In Which J. Nathan Matias goes up to The University of Cambridge
When God at first made man,
Having a glasse of blessings standing by;
Let us (said he) poure on him all we can:

--from "The Pulley", by George Herbert

Well, friends, it has happened. In May 2006, I received the formal offer for a full scholarship to St. John's College, Cambridge University, via the Davies-Jackson Studentship. I have since accepted. This page has been written to provide information to friends, family, and acquaintances of mine who are interested in more details about my past efforts and upcoming future.

Table of Contents

  1. Backstory
  2. Preparations and Applications
  3. The Davies-Jackson Scholarship
  4. St. John's College, Cambridge
  5. Plans for study and research
  6. Current Projects
  7. About J. Nathan Matias
  8. Frequently Asked Questions
  9. Conclusion

The story thus far...

The following is a slightly-modified excerpt from an essay I wrote in late 2005. I think it sums up part of the backstory well.

When I was very young, my father told me something he had once been told as a young man: "Don't dream. Don't read. You're poor. You'll always be poor. Dreams just make people dissatisfied."

My father wasn't trying to discourage me. By telling me about his obstacles, he hoped to inspire me. For my father had been very poor. Growing up parentless in Zaculeu, Guatemala, he obtained his first pair of shoes from the town dump at 16. Now, he was a factory worker in America.

My parents' lives have always inspired me: my mother's 9 years as a missionary in Central America; my parents' meeting and marriage; and their attempts to raise two children in the U.S. despite my father's disadvantages of ethnicity and education. I remember his rise to a job as a night shift factory mechanic. We lived very frugally, which freed my mother to care for the family. She has also worked to help Latino immigrants transition into American life. Even in the U.S., she continues to aid the people she loves. When I was in third grade, my father became a United States Citizen. I still remember his smile.

My parents have always encouraged me to succeed, but for years, I didn't know how. My mother began to home educate me in the fourth grade. I could now learn at my own pace, but that pace was erratic. At times, my mind raced with ideas. Other times, I could only cry. Melancholy and overweight, I felt ashamed of my lack of discipline.

Everything changed when, at fourteen, I followed a video soccer training program by Hubert Vogelsinger. His philosophy was simple: Execute, Analyze, Adjust, Try again. This careful discipline inspired me to lose weight. Within a year, I was competing as a road cyclist. Confident and inspired, I succeeded in a wide range of interests. By sixteen, I was immersed in computer programming. By graduation, I had founded a profitable online publication and was working nearly full-time as a consultant.

Life as a teenage programmer in the late 90s was good. My job involved consistent intellectual challenge, intriguing technology, and good money. But I loved it too much. The office became my new home. My spiritual and emotional life became cold. I had been inspired by my parents' lives, but I had missed the other half of their example: success is determined by God's grace and measured in service to others.

In search of something better, I attended Elizabethtown College. At Elizabethtown, study and experience have been framed by the college mottoes: Deus Lux et Veritas and Educate for Service. My experiences in the Honors Program and Symphonic Band both illustrate these principles.

The Honors Program has highly influenced my academic efforts and personal ideals. Professors have carried learning outside the classroom, supporting my personal inquiry, professional research, and publication. They have also consistently encouraged me to choose a life of honor and service within the framework of my personal faith.

When I was named trumpet section leader in Symphonic Band, I had little leadership experience. But the band directors have mentored me. I have carried these lessons into my other leadership positions, my formal study of leadership theory, and my efforts as a parliamentarian.

Having stepped away from specialization in computing, I face the difficult question of further life efforts. Disciplined and eager to learn, I now possess a wide range of information and skills. In recent years, mentors have suggested I becomeā a professional trumpet performer, programmer, cyclist, marketer, pastor, voice actor, nonfiction writer, parliamentarian, and researcher. But I stopped defining my identity by a profession when I chose to enter college. Instead, I have chosen the way of the polymath. I choose to travel a path in which no single interest gains solitary focus, but all skills focus toward a lifestyle centered in faith and channeled toward others.

The study of literature binds together all human thought, art, and emotion. With literature, I can merge the creative, analytic, social, and spiritual parts of my life. However, I plan to study more than writing, analysis, and aesthetics. Literature awakens us to the world around us, forcing us to consider the lives and perspectives of others, and by doing so, ponder our own.


