has changed my attitude toward math. I can actually do it. I think every student should be introduced to math the way St. John’s does [it], before they get ruined—before they hate it.
What texts have had the most impact on you?
This isn’t a text, but the concept that these ancient authors, philosophers, [and] ideas apply today absolutely as much as they did then—that was very reassuring. Almost all of them have spoken to me.
There are a couple I’ve found a little difficult or that I haven’t cared for the ideas, but I’m glad I read them. Hegel and Hobbes come to mind. Even those are still among the favorites.
Aristotle’s Ethics. Virgil’s Gorgias. I’d never read that. That was a wonderful surprise of beauty. Euclid, absolutely. That I will keep forever.
What is it like to be in the classroom?
Enriching, frustrating, demanding… The need to cooperate with the other students is a challenge. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s true education, true growth. Every one of the tutors has been wonderful. Forcing this group of human beings to cooperate and discuss topics that we might have very different opinions about in a civil manner—that, alone, is tremendous.
And to provide that as an example in each of our lives—that we can discuss things civilly, and get back to the root of the truth in each subject, even though we might not agree on what that is, that’s our goal and it makes our conversation civil.
Do you find that that civility is helpful in other parts of your life?
Absolutely. When I go out to the real world, it makes it much more clear how the rest of the world could use this. That civil conversation and debate are sorely lacking in society. I don’t watch the news anymore. So I do think: What has happened to us? How do we share this with the rest of society? There’s not that many of us, but can we be an example in the world? The voices of St. John’s students aren’t loud, but maybe that’s part of the strength.
I would hope to see a lot more interest in ways that St. John’s can expand the Program to offer it to more people, because our civilization needs it.