Nathan Farris, Class of 2013

One particularly valuable element of the Agora Fellowship is its emphasis on the dignity of good work. In our fall reading group, led by Mr. Mark O’Brien, we explored the ideas of such writers as Thomas Aquinas, Karl Marx, and Primo Levi as they addressed the theme of work. Agora Fellows are mentored by prominent local leaders, and they have the opportunity to share meals with innovators and scholars who are making a difference in their communities on local and national levels. For Nathan Farris, two-year Agora Fellow and alumnus of the Templeton Honors College at Eastern University, Agora’s emphasis on good work was integral not only to his intellectual formation, but to his own transition from student to leader.

When the Institute began in the fall of 2011, Farris was a member of the inaugural cohort of Agora Fellows, and after he returned from his fall semester abroad in Thailand, he joined the spring reading group. Centered on the theme of secular discourse, the semester-long conversation allowed Farris to explore the topic both with his classmates and with local businessmen and academics. “They brought in people who were passionate about the liberal arts and had been successful outside the academy,” Farris remembers. “It was really good for me to see people in the financial, medical, and legal sectors who had been successful, who were telling me that my liberal arts education was the right way to go and explaining to me its value.” After graduating from the Templeton Honors College in the spring of 2013 with a degree in Philosophy and Economics, Farris began law school at the University of Pennsylvania.

Reflecting on his undergraduate years as an Agora Fellow in the Templeton Honors College, Farris considers three aspects unique to this experience: the close relationships between students and professors; the emphasis on educating the whole person; and the cultivation of good judgment. “[Relationships with professors] make us love learning more, and they make us more engaged with the topics at a deeper level,” he observes. Farris notes that his undergraduate education was not only concerned with skills, but with intuitive knowledge as well as habits and values. According to Farris, the fruit of this kind of education is “wisdom and really good habits,” both of which have served him well during his time in law school. “The more we are learning about the structure of human consciousness, the more we realize our deep habits, and focusing on them can help us become better thinkers,” he says. Perhaps most importantly, he notes that during college he was part of a community that lived by the virtues of deep humility, grace, and forgiveness.

Now in his final semester as a J.D. candidate at Penn Law, Farris will transition in August from student to lawyer, having accepted a position at a firm that practices real-estate law. He will specialize in the transactional elements of this sector, working with financial instruments, mortgages, and leases as well as tax appeals. Farris has long been interested in the intersection of economics and law; during the summer of 2014 he worked at the Federal Bankruptcy Court for the eastern district of Pennsylvania, and in 2015 he interned at the Ballard Spahr firm in Philadelphia. In the fall of 2016, he waunch his career as a full-time associate with Ballard Spahr.

Farris urges current Agora Fellows to think about their careers early, taking the steps necessary to accomplish their goals. “Worship is the end of life, and worship includes work,” he says. “It’s good to be thinking now about what you want to do.” Emphasizing the dignity of work and the value of prudence, Nathan Farris is an exemplar of the very virtues he names as the cornerstones of his education, the very virtues so integral to a career in law: wisdom and good judgment.

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