One of my most influential mentors has balanced professorial duties with his other roles as Honors director and pastor. Like my parents, he puts others' needs before his own. With God's grace, I hope to have the focus, vision, and dedication necessary to go beyond any current job description to use all my talents for the benefit of others.

I once thought that lines of code would be my greatest epitaph. I now see differently. When effort has finally emptied my limbs of all that is my portion of life, I hope to see a wake of positive effects rippling into the future: students who understand; people who find spiritual and social freedom; organizations that work well; and others inspired to true greatness.


Preparations and Applications

During the summer of 2005, I was asked to consider entering the application process of various scholarships to institutions in England. By July, Elizabethtown College had agreed to endorse my applications and assist me with the process. This was quite late; many institutions have an office which attempts to find and groom possible applicants years in advance. I just had two months to put together my materials, while while working an IT job and preparing my presentations materials for the ACM's Hypertext Conference 2005, in Salzburg, Austria.

The conference turned out to be quite a boon. During the trip to Austria, I was able to visit the Universities of both Oxford and Cambridge and discuss various educational opportunities with faculty and staff. During this trip, I was able to tour St. John's College and speak with admissions staff. They told me about the Davies-Jackson scholarship and gave me advice for my application. During my visit, I was also able to visit the fabulous Cambridge Botanic Gardens, and Eden Baptist Church.

While in England, I was given wise advise by the dean of Oxford's Oriel College, Dr. Methven, and Cambridge English Faculty member Dr. Rafael Lyne. I followed their advice and applied for Affiliated programs at Oxford's Oriel College and Cambridge's St. John's College. I spent many hours preparing scholarship applications.

Not all of my applications worked out. But I was honored with the opportunity to be part of the Pennsylvania/Delaware Rhodes Scholarship final interviews. Although I did not receive a Rhodes Scholarship, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the other applicants. Only two Rhodes scholars were selected from our group, but many of the others have also received other scholarships to schools of their choice in the UK. I can't wait to see them again, only this time in England! At no other time have I found myself among a greater group of focused, talented, caring people. I am proud to have been numbered in their company.

The Rhodes process changes people, even if they do not obtain the award. The application and interview process, as well as new relationships with other applicants have all influenced my life in a profound manner. I may not have won the scholarship, but I won the benefits of the wisdom and maturity that come from the process of plumbing the depths of one's character, one's God, the world, and one's task in life.

After the Rhodes interview, it was time to wait. I completed my honors thesis, graduated in January and returned to software development consulting to pay the bills while I focused on study in theology, language, and philosophy as well as service in the community.

Then, in early May, I was formally offered the Davies-Jackson scholarship, which the staff at St. John's college had recommended to me so many months earlier. Although I know it's true, I still can't fully comprehend the marvel of this generous opportunity.


The Davies-Jackson Scholarship

(from the Davies-Jackson website)

The Davies-Jackson Scholarship presents a unique opportunity for students with exceptional academic records, who are among the first in their families to graduate college, to participate in a course of study at St. John's College at the University of Cambridge. After two years of study, candidates are awarded a Cambridge B.A. degree, often referred to as the Cantab degree, which is the equivalent of a masters degree in the U.S..

On May 23, I will be traveling to Washington D.C., for a luncheon with the scholarship committee at the Cosmos Club. I'm very excited to meet the people who selected me. After the luncheon, I hope to spend the next day reacquainting myself with our nation's capitol before I leave for England.

I am honored to have been selected for this scholarship and sincerely hope to administer this great generosity with more than equal effort and accomplishment during my time at St. John's.


St. John's College, Cambridge

As you may know, some functions within the University of Cambridge are separated into Colleges. Such collegs provide residence arrangements and supervise an undergraduate's study. Musical ensembles and sporting teams also often organize within the auspices of a college.

St. John's College was founded in 1511. This was just a few years after the death of Columbus, and six years before Martin Luther tacked an RFC (request for comment) to the Wittenberg University theology corkboard. William Tyndale, on whose work the famous King James Bible (published 100 years later) would be based, was one year away from entering university (Magdalen Hall College, Oxford) in that year. Tyndale, of course, saw the light, and after completing his M.A. at Oxford, went up to Cambridge. During this time, Desiderius Erasmus was also at Cambridge. In fact, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who founded St. John's College, was a patron of Erasmus.

