St. Olaf College | News

Senior year in the midst of a pandemic

Hailing from a small community in the Bay Area, Simon Patmore-Zarcone ’21 found St. Olaf in the usual way: through music.

“St. Olaf was a good choice for me because I was able to continue my passion for singing while still engaging in strong academics,” he says.

Simon Patmore-Zarcone ’21 (back row, second from right) performs with Cantorei during the 2019 St. Olaf Christmas Festival.

Patmore-Zarcone’s education has partly been funded by a music scholarship, and he has taken private lessons and sang in various ensembles since arriving on the Hill in 2017. Today he sings with the mixed choir Cantorei. He notes that the pandemic has dramatically changed the way choirs rehearse on campus — and it’s not all bad. He says, “We’re having fun experimenting with different small groups and mixing things up. It’s a really interesting way to do choir, even though it’s different.”

As a newly-minted senior, Patmore-Zarcone is eager to make the best of his last year on campus. With a relationship, friends, music, clubs, and some in-person/hybrid classes to look forward to, it made sense for him to rejoin the on-campus community when the option became available this Fall.

“I was really unmotivated when we went online suddenly in the spring — so that was not very good,” Patmore-Zarcone says. “But I’ve never been particularly extroverted so I didn’t really mind the isolation so much.”

Yet, for reasons other than COVID-19, Patmore-Zarcone is not having the senior year he expected. When he chose St. Olaf, he planned to focus on economics and he might have graduated early if not for choosing a double-major in economics and philosophy and recently adding a concentration in Management Studies.

The hardest part of my St. Olaf experience has been trying to decide what to do from all of these different options.Simon Patmore-Zarcone ’21

“The hardest part of my St. Olaf experience has been trying to decide what to do from all of these different options,” says Patmore-Zarcone.

As a first-year student, he was able to squeak into “Ethics and the Good Life” — a philosophy course with emeritus faculty member Gordon Marino for which Patmore-Zarcone had none of the prerequisites. Thankfully, Marino was willing to admit him, and this opportunity to learn about philosophy for the first time made a huge impression on Patmore-Zarcone. As a second-year student, he began to lead Philosophy Forum, a student group within the Philosophy Department to engage majors and non-majors in philosophical discussions. The next year, he got the group recognized as an official student organization and led as president.

“We talk about topics that are sort of everyday interesting and don’t require a lot of knowledge of philosophy and we try to engage with people on a basic level,” says Patmore-Zarcone. “We tend not to cite a bunch of sources that no one has read.”

Though he doesn’t plan to pursue philosophy in an academic way after St. Olaf, it wouldn’t surprise Patmore-Zarcone if new thoughts and publications emerged from other young philosophers affected by the COVID era.

“I have noticed that people in my classes or people I’ve talked to over the summer in a philosophical capacity have come out of this experience with a little bit more inwardness and self-reflection,” said Patmore-Zarcone. “Partly because you’re isolated so there’s not so much back and forth, and because a digital communication media doesn’t really help you communicate back and forth very well, but also partly because the stress, the immediacy of the possibility of death, it just kind of helps to clarify some things for people and drives that sort of self-reflection, I think.”

Instead of speculating about the future, Patmore-Zarcone has been preparing for what’s next. He spent the summer studying for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and completed the exam just before moving back to campus.

“I don’t really know what I want to do yet,” he says. “We’ll see when I get there.”

Looking back

Patmore-Zarcone became a person of interest among the senior class because, through a stroke of pure luck, the Marketing and Communications team has snapped a photo of him on the first day of school every year since he was a first-year student. And while many of us have used the pandemic and quarantine to reflect on life, we wanted to know from his perspective what he might have said to the person in these photos, year to year, knowing what he knows now so close to the end of his undergraduate college career.

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Patmore-Zarcone says, “I feel like a lot of people when they have an opportunity to say something like this they usually say ‘don’t go too hard on yourself’ or ‘take it easy and smell the roses.’ But if I had to yell at my former self I would probably say ‘take things a little bit more seriously, man.’

“Because even irrespective of what kind of grades you get or how much time you spend on something, if you’re not taking things seriously you’re not going to get as much out of it as possible and for the amount of money, for the amount of time you’re spending, you might as well get everything out of this experience that you can. That’s probably my advice to myself.”