Note: Mr. Sebastian is a senior from Livonia, Mich. The following is adapted from remarks he made to the Thomas Aquinas College Board of Governors at its fall 2012 meeting.
Good afternoon. To begin, I want to thank all of you on behalf of the whole student body. We are very aware that you all do so much for us, both in terms of setting an example and in supporting the College monetarily, and thereby enabling most of us to be here. I know that I would not be able to be here if it were not for the donations of many of you. So it is my honor and privilege to be able to convey a little bit of my gratitude to you all today.
I come from a family of all boys — my mother is a saint — and I am the oldest of four. The beginning of my Thomas Aquinas College experience was the Great Books Summer Program for High School Students, about four or five years ago. I learned about the program through Mother of Divine Grace, the Catholic distance-learning program founded by Laura Berquist (’75), a graduate and wife of one of our beloved founders, Mark. It was unlike anything that I had ever experienced.
The people were just so joyful and, in a short time, we formed amazing friendships. We all had so much in common — and it wasn’t just like my friendships back home, which were based on going out and having a good time together. These friendships were based on the experience of learning together and praying together. I have friends from the Summer Program who will be my friends for the rest of my life. It was beautiful. Mr. Kaiser was one of my tutors that summer, and he really made an impression on me, insofar as I saw in him a man who was faithful, who was what a man should be — and he knew everything!
So the Summer Program sold me on the school, and I think it’s really a great thing that we do for our kids. I have had the privilege of being a prefect on the Summer Program for these last three summers, getting to watch as high school students open their minds to the great things that liberal education can do. Every year we hear stories about people who were completely resistant to either the idea of Catholic education or liberal education, and the program turned them around. My brother was one of those stories this last year, and it was beautiful to see.
Having loved the Summer Program, I applied and was accepted to the College shortly after Thanksgiving in my senior year of high school. Things seemed to be going pretty well until March of that year, when I found out I had non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — cancer. I had an 11-by- 8-centimeter tumor in my chest, wrapped around my heart and my lungs. It had closed my superior vena cava by 99 percent, so the blood wasn’t draining from my head.
When you go through something like that, you see many, many instances in which God guides you. Through a series of very providential circumstances, a doctor who was walking by one day became the doctor for the rest of my treatment. She put me on a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation that, amazingly, improved my health to the point that, by the end of the summer, I would be able to get to the College in time for freshman orientation.
The only problem was, at that point, I didn’t want to come to the College. I was feeling sorry for myself. Some of you may have experience with chemotherapy and radiation, and so you know it’s torture. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. When I was in the hospital receiving my last chemotherapy treatment, my mom and I were talking, and I basically told her I wasn’t going to come to the College. I was going to take a year off, just kind of sit in my room and feel sorry for myself. She said, “Let’s just talk about that a little bit more,” and I said, “Sure mom, I’ll listen to you, but I’ve already made up my mind.”
It was just then that my chemo nurse, Christie, walked into the room, and my mom said, “Christie, what do you think? Chris is going to be right up against the edge. Ten days is going to be the time between his last radiation treatment and freshman orientation. Do you think he’s going to be able to handle it?” And Christie said, “Oh, you should do it. There’s no question. You’re going to be able to handle it just fine.”
All of a sudden, just — bam! — I knew I was going to Thomas Aquinas College that fall. God has a way to work things. And because of your great generosity, even though I receive financial aid, I was exempted from the usual 13-hour-a-week work-study job during my freshman year. The College knew I wouldn’t be able to work, due to my health, and compensated for that in my financial aid package.
The Life of a Student …
Once I came to Thomas Aquinas College, I fell in love with the education, especially the discussion method we use in our classes. As you can tell, I talk a lot, so I love the idea of being able to take ownership of my words, present them before a class, present an idea that I have, and not just keep it to myself. When you present your thoughts for someone else’s opinion or critique — which happens a lot of the time here — you can more fully distill and make sense of the ideas contained in the great books we read.
The curriculum here is based in truth. We are honestly searching for the right answers to these questions that plague (if that’s the right word) all men in all times. We consider the fundamental questions of politics, philosophy, theology, our very ways of knowing. Being a senior, I have gone through all the courses that the underclassmen are currently taking, and that enables us seniors to have great interactions with the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. We are constantly able to learn from each other, both inside the classroom and outside.
We are also blessed to be doing all this in the proper setting, and that is really due to the generosity of the College’s many benefactors, including you. The Chapel enables us to pray together in a setting that is proper to our faith, or about as close as we can come to it, and our chaplains are phenomenal guides in the spiritual life.
… and Beyond
While our studies here are very good in themselves — and if we were to undertake them only for their own sake, that would be worth it — they also have great practical application. I read a study at the beginning of this school year which said that, after engineering majors, the most sought-after majors for jobs are liberal-arts students, because they have critical-thinking skills, can express themselves well, and are adaptable.
I have received so many benefits from this school, and it has prepared me for my future life in a way that is unbelievable. I have already secured my first job — with Mother of Divine Grace School, as its head of public relations and marketing — and the College has given me the skills that I will need to thrive in that work. My father has been a public-relations man for more than 30 years, and I, too, look forward to a long career in that field.
Thank you all so much!
Mr. Sebastian, head of the campus acolytes, serving Mass in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel
“Thomas Aquinas College was outstanding preparation for my future career. The great books curriculum hones critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that are absolutely essential every day in law school and as an attorney. To receive this education while also attending a school with a deep and profound Catholic culture was the most valuable college experience I could have had.”
– Tim Cantu (’10)
Attorney, Pepple Cantu Schmidt
“Few schools anywhere can match Thomas Aquinas College’s extraordinary blend of deep Catholic faith and rich academic formation.”
– The Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput
Archbishop of Philadelphia