St. John's has enjoyed a long and rich history over the last 495 years. Wikipedia contains a full list of notable scholars from St. John's. Several historical/cultural figures who have inspired me have gone to St. John's, from people like Douglas Adams to William Wilberforce and Sir Harry Hinsley.

Today, St. John's combines a very modern focus on technology and innovation with a strong tradition and dedication to the humanities. It is also known as one of two most musical of the Cambridge colleges. I am excited about this combination, since I have wide interests that span the humanities, technology, and the performing arts.

Photos of St. John's College

Did I say it's beautiful? St. John's College, where I will be living, is stunnig!

(click the links to view photos on other sites) St. John's College Entrance
St. John's Coat of Arms
The Round Church, just outside of St. John's. Shrewsbury Tower
Chapel, from the side
Spire on top of New Court
View from the chapel tower
Dinner at the Dining Hall
Arches on a sunny day
The Bridge of Sighs
Bridge of Sighs, II
It really is like a fairytale, isn't it?
Inside the Chapel
Inside the Chapel, II
arches, arches, arches, arches, arches, arches, and arches.
A set of beautiful HDR photos from St. John's
And finally... One more view of the chapel

Plans for study and research

The Affiliated B.A. program will give me the opportunity to conduct intense study under a very personal program of supervision. Unlike the M.A. program, which only spans a year and which covers a very specific topic area, the Affiliated program affords me two years to study a broader area within English Literature.

Because the educational system at Cambridge is so different from those of the United States, I cannot easily predict my pursuits or performance over the next two years. However, I can describe my aims. While at Cambridge, I hope to continue to treat English literature as a hub for the study of history, philosophy, leadership, theology, and the sciences. I also plan to seek ideas and opportunities to explore the role a polymath can play for the good, with a heavy leaning toward those areas where specialists are sparse and needs are great.

As a hypertext researcher, I hope to spend significant time continuing to develop electronic tools which aid the research and writing process. I am trying to use computers to help scholars think better, but I also wish these tools to help people write documents which can easily be read by people of varying levels of education and literacy.

Music, of course, will be an essential part of my routine.

As a Christian, I expect to learn by studying and living the Gospel and its long history. Cambridge, with its marvelous archives and intelligent scholars, and many distractions, will be a true training ground in Christian living. I am looking forward to learning much from my brothers and sisters at Eden Baptist Church.

Current Projects

Ever since I graduated in January, I have been trying to strike a balance between paying the bills and finding time for more valuable pursuits. Here's a short list of some of the blessings I have experienced during this interim time.

  • eNarrative 6: In January, I visited Boston for a small weekend conference at at Eastgate Systems to discuss electronic tools for writing and presenting creative nonfiction. I had a marvelous time, and I learned many things. Some very good conversations came as a result of the conference.
  • I have been privileged to work with John Stein at Harbour Coffee on the coffee house's web marketing. But more importantly, as a result of being at the Harbour, I have shared many precious times with many people, speaking of life, the universe, everything, and beyond.
  • Kenwood High: I was delighted to be given a chance to visit Baltimore's Kenwood High School, and speak to the students about planning for college. I think I learned more from them than they probably gained from me.
  • Open Door Recital: After four years of participation, my trumpet performance was featured as the final act in Elizabethtown College's Open Door Recital, for therapy clients, childen, and those with disabilities. Music is such a deep part of what it means to be human. I am so glad that I can bring it to those who rarely ever get to experience a live show. But even better are the times spent after the performance, speaking with the children, laughing with them, showing them the shiny buttons on my trumpet, and getting to show them love. I have been so blessed to be allowed to participate these four years.
  • There were some amazing experiences.
  • Philadelphia Fullerine: I produced the final version of Philadelphia Fullerine, in DVD form, for those who cannot easily visit Elizabethtown College to see the sculpture.

