“This Education Is Training for Happiness”
by Jordan Raum (’22)
Thomas Aquinas College, California
First off, I would like to say a few things on behalf of the Class of 2022. I would like to extend a warm welcome to everyone with us today to celebrate the completion of our wonderful time here. You belong here beside us, not only because of the great love we have for each of you, but because this education has always been a joint endeavor.
Today, we do not just celebrate an achievement of this class, but an achievement of the whole community that makes this education possible. So we would like to express our gratitude to all the benefactors of the college, whose generosity has nourished and sheltered us; to the Board of Governors, whose prudence and dedication have allowed us to faithfully fulfill the vision for Catholic liberal education outlined by our founders; to our president, Dr. McLean; our dean, Dr. Goyette; and our assistant dean, Dr. Kuebler, whose willingness to descend back into the cave has ensured the success of this program, especially during the great difficulties of the pandemic; to the administration, whose diligence has kept the lights on all these years; to the tutors, whose patience, humility, and love for the truth have inspired all of us; and most of all, to our parents and families, whose constant love has given us life time and time again. By working constantly beside us, you all have blessed us in more ways than anyone but God knows. So we are overjoyed to have you beside us today to commemorate our shared triumph.
With that said, I hope you will forgive me if I ignore you and address the rest of these words to my classmates.
I can only assume you asked me to be Class Speaker because none of you wanted to be up here today. However it happened, I ended up with the responsibility of reminding everyone what a huge difference this program has made in our lives and inspiring us all to go out and make a difference out in the world. So I owe it to you to tell you up front that I can’t fulfill that responsibility.
I’ve given a lot of thought to how I could encapsulate what we’ve gained from the last four years, but at the end of the day, you all have poured too much blood, sweat, and tears into this program for me to bottle it up and serve it back to you in a martini glass. I simply can’t speak to all of the unique ways this community has blessed each and every one of us: There are too many of you, and you have experienced too much. Even if we all came up here one by one and poured out our whole hearts, I still don’t think we could adequately express how these years have impacted us. We really haven’t had enough time to reap the rewards of our labors here, and I suspect the experience of the coming years will never fail to deepen our awareness and appreciation of what this college and community have done for us. So don’t be disappointed if this address can’t sufficiently capture what being here has meant to each of you.
I’ve also thought about how I could inspire us to go out and make the most of what we’ve been blessed with here, but I can’t even begin to imagine the countless ways God is going to use each of us, or to discern which parts of our life here have been most pivotal in preparing us for those missions. So please don’t be too dissatisfied if I can’t do justice to the importance of what each of you is called to accomplish, or remind you how you are now more than capable of overcoming every challenge that will confront you.
Since I have failed you as a class speaker, I thought perhaps I could make it up to you by sharing a few thoughts of mine as a friend.
Regardless of where your steps off this platform and into the future will take you, there is one thing I know for certain about every one of you: You’re going to try to be happy. You’ll attempt to live the kind of life where you can go to sleep each night without wishing that you won’t wake up.
Don’t forget that this education is training for happiness. Liberal education is freeing because it seeks to provide real answers to the questions none of us can escape answering in one way or another: Why are you here, and what are you supposed to do about it? These questions are timeless because they must be answered, often before they can even be asked: Every choice you make declares why you think you’re here and what you think you can do about it. Your life is always an answer, so if you want a good life, make it a good one. The purpose of our time here was to teach us how to find the answer which leads to life in abundance.
But, as you all are especially aware, the truth is not easy to attain. Thinking can be an exhausting, frustrating, and frankly humiliating business. This is one of the many reasons it can be tempting to just walk away, as Euthyphro does from Socrates. When the events of life demand that we take a position, we always have the option of responding with someone else’s answers. I am confident that you will never find a shortage of people more than willing to tell you what to live for, and plenty of others who will accept you warmly and defend you fiercely just for agreeing with them. So of course it can be appealing to think and act in a way which will be agreeable to those around you, while distracting yourself from the weight of those fundamental questions by whatever means necessary. It might even feel that by doing so you are only being a harmless and agreeable person. But harmless and agreeable people executed Socrates; harmless and agreeable people went to church beside the rails to Auschwitz; harmless and agreeable people make possible abortion and the grave social injustices of our day. As Jesus put it, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). So you can’t give up on thinking: Humanity has seen enough unexamined lives. As Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
The education here aims to renew our minds. Our minds become new by asking the crucial questions with true humility and wonder, evicting our personal presumptions and biases to make room for the truth to work in us. By starting anew with serious and diligent effort, we’ve had the unbelievably wonderful opportunity to learn the habits of mind and foundational principles necessary for truly intentional living. We’ve pushed ourselves to wrestle with the biggest questions and the greatest minds our civilization has produced. From where I’m standing I can tell it’s been well worth the effort. I think the Senior Thesis project best illustrates what this program has equipped us to do: We confronted real questions of lasting importance and significance with dedication, humility, and courage, then defended our answers which we discovered. Could you ask for a better description of the examined life? I don’t think so.
But even more importantly, we’ve had an opportunity to greatly increase our appreciation for Christ Himself. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; but how can we understand the significance of this if we have never seriously struggled with our own responsibility to discover the way by which truth can direct our lives? You can’t take Christ for granted. You have to want Him more than anything else. You have to long for Him as badly as a deer pants for water. That’s why He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6), because they are the only ones who are going to be satisfied. So our attempts to grapple with life’s deepest questions continually renew our thirst for life’s deepest answer.
There will be many things from our time here that we won’t always remember. Some of us will probably forget how to compound ratios; others will have trouble recalling who the Atreidae are; and it’s not impossible that, God forbid, one of us will even attempt to employ a second-figure affirmative syllogism. But we must never forget that thinking is a great gift and a great responsibility. Our time here has shown us that it is also a great joy, a source of profound fulfillment, and a powerful avenue to Christ. So don’t be conformed to the world. Continue to renew yourselves on the path we began four years ago, and let the truth set you free. Or, as one of our contemporary poets recently put it: “No more living for the culture, we’re nobody’s slaves.”
Thank you, guys, so much for making these last four years the best of my life and giving me so much hope for everything to come. God bless you all.