by MaryGrace Brittain (’23)
Senior Address Commencement 2023
Thomas Aquinas College, California
Bishop Conley, members of the Board of Governors, President O’Reilly, Dean Goyette, faculty, staff, family, and friends: the Class of 2023 welcomes you and thanks you for your presence here today.
We started this journey four years ago with young minds, eager hearts, and with 30 more classmates. We are a small group, but a mighty one. And now, for the 74 of us, this journey has finally come to an end. It has brought along with it lasting friendships, formation in the life of the mind and, more importantly, in the life of the Faith. And the College has chosen to crown our days as students with this joyous celebration. But the greatest thing worth celebrating today is not the glory of our own merits, but the priceless gift we have been given.
Having received this gift, we must not neglect our present and most urgent duty to give thanks to God, our maker, who deigned to make us partakers in this little piece of earthly heaven, our alma mater; and to give thanks to everyone else who has graciously made this day possible.
To begin, we would like to thank the men whose service to the cause of Catholic liberal education has been invaluable. Firstly, Mr. Deluca: Thank you for being here today. And posthumously, Dr. McArthur, Dr. Dillon, Mr. Berquist, and Dr. Neumayr. Second only to God, these men are the greatest cause of today’s celebration. We pray that this year’s 49th graduating class of their college has made them proud and has played its part in fulfilling their noble mission.
We thank our Board of Governors. Your service to the College has allowed it to continue to flourish by guiding us with your wisdom, your love, and your prayers. And we thank our benefactors. Your generosity has built our college, and it has built this unique community by enabling students to attend who would otherwise be unable.
We thank our priests. Fr. Marczewski, Fr. Chung, and Fr. Lopez. By mere appearance our college is surely beautiful, but you make it miraculous by bringing forth the holy hush of our chapel and bringing God to us through the sacraments. You make Thomas Aquinas College truly Catholic, and for this, we are eternally grateful.
“The greatest thing worth celebrating today is not the glory of our own merits, but the priceless gift we have been given.”
We thank our tutors. You have been shining examples of what it means to pursue wisdom as a Catholic, reminding us always that we are to love with our hearts even more than we are to think with our minds. You are the day-to-day heroes of this campus, and you have become people we love and wish to emulate because of your dedication to the truth and to the one true faith.
In particular, we would like to thank Mr. Shields. He was with us when we began this journey four years ago, and he is with us now as we carry him in our hearts and in our fondest memories. We thank him for his willingness to ask the tough questions, never allowing us to become idle or complacent, but forcing us always to strive to be more diligent and more dedicated. We are honored to have been part of his legacy and we will remember him always as our beloved tutor, who was so much more.
Lastly, we thank our parents. Your love for us and your constant support began far before we came here. Thank you for bringing us into this world and thank you for bringing us into the Church. Your guidance and your steadfast love have allowed our faith to truly become our own, so that your prayers now fall from our lips, your creed is now our creed, and the God whom we first adored out of obedience to you we adore now out of love for Him. Leaving the charming cradle of our childhood to find this new home of human wisdom would have been much easier if it did not also mean leaving you.
In my own case, I thank my father, Tommy Brittain (’96). Your courage led you to start this course 31 years ago, and now 10 of your children have followed your lead. Thank you for the example that you have been to me for my whole life. And I thank my beautiful mother, Melissa Brittain. You are my very best friend and the fiercest defender of those you love. I would be very well off if I grew to become just half the woman that you are.
Thank you, parents for everything. Words are straw compared to the force of the love you have shown us. But we love you and we pray that today, and for the rest of our lives, we make you proud.
My fellow graduates, we have officially completed a demanding course of study which has truly enlightened our minds. And although this magnificent immersion into the wonder of the Great Books has come to an end, be assured that the whisper of truth which echoes in these halls will resound in our hearts forever. We have acquired by our studies the good of knowledge, which has thereby freed us.
But the best kind of freedom is not the freedom to think, but the freedom to love, the freedom to live rightly. And I believe that our days here as students have occasioned the growth of love in our hearts and a community of good living. And though these days are now over, the end of our time here as students of this school only begins our time as students of the world — a term far longer than four years.
“Although this magnificent immersion into the wonder of the Great Books has come to an end, be assured that the whisper of truth which echoes in these halls will resound in our hearts forever.”