  • Kitefest: Susan Darling and I received a grant from The Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts and The Patriot News to create a literacy-promotion sculpture: Read for the Sky. We expect it to be complete on May 22.
  • Research Augmentation System: I'm currently testing hardware and software to make archival research much simpler than current methods. I'll be posting results online by July at the latest.
  • Hypernovel: This summer, I plan to collaborate on a hypertext novel with a colleague. It will present the reader with a futuristic historical research device. The reader will then be able to look through archival materials to try to come to conclusions about the strange experiences of Edgerus Scriptor. This will be a fun project, but it will also give me a chance to experiment further with some of my ideas for electronic research and writing.
  • Storytelling Machine: Clare Hooper and I will be working on a second generation version of her StorySpinner system, as well as developing an authoring environment.
  • Knowledge Solidification Campaign: Over the last few months, I have been revisiting much of my knowledge to doublecheck, cross-reference, and further enhance the breadth and solidity of what I know. I expect to increase my efforts in this area leading up to my studies at Cambridge, with a particular emphasis on theology.

About J. Nathan Matias

Most of what hasn't been covered here is included in my CV.

Such documents, however, can be quite misleading. They emphasize the actions of a person over the character and quality of a person. They promote the mindset which calls peasants insignificant, because all they do is till the ground and feed their families.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (pick one), St. John's graduate Douglas Adams suggests that the best way to torture and kill a man is to show him the true place of his actions in the grand scope of the history of the universe. He's right. In the grand scope of the universe, our actions matter little. What are the chances that I, J. Nathan Matias, will ever be as important as fellow Johnian William Wilberforce? And as time goes by, and the millennia pass, who will remember even his contributions?

Fortunately, we don't have to worry about causality. But we hit a snag. Accomplishments are convenient; they distract us from the reality of our souls. When we see the truth that the most humble workman may live a more excellent life than the highest of pontificates, we realize the downsides of equality. Equality condemns us all, because we cannot compensate for our mistakes with action.

But in equality there is also hope. The mere existence of God's holiness might bring to light our mutual failures, but in His holiness we also find the perfection of love, mercy, truth, and rest. And when, through the miracle of faith and grace we first taste the pure love of God, we understand our place in the universe. Insignificant, but loved dearly. Foolish, but granted wisdom. Overly-proud, but led in humility by the King of the cosmos. To know God is to truly know one's place in the universe, and be surprised to note that life's fulfillment is not found in significance, but in the dance of love between Christ and his beautiful bride, and to find that you too are the bride. And at the grand wedding of souls, the skill of the dance is less important than the love of the newlyweds.

If the details don't matter, why not just enjoy a pleasant apathy toward any meaningful action? It's a tempting prospect. But in order to participate in the dance, we must follow the steps of our true love.

All experiences --the hard and delightful-- are an opportunity to enjoy and administer God's love in each new situation. Things slide into place. Cyicism melts. Hopeless thoughts are tacked back in place. The scholar no longer distributes food, education, and the gospel of economic growth to the needy so others may someday become apathetic and rich. Instead, the student serves needs -- food and education, and truth, and love, or just a friendly hug -- so others too can be strong and healthy and care for those around them, for the love of God shared is the richest treasure of all.

The student to whom much has been given does the absolute maximum he can with the riches of opportunity and talent he has. The peasants attempt to feed their families who they love; they thank God each time it rains. Both know that life's situations can change drastically, but if they understand the truth of God's love, they know that these things are not the core of life. They have all lived well, and will all rejoice together, not in each others' accomplishments, but in the goodness and faithfulness of God throughout all of history, of which they are all a part.


Frequently Asked Questions

When do you go up to Cambridge?

I plan to leave sometime in September. The term begins in October. I hope to have a chance to acclimate myself to the GMT (ok. Yes. I know it's the UTC, and I know about the summer hour shift. But I'm a romantic that way. Longitude, ship's watches, and all that.) to best normalize my sleep patterns.

List of those to whom I directly attribute my success

What do we have that we have not been given? None of us accomplishes anything on our own. We all ultimately rely on God and on those who lay their thread into the weaves of causality. Here is a short list, in no particular order, of some whose direct kindness, intelligence, generosity, and care have contributed to my success.

