On April 26, 2019, at 8 pm in the Francis Scott Key Auditorium, St. John’s College will be hosting the 6th installment of the Erik S. Kristensen Memorial Lecture Series. This annual event began in 2013 to honor fallen Navy SEAL and alumnus of St. Johns and the US Naval Academy, Erik Kristensen. Through the years, the lectures have focused on international and national security issues while taking the time to reflect on the connections between the military world and the civil world, a pattern we see in the history of St. John’s and in Kristensen’s life.
During the late 19th century and early 20th century, St. John’s College was charged with educating those enlisted in the military before they were deployed. The Great Books Program, a curriculum based in the classics of Western philosophy, was created to provide a strong foundation in the origins and development of Western thought, civil society, and culture. While the level of direct involvement with the military has waned, St. John’s still provides one of the highest levels of financial aid in the state of Maryland for active duty military members, and veterans both, in their Undergraduate Program and Graduate Institute.
Well versed in history and arts, as well as fluent in French, Lieutenant Commander Erik Kristensen had taken full advantage of his time at the Naval Academy, and of his liberal arts education at St John’s College. He was enrolled in the GI program at St. John’s and working as an English professor at the Naval Academy when he was deployed for his second mission as task unit commander of SEAL Team 8 in Afghanistan. Kristensen’s plans of attending the Institute of Political Science in Paris were dashed when his helicopter was shot down killing Erik, seven other SEALS, and eight Army aviators.
When I spoke to the founder of the series, Michael Zampella, I was surprised to learn that he had no personal connection to Kristensen, aside, perhaps, form a likeness of life narrative. Zampella first heard of Erik’s story during his Navy SEAL deployment in 2010. As a fellow alumnus of St John’s, the story hit a resounding chord with Zampella and carried weight as he traveled home. After completing his tour, he was able to meet Erik’s parents and discuss some potential ways to honor his memory. This lecture series ended up being what everyone agreed on.
Since the conception of this series, lectures have included titles such “The Price of Historical Illiteracy: Wishful Thinking and the Death of Strategy” (Ralph Peters, 2013), “Homer on Military Leadership” (Johnathan Shay, 2015), and “Utopia, Ideology, and Grand Strategy in the 21st Century” (Arthur Herman, 2018). This year the lecture will be given by Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of history and international relations emeritus at Boston University and Army veteran. He will be delivering a lecture entitled “Age of Illusions: America After the Cold War.”
Michael Zampella is confident that this series will continue to be a success and continue into the future. This year, the series has been funded by the likes of the Navy SEAL Foundation Inc., Leon Kafafian Jr., Soros Fund Charitable Foundation, F.J. and Mary S. Barnes Fund, and founder of the series LCDR & Mrs. Michael Arthur Zampella. In addition to the lectures, Erik’s friends put on a golf event every year – The Erik Kristensen Eye Street Classic. This year on May 3rd, will be the 12th annual Classic, which also helps contribute to the lecture series. Anyone can contribute to this cause by mailing a check to St. John’s College or giving online and entering an “other” designation to ‘Kristensen Lecture Restricted Fund’. However, attending the free lecture next week is the best way to help support the cause. With the support of the Annapolis community, Erik’s friends and family, the work of Michael Zampella, and the continued monetary backing, this series will continue honoring Erik’s memory.
Images courtesy of St. John’s College, the Kristensen family, and Ziger Snead Architects