If our patron is right in asserting that the perfection of the Christian life consists simply in charity, then as we enter the world we must know how to love and we must succeed in trying. How are we to love? Although my answer is insufficient, I would like to offer a place where we may start.
If the freedom to love is the best kind, then I believe we are most free when we have reached the heights of humility. For in the words of St. Augustine, “You cannot attain to charity except through humility.” Love will pour from our hearts the more we realize our own unworthiness and thereby understand just how graciously God pours His love upon us.
If humility is our way to love, then humble we must be. Although I am no expert, I think that true humility lies in treating your gifts and talents just as they are, no more, no less — knowing that your gifts are yours solely by the grace of God, and then choosing to champion them for Him. To treat them any more would give way to pride, but to treat them any less would be an injustice to the Giver.
And the truth we now carry in our hearts, although the fruit of much labor, is one of these same gifts. We must thank God for this gift and choose to use it, along with each of our unique gifts of soul, to build Christ’s church on earth. For true evangelization cannot be taught but must be personally accomplished by humble servants with loving hearts, willing to give all that they are to the world.
So, Margaret Burns and Ian Cochiolo, intellectually you two are the most fit to teach, but your greatest gift lies not in your mind but in your willingness to serve others. Continue to build Christ’s church by being to the world the same humble servants that you have always been to us. Jonathan Phelan, my oldest friend, your courage and your discipline make you the most equipped to lead others because these two gifts make those who know you want to follow you to greatness. Be a humble leader to the world, the way you have always humbly led the rest of us. Sophie Cummings and Brigit McNeil, you are two of the kindest people I have ever known. Continue to be to the world the same humble and gentle souls that make all who know you want to be your friend.
And to the rest of my classmates, your gifts are just as important and just as strong. Humbly serve the world by being faithfully true to the person God made you. And remember the words of St. Teresa of Avila: “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” Our knowledge will become a hindrance, and not a handmaiden, to the good life if we allow it to be welcomed into a proud and arrogant soul. If our efforts here have induced us to pride and not humility, then, my friends, I believe we have severely missed the point.
“True humility lies in treating your gifts and talents just as they are, no more, no less — knowing that your gifts are yours solely by the grace of God, and then choosing to champion them for Him.”
For the truly wise man knows how small he is, but he simultaneously rejoices because smallness in the Lord is glory the size of a giant. Our witness in the world will likely not be from high seats of honor or positions of authority, but our humble witness will be enough, because humility will lead us to the only glory which matters, the glory which lasts forever.
And though we may find ourselves under the crucible of trials as we try to plant the glorious cross on pagan shores, remember that salvation was won on Calvary because one man had enough humility to take up His cross — and enough love to move Him onward, though His destination would crucify Him.
So, I exhort the class of 2023: Take up your cross with humility and carry it with love. And though the threats against our faith may be legion, remember the words of St. Vincent de Paul: “The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.”
Lastly, I would like to commend one young woman’s example as we go: our beloved Maggie Yanoschik. With her example before us, I believe our witness has a sure chance of succeeding. For if we meet the world the way that Maggie met us — with a humble soul and love in her heart — then how could we fail? And although we wish she were still here with us, partaking in this celebration, we pray that she is partaking in one far greater. May our beloved friend and classmate rest in eternal peace, and may we all rejoice that our wonderful Maggie makes our class 75 strong.
Now it is time for me to say farewell. My class, I address you not so much as your class speaker, but as your friend. Goodbyes are never easy, and it is because sadness tends to sit right next to love. But better for love to have such a companion than to not be at all. Thank God for Thomas Aquinas College, the place that makes love so great, goodbyes so hard, and forgetting impossible. And my friends, be humble. Be humble, so that we may not be concerned with being elite but with being excellent; and be humble, so that we may never yield to the cancers of ingratitude and pride, but so that we may become truly wise.
Fr. Marczewski once said to me, “Time is like our Blessed Mother: pregnant with God.” Our Lord is found at every moment, waiting to be known and waiting to be loved by us. So, remember that the best part about you and the life that you lead is your ability to love that which you know. Pursue wisdom, so that we may employ our hearts and not neglect them; so as to perfect our humanity, and not lose it. Do not live your life to think, but think so that you may live.