  • My parents, Jorge Luis Matias, and Karin Jean Matias, who have cared for me many years, and who home-educated me for 9 years. I can't write enough. See above.
  • My grandfather, William H. Berkheiser, whose stunning example of Godly living and full dedication to others is a constant reminder of the best life.
  • My grandmother, Jean Berkheiser, for loving unconditionally, and also for boxes of seashells to spark a child's imagination.
  • My brother, Jonathan Matias, whose life of excellence in service to God I hope someday to match.
  • My friend Jonathan Huber, who has put up with all of my many changing interests and hobbies for over a decade. A true, faithful friend.
  • Sarah Pride and Jonathan Brownell, for participating with me in a life changing software development opportunity in the late 90s, and even more, for becoming quality friends who continually seek God's best in their efforts and care for all good things.
  • Christina Somerville, whose love for God and constant wisdom is a true inspiration. Beautiful souls are rare. She has one.
  • Howard Richman, whose role as evaluator during my home education was indispensable
  • Curtis Palmer, who tirelessly taught me the arts of trumpet, life, and character on a weekly basis for nearly a decade
  • Hubert Vogelsinger, who taught me what it is to be disciplined, and how to learn how to learn.
  • Daniel P. Ring, Kent Hostetter, and many others at J. B. Hostetter's and Sons, who taught me about work, diligence, and true friendship during my years as an employee.
  • Jean-Marie Donley, and the Lancaster County Musical Arts Society, for always believing in me and providing many opportunities to exercise my musical talent
  • Clinton Detweiler, for his work at Maher Ventriloquist studios, his fine education materials, and for the encouragement he gave me in my first real attempt to master a skill on my own.
  • Kimberly Reese, who allowed me to play with the Elizabethtown College Concert Band and Symphonic Band well before I even thought of attending, and for introducing me to the first leadership opportunity in my life.
  • S. Scott Sharnetzka, for pushing me, inspiring me, and teaching me during his year as interim band director at Elizabethtown College.
  • Hilary Short, for taking interest when I was new at Elizabethtown, and for suggesting I try to write something more interesting than a blog. I started a blog anyway, but her comment launched me into the study of hypertext.
  • Mark Bernstein, my very patient mentor and guide to the scholarly world and intelligent thought.
  • Jill Walker, for being a hard bloggin' scientist.
  • Dr. Kevin Scott, for introducing me to my primary major at Elizabethtown College: hanging out in prof's offices and chatting about interesting things(tm), for patience, for encouraging me to acknowledge my powers and use them for good.
  • Dr. Louis Martin, for showing me a life of wisdom, character, and generosity, and for his excellent example as a teacher and mentor.
  • Dr. David Downing, my advisor, for his standard of excellence, attitude of encouragement, insatiable sense of humor, and willingness to discuss important life questions.
  • Dr. Sarracino, for giving me the chance to perform his poetry at Harrisburg's Whitaker Center, and for introducing me to Nepal.
  • Jimmy Olson, whose humor, thoughtfulness, and care for the music students of Etown college helps Zug flourish.
  • Dr. Fritz, for the macs in the computer lab, and for making me feel like part of the family at Zug.
  • Dr. Adams, for first telling me to reach for the sky after Elizabethtown, and for the reserved sense of humor and precision underlying all of our intellectual conversations.
  • Dr. Willen, for showing me how to read like a writer.
  • Dr. Rohrkemper, for his large role in the School of Profs Offices.
  • Dr. Thorsen, for excellence, grace, and care during my study of mathematics.
  • Dr. Moore, for going beyond our study of Parliamentary Procedure, to discussissues of wise leadership
  • Professor Milton Friedly, for prayer, and for opening the world of art to me through sculpture.
  • Dr. Conrad Kanagy, for being a spiritual father during my time at college, an example, an encourager, and an excellent honors director. Dr. Kanagy first suggested I seek scholarships to study in England.
  • The Provosts of Elizabethtown College, who have consistently funded my research, travel, and scholarship. More than that, Dr. McAllister and Parkyn lent countless encouragement to my efforts.
  • Dr. Parkyn, for his gentle, deep faith in people.
  • John *******, who who has prayed to God for me every morning, for years.
