I was the first person in my family to graduate high school. As I prepared for that momentous day, the guidance counselor (whom I had never met) summoned me to her office. She told me I had made the highest grade on the American College Test in the school’s history. I was then given two envelopes. One contained a one-year full-tuition scholarship to Lee College, and one included a very generous scholarship to St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland.
An uninformed kid with no advisors from the Appalachians’ poverty, I bowed to my family’s wishes. I attended Lee College, a small Christian college close to home. My Dad had always dreamed of attending that school. And besides, St. John’s was a Catholic school (aka antichrist). There was no way in hell I would get a blessing from my family or church to attend a heathen, liberal, Yankee college.
Instead, I followed in my Dad and Grandad’s footsteps and became a minister. At age 20, I was forced to quit Lee College by the uneducated Southern Baptist pastor who was my boss. He was far more interested in growing our country church than he was in my education, insisting that “I didn’t need any more schooling.”
Seven years later, I accepted a job as the Pastor of Creative Arts at a South Florida church with the stipulation that I could return to college. And unbelievably, over nine years after high school graduation, my ACT scores still qualified me for a full-tuition academic and music scholarship at Palm Beach Atlantic College. I graduated in 1990 as an older student (age 30) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music.
Fast-forward twenty years. Imagine my surprise reading the introduction to one of my favorite books, “The Joy of Reading,” to learn the author, Charles Van Doren, was a St. John’s graduate.
As I read Van Doren’s words recounting the lessons he had learned as a “Johnnie,” one really stood out to me. His education encouraged freedom to read any book, no matter the genre, language, or controversy.
At St. John’s, great books—and great discussions—are the heart of the college’s distinctive liberal arts program. I couldn’t help wondering how my life might have turned out. If I had attended a perfectly suited school for my voracious reading habits, open-mindedness, love for learning, and insatiable curiosity. In all probability, I would have become a professional writer—and certainly NOT an Evangelical minister.
Recently Gina and I finalized the details of the Elrod Family Trust. One of the most challenging decisions was what to do with my money after death. There were many considerations. But finally, I decided to leave my inheritance to the scholarship fund at St. John’s. I wanted students to benefit from an endowment as I did while providing funds to attend the college of their dreams—not one influenced by life institutions.
I finalized details of the gift and recounted this story to Scott Greatorex, the Executive Director of Development at St. John’s. He asked me what I would think about finally realizing the dream of becoming a “Johnnie.” He mentioned the Summer Classics series as an opportunity to finally attend the college in person as a student.
My heart jumped out of my chest, but with COVID, I was very hesitant to get my hopes up. Now, as the possibility seems excellent that I will be fully vaccinated by summer, I did it—I signed up!
St. John’s now has a second campus in one of my favorite artistic cities in the United States, Santa Fe, New Mexico. When the Governor announced last week that a 14-day quarantine was no longer required for Florida residents, it was the confirmation I needed.
At long last, I will realize a dream, fulfill a disappointment, and attend St. John’s in July. I have signed up for an in-person class featuring discussions led by two faculty members and limited to no more than 18 participants. My study will feature conversations about Thomas Mann’s epic classic “The Magic Mountain.”
I recently finished the volume (it features an existential quest) as research for my latest book, “The Quest.” The class requires a re-reading of the book to intelligently discuss this lengthy and complicated tome. And I am thrilled to do so, as I know the preparation and the class will only enhance the book I am currently writing.
Few things in life have thrilled me to this extent. I am excited beyond words and hope this is only the beginning of my experience with St. John’s College. I have attached a link to the series for your perusal. And I hope that one day you will have the opportunity to experience the joy of fulfilling a disappointment, as you continue your personal Quest.
For more information on St. John’s Summer Classic Series click HERE