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Note: Each year the graduating class elects one of its members to present the Senior Address at Commencement. Upon graduation, this year’s speaker, Benjamin Trull of St. Louis, Missouri, will pursue a master's degree in sacred theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.
“Let us be His Light”
by Benjamin Trull (’19)
May 11, 2019
Bishop Barron; honored guests; President McLean; Dr. Goyette; Dr. Decaen; governors, faculty, family, and friends: It is my privilege to deliver this address on behalf of the Class of 2019. I thank you, my beloved classmates, for this honor.
Graduation is a day of joy and sorrow because it is a day of fulfillment and farewell. We are sorrowful, because we must soon depart a community of friends for which we are each unspeakably grateful, and which none of us will, or even could, forget; yet we are joyful, because we have fulfilled our goal for coming here in the first place! Mixed as our emotions are, however, I believe the sense of fulfillment should outweigh the feeling of farewell, and therefore I would like to reflect on the task that lies before us as imminent graduates of Thomas Aquinas College, in light of what we have achieved.
We have received (or we hope we have received) a Catholic liberal education. TAC proposes in four years to give us a beginning of Catholic wisdom. I want, therefore, to meditate on each of the terms of this proposal to discern what they say about our new lives and responsibilities.
First, our education has centered on wisdom. We have tried to understand the world in which we live, the beings with which we share that world, ourselves, and finally the origin of all things, God Himself. We have taken, as it were, a prolonged intellectual retreat in which to be purged of the darkness of sin and ignorance before returning to the world. With our studies concluded, we are now responsible for living according to what we have received: wisdom, say the Scriptures, is far beyond the price of pearls.
That we have sought wisdom and in some way acquired her should have profound consequences for how we live, regardless of our vocation or career. We have acquired something great, and in the process begun to reflect that greatness in ourselves; and therefore we must learn to practice the virtue of true magnanimity when we step out into the world. David Hume once said, “Be a philosopher, but in the midst of your philosophy, be still a man.” I think our education should spur us to retort: “Let us be men and women, but for all that, let us still be philosophers.” Wisdom is no common possession: cherish the gift, and live accordingly.
We have, thanks to God, our tutors, and our own efforts, spent time in contemplation of what is best: Euclid and Newton; Aristotle’s Ethics and Metaphysics; the Bible, and St. Thomas’ treatment of the Blessed Trinity. What a shame it would be to return from those sublime heights to a lifestyle in which the closest we get to contemplation is binging shows on Netflix. We hear in the Book of Proverbs, “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool that repeats his folly.” Let’s not be that fool. We must be magnanimous.
Yet you probably thinking, “But it’s only a beginning in wisdom! To think you’ve graduated wise is to have been deaf and blind to the education.” I agree wholeheartedly. We have only received the beginnings of wisdom. Although we have achieved and acquired much in our four years, in the grand scheme of things to be known and loved, our acquisitions and achievements are less than straw, to which St. Thomas compared his Summa.
So I should emphasize: We haven’t come to possess wisdom, but we have at least been pointed in the right direction. Our sinfulness, ignorance, and personal limitations still remain between us and the fullness of wisdom. We must acknowledge with Goethe’s Faust that, for all our labors, we are no nearer to comprehending the infinite: our steps have been small indeed. Yet unlike Goethe’s Faust, we must rejoice in our lowliness — we must accept our imperfections in wisdom with true humility.
If I seemed emphatic before about our duty to be magnanimous, I must be equally emphatic that we not live up to the popular image of the philosopher (and, for that matter, the TAC graduate): arrogant, condescending, incapable of thinking people wise that have less education than he. This is the worst possible testament we could give to our education and educators; avoiding it demands profound humility.
Thus, living in accord with this beginning in wisdom requires that we acknowledge that we have something truly great, the very reception of which makes us great; and at the same time it requires deep awareness of our lowliness. In our lives, then, we must learn to reconcile magnanimity and humility: a tall order, if not a downright impossible demand. Doesn’t this seem a bit paradoxical?
This paradox leads me to the third and final aspect of the proposal: We have received the beginning of Catholic wisdom. Our lives and studies here have never been separable, or should not be separated, from the centrality of Jesus Christ. And this centrality of Christ gives our education, and the responsibilities that now devolve upon us, a whole new dimension.
According to our Catholic faith, we believe we have received the foundations — according to faith and reason — of the truth about reality, culminating in the supreme revelation of God in the Incarnate Word, crucified and raised from the dead. In virtue of this gift of grace, we have been made friends of God, participants in His life, and apostles of His compassion.
A Catholic liberal education, therefore, offers to introduce its students to the light of Christ through theology and philosophy, and in the process to make their hearts, minds, and deeds glow with that very same light. The supposed paradox between magnanimity and humility is dissolved in the person of Christ. He is the light of the world, and we stand in desperate need of Him for our salvation. In this respect, we must be supremely humble. But to know Christ is to come to resemble Him, and in resembling Him we come to join Him in being the light of the world. In this respect, we must be noble-minded and magnanimous. In virtue of our education, we are responsible for putting on Christ and radiating His light to the world.
There is no time to waste, my friends. As Newman says, “Time is short, eternity is long.” Our world is dark; it needs the light of Christ. Let us be His light. Some of us are soon going to enter the religious life: Let them be the light of the world! Others are going to be married soon: Let them be the light of the world! Some of us are heading on to further study, or to be teachers, or to the workplace: Let us all be the light of the world!
Our education can achieve nothing greater than to make its graduates radiant with the splendor of the truth. In the last analysis, that is the task — that is the responsibility — that falls to us as we conclude our studies at this beautiful school, which has earned the old adage “alma mater,” and as we bid farewell to each other, friends with whom we have shared such a noble and ennobling life. But we must not let nostalgia for the life we are leaving slow us down: time is short, eternity is long. Let us know, love, and serve Jesus Christ, and thereby reflect His luminous compassion. As a very holy priest once told me, nothing else matters, and all else will follow. Thank you.
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