Watching For Athena

After I posted last (“My, My, What’s Next?”) I began preparing for a hiring event I had committed to, and a job interview. I had managed to stack these events on the same day, which was very smart from a financial perspective (one day off instead of two), but very stressful for obvious reasons.

An unlikely set of circumstances led me, as unlikely circumstances generally do, to be reading the 2010 St. John’s College Commencement Address given by Stag’s Leap Cellars founder and St. John’s alum, Warren Winiarski. In the speech Winiarski spoke of his history with wine which led him to leave academia for wine-making. He spoke of the practical difficulties involved in this change, which were largely financial, as practical difficulties often are, but he also framed his speech in the context of seeing: what is it you look for, and what is it you expect to see?

Winiarski recounted a story told by Robert Fitzgerald, the famous translator of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (the merits and demerits of various translations of these two pivotal books is a perpetual Johnny icebreaker) where Fitzgerald describes an unexpected visit from a stranger named Athena. This Athena was from Ohio, but Winiarski suggests that Fitzgerald, and, by extension, those of us listening to or reading Winiarski’s speech, could think of this visit from “Athena” as a symbol of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and courage, and as an invitation to keep our eyes open to the possibilities around us.

Given my last post where the subtext was that possibilities are feeling in short supply around me, I found this quite fortifying. I also found the last paragraph of Winiarski’s speech so beautifully written that I was moved to share it. Leave it to a Johnny to inspire by talking of “habits of the soul” — credence to my belief that St. John’s students really are joined in spirit by a deep, abiding conviction that the principles of liberal education mean something more profound than any outcomes assessment, degree, or conventional benchmark of success can convey.

“Don’t worry too much.  Your education will be part of you.  You will have experienced the bright illuminations and the joy of learning and knowing. Remember these experiences and they will feed the desire for more of similar kind.  Do not forget the habits of the soul which brought you these illuminations and joys and ‘Keep your eyes open for Athena.’”  -Warren Winiarski

Click here for the full text of Warren Winiarski’s 2010 St. John’s College Commencement Address in Annapolis, MD.