New England

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by Paul Habsburg (’24)
Senior Address
Commencement 2024
Thomas Aquinas College, New England


Your Eminence, Cardinal Burke,
Ladies and gentlemen of the Board of Governors,
Members of the faculty,
Families and friends of the college,
Fellow students,

Today we look back on four years of hard work; four years of constantly saying ‘yes’ to the challenges of a rigorous education; four years of spiritual and intellectual growth. We have studied the greatest minds of history — Augustine, St. Thomas, Plato, Aristotle, Newton, Einstein, and countless more. We have read and discussed difficult realities, such as the Trinity, the soul of man, and the way in which we learn. We have considered the development of calculus, electromagnetism, and the theory of relativity. Under the guidance of our wise tutors, we have spent 4,572 hours in the classroom in discussion, and even more outside in preparation.

Paul HabsburgThroughout these four years, one gets used to the ebb and flow of the daily routine; one falls into a schedule that usually starts before 7:30 a.m. and for many ends around 11 p.m. Day to day, we have followed our routine, and so it is very easy to miss the forest for the trees. Today we ought to take a step back and realize that we are part of something great here at the College, something to be proud of.

We follow in the intellectual tradition of the greatest men of history, asking the questions that our ancestors asked thousands of years ago, questions that are timeless and will always define man’s thought. If one thing has become clear throughout our studies, it is that man does not change fundamentally. Plato’s theory of the political man and government translates surprisingly well to more recent writers like De Tocqueville; Aristotle’s fundamental understanding of quantity finds an echo in modern mathematical theorems.

The matter of the curriculum that we have been pursuing for the past years of our lives is truly timeless and has drawn to itself not just the speculative leaders of history, but also those who achieved greatness in practical matters. Plutarch quotes a letter from Alexander the Great to his teacher:

Alexander to Aristotle, greeting. You have not done well to publish your books of oral doctrine; for what is there now that we excel others in, if those things which we have been particularly instructed in be laid open to all. For my part, I assure you that I had rather excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and dominion. Farewell.

We see here something remarkable. One of the greatest men to decorate secular history himself understood the study of the first causes to be greater and more noble than even his military achievements.

“We follow in the intellectual tradition of the greatest men of history, asking the questions that our ancestors asked thousands of years ago, questions that are timeless and will always define man’s thought.”

These same first causes we study here in our last year, as a culmination of all the philosophy we have been doing. Though we by no means master the science of the first causes, we are allowed a glimpse into this knowledge so highly regarded.

However, even this excellent understanding envied by kings is only the handmaid of the science of God and the Blessed, which is the greatest undertaking of all in the curriculum. In our study of the bridging of the infinite gap between man and God in the Incarnation, our study of the salvation of man in the Passion, and our study of our particular means to God in the sacraments, we contemplate truths withheld even from Aristotle. Theology, laid out so clearly by St. Thomas, explained so beautifully by St. Augustine, and defended so eloquently by the papal encyclicals, is not only the pinnacle of our studies here, but ultimately, as the science of God, the highest thing to consider.

In addition to the study of philosophy and theology, we spend almost as much time doing mathematics and the natural sciences as we do our two main disciplines. Why is that? Why do we spend a whole year preparing challenging Euclid propositions every day? Why do we study the development of our understanding of the motions of the heavens? Why bother learning the principles of musical theory?

All these particulars we engage with in order to build a foundation for the higher truths. Details, such as the cause of mutation during DNA replication and the difference between instinct and intellect, add to a more comprehensive picture of reality. They are the world in which we live, each reflecting the divine in some way. Insofar as it is ordered to a study of the highest things, everything we read in our four years here can be called great and pertains to that which wise men ought to know.

The members of the Senior Class do not stand here today as wise men and women, nor as great ones. In fact, it is doubtful whether St. Thomas himself would even regard us as beginners in theology. What we have been given are tools for the pursuit of truth in our lives. It was a mere preparation of what is to come. To echo one of our chaplains, “Of those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

We truly have been given much, and we have a duty to God and our fellow man to use it for good. Our society has many gaping wounds nowadays that must be healed, many people in despair and with no hope. An education like the one we received prepares us perfectly to step in, recognize the problem, find a solution, and apply the remedy to the root cause of the particular evil encountered.

I believe that every single one of us has a vital role to play in God’s church on earth, that we have not merely been given a nice treat, a fun four years, and true friendships, but that our receiving this education is a step toward doing important things in this world. I believe that among our senior class today there are great leaders, called by God to lay down their lives for others. I believe we can do good not only in the economy, but also in politics; not only for the intellectual good of society, but also for the spiritual. We can do good in education, in the medical field and law, in the trades and in financial services. We can aid the Church in its mission to clarify the sciences and lead souls to heaven through a marriage of faith and reason.

What we have to do first, though, is appreciate what we have been given, and so I want to put into words the challenge presented to us in receiving a TAC degree: Understand the importance of what we study, especially for our society, embrace it, and go out there to do great things in the name of God and His church on earth. Have an impact. We must go out into the world and let the light of Christ shine through us, rather than hide it under a bushel. We have been given many talents, but their greatness lies not in holding on to them as our own good, but in going out and multiplying them as a common good.

We will all pursue our particular plans after graduation, landing where we can and where we are needed. It is likely that many of us will never have the time for leisure that we have had here, giving our lives in the service of the Church, our countries, and our families. But we have been given the means to do anything we do greatly; to live a life ordered toward something higher than ourselves, higher even than things in this life; to live a life ordered toward God through the search for Him as the cause of all life and the spring of truth.

Let us go out and do great things for God on this earth.

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.


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