Celebrating Seminar's 75th Anniversary

At 75, Seminar Still Sets Saint Mary’s Apart

Last weekend, the Saint Mary’s community gathered to honor and celebrate the Collegiate Seminar program’s 75th anniversary with roundtable discussions on Immanuel Kant’s essay, “What is Enlightenment?,” and a selection from Hannah Arendt’s “Lectures on Kant,” a welcome address by President James Donahue, plenary addresses by Professors Ted Tsukahara, Raina León, and Felicia Martinez, panel talks by Saint Mary’s faculty and alumni, and closing remarks by the new Director of Seminar, Ellen Rigsby.

“What is it that makes this college distinctive, unique, and distinguished?” Donahue said in his opening address. “What do we do better than other schools? College leaders and presidents ask these kind of questions all the time. It is clear to me that the Collegiate Seminar program... sets us apart.”

Donahue explained how Seminar “enhances and builds our mission,” taking special note of how the program connects the College’s liberal arts and Catholic traditions.

“[The] liberal arts tradition invites our students, faculty, and staff to explore fundamental questions of human experience [such as] … What does it mean to be fair and just? How do we respond to the darkness of human nature?” he said. “These are the kind of questions … that we, as part of Seminar, introduce [to] our students and invite them to explore.”

“To be in a Catholic college is, at its core, a spiritual practice,” he continued. “Understanding that we are in the presence of God and that through education, we strive to know where truth, knowledge, wisdom, goodness, beauty, love, and ultimately God abide,” he said. “Collegiate Seminar is a place where this happens.”

Donahue, who has taught Seminar himself, also talked about what kind of skills Seminar offers students. “[I] watch students grapple with the text, develop an interpretation of the text, dialogue with others about differing interpretations, [and] revise and change their interpretation based on the engagement of a dialogue and evidence presented in a dialogue,” he said. “We develop in them a confidence in developing a voice of their own,” he said. “Developing students’ voices is one of the most important things we do here at Saint Mary’s College and I think we do it very, very well.”

He said that employers notice something different about Saint Mary’s graduates. “One of the things that employers tell us is that students have the ability to stand up, make an argument, counter an argument, revise an argument, lead, engage, and know how to think about the issues that are on the table,” he said. “I think Seminar in many ways is responsible [for these skills].”

After Donahue’s address, attendees were encouraged to engage in Seminar discussions over the essays by Kant and Arendt.

Audience members, made up of Saint Mary’s faculty, students, staff members, and faculty members from other colleges and universities, returned to hear three plenary addresses from Martinez, León, and Tsukahara.

Julie Park, who organized the symposium, explained why there were three main addresses instead of just one. When Collegiate Seminar began, she said, there were “disagreements over what Seminar ought to be.” Yet, those who started the program all shared a “spirit of thoughtful and open conversation.” Therefore, “it made sense then to have three plenary speakers,” she said.

People also had a chance to listen in on panel discussions, given by both faculty and some recent graduates including Alex Drake ’16, Bee Pinner ’17, Gaby Rodkoph ’17, and Holly McAdams ’17. Each discussion featured three or more lectures, followed by group discussion.

In total, there were nearly 40 different lectures given last Saturday. The Symposium was, as Theology and Religious Studies Professor Paul Guirlanda said, “what faculty members do for fun."