John Paul Spence - Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Think. Live Free.

John Paul Spence


Things to know about John

After graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, John Paul Spence began studying at Princeton University, where he has enjoyed an equally accomplished career. Now a junior, he has been elected editor in chief of the Princeton Tory, a leading paper in ISI’s Collegiate Network of independent student publications. He also serves as vice president of the Princeton chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society, a national foreign policy group that aims to combat the vapid teachings of the average undergraduate international relations program. This past spring he was chosen as an ISI Honors Scholar, making him a participant in ISI’s elite leadership program for undergraduates.

We recently caught up with John Paul to discuss conservatism, the canon, character, and more.

I discovered that the more serious the student, the more he took advantage of ISI’s offerings.

How did you find out about ISI?

I first heard about ISI in high school, when my older brother Kenneth went to work for a conservative organization in Delaware that worked with college students. Once I got to Princeton I discovered that ISI supported conservative students in many ways, from sending us speakers to sponsoring our student publication to supplying us with all kinds of subversive literature. I also discovered that the more serious the student, the more he took advantage of these offerings. Diligent conservatives looked to ISI for sustenance, so I tagged along with them.

What was the highlight of your undergraduate experience?

Taking Princeton’s Humanities Sequence, a yearlong, double-credit course for freshmen that covers the Western canon from Homer to Nietzsche. We moved quickly—only the Republic and Don Quixote were granted more than one lecture apiece—but the course granted me an understanding of the broad contours of the Western tradition and a desire to study the works more deeply in the future.

What have you valued most about ISI?

The opportunity to attend this past summer’s Honors Program in Seattle is easily the best thing ISI has afforded me. It was incredibly encouraging to be able to interact with a very bright, well-read, and articulate group of fellow students and to meet committed, as-yet-unpurged conservative professors (and, of course, ISI staff members) who were eager to put their wisdom and resources at our disposal.

How have you spent your summers while in college?

I spent the summer after my freshman year as an intern for the New Atlantis, a journal of technology and society in Washington, D.C., where I did research for articles on everything from robotics to OPEC to the use of cameras in police work. I worked this past summer at a character formation program for boys in the South Bronx, where I witnessed, and attempted to combat, the bitter fruits of progressivism’s war on the family, and on fatherhood especially. I also attended the ISI Honors Program in Seattle.

Whom do you admire most, and why?

I most admire Saint Maximilian Kolbe, whose journalistic triumphs I would love to replicate with the Tory, and whose holiness I can only pray to be able to emulate personally. John Adams, whose public service and private integrity outmatched any other Founder’s, is a close second.

What advice would you give to other students who want to preserve the principles of liberty?

Befriend like-minded students and professors so you won’t have to fight your battles on your own. Read as much philosophy, history, and literature as you can so you can better articulate why you believe what you do. And have plenty of conversations with people who disagree with you—they’ll show you the areas in which you need to learn more, and you’ll show them why they need to rethink their worldview.

What are your plans after graduation?

I don’t have very specific ideas about where I’ll be yet—policy work in D.C., teaching, journalism, and finance are all possibilities (I’d usually mention law here as well, but the ISI Honors Conference trained me too well otherwise!). Whatever it is, I hope it will, at least in a roundabout way, let me continue contributing to the conservative cause.