  • Elizabethtown College president Theodore Long, for more than inspiring speeches: the willingness to pursue a vision of progress at Elizabethtown College. He is an administrator who cares for individuals.
  • The staff of Elizabethtown College, whose essential service has not gone unnoticed.
  • W. Kent Barnds, for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to take on challenges as a participant in college marketing efforts
  • Dr. Gene Ann Behrens, who is tireless in caring, meticulous in good, and who has taken great interest in my knowledge and growth.
  • Dr. Brown, for leaving his light on and mind open during our many late-night conversations in the humanities building.
  • The Elizabethtown College Fine and Performing Arts Department, who probably thought it odd that a computer science/literature major would spend so much time in Zug hall, but who welcomed me with open arms.
  • The members of the Elizabethtown College scholarships committee, for supporting my applications for the Rhodes, Davies-Jackson, and other scholarships. I could not have done it without you.
  • Dr. Hoffman, whose quiet, good-natured advice have encouraged me as much as the many enjoyable times of trumpet duets.
  • Dr. Jessica Kun, for being one of the all-out most cool, intellectual, and caring people I know, and for being an awesome conductor.
  • Jeff Wohlbach, who taught my trumpet how to sing.
  • Dr. Winpenny, for being wise beyond his years, and for always orienting wisdom toward Christ
  • Dr. Mead, for believing in me, and for her tireless effort to organize and accomplish the fruitful end of my scholarship efforts over the last year, even as she has taken on a new role as Honors director.
  • Pete Depuydt, librarian at Elizabethtown College, finder of interesting things, and encouraging friend.
  • The Eagleson and Somerville families, for reminding me of the joy of life in Christ and inspiring me to use my mind for Him.
  • The Remnant Trust, for commissioning some of my early writings outlining a philosophy of education.
  • Kyle Kopko, for constantly pulling me upward, for being a fine friend, and for planting the seeds of a desire to teach.
  • Kate Hagen, for her intellect, but mostly for her love for her family.
  • Kevin Hahn, for teaching me research methods, for being a fine friend, and for not warning me that Eph Ehly was going to hug me if I played the descant correctly...
  • Audrey Brubaker, for teaching me how to love to write.
  • The American Institute of Parliamentarians, for two scholarships, but mostly for their constant encouragement, and for training me in wisdom, maturity, character, and leadership.
  • The National Collegeiate Honors Council, who have consistently encouraged and showcased my scholarship and research.
  • HM Consulting, for reminding me that software development is fun and work is about people.
  • Bill Laudien, for believing in me when I was just a 16 year old kid on a bike, and for understanding when I chose to leave racing behind.
  • The entire faculty of Elizabethtown College, many of whom have been a critical part of the School of Profs Offices, and whose inspiration and knowledge have been essential to my growth.
  • Victoria Rowe, for showing me how to love others.
  • Brian Hess, my brother in Christ and comrade in the classroom.
  • The students who cared: Stephen Burkholder, Hannah Scott, Benjamin Osterhout, Kathleen Nicosia, Abbas Alibhoy, Yasunori Nagahama, Kevin Hahn, Rachel Jones-Williams, Victoria Rowe, Brian Helm, Ryan McGee, Jen Smith, Patty Dougherty, Sara Otero, Nick Rowe, Natalie Smeltz, Katherine Scott, Anne Baublitz, Brett/Jess Lojacono, Kristen Lefever, Anna Kent, Jason Klem, Jason Heller, and many others I have no doubt forgotten to name.
  • The leadership and people of Faith Baptist Church.
  • The wonderful people who hang out at The Harbour Coffee Co.
  • The committee and final applicants of the 2006 PA/Delaware Rhodes Scholarship. You have all inspired me and spurred me on in quality of excellence and character.
  • Richard Stallman, for believing in freedom and acting on principle.
  • Theodor Holm Nelson, for listening to a young man and showing him Xanadu.
  • And of course, the people of the Davies-Jackson Scholarship and St. John's College, Cambridge, who have shown great faith in me and my abilities even though they have not yet met me.



Conclusions don't belong in a document like this. After all, it's a new beginning! I much prefer to write the next chapter.

The Williamsburg Me
© Copyright 2006 J. Nathan Matias. All rights reserved. Header from Jonanamary, of Londonist, via a Creative Commons NonCommercialShareAlike license.