Dominic Gardner ('22)
Dominic Gardner ('22)

By Dominic Gardner (CA ’22)

My parents are both Thomas Aquinas College alumni, so from an early age coming to school here was, for me, a possible or even likely outcome.

As I entered high school, though, I wondered whether my interests were really aligned with the curriculum at TAC. I had some vague idea of “liberal arts” being like the English courses I was taking, with lots of literature and writing. While I didn’t dislike these classes, I enjoyed math and science more for their rigor and unambiguous answers. My idea of liberal arts was of something subjective and confused.

But when I visited the College during my junior year of high school, I found it was just the opposite. The intellectual life here was rigorous, precise, and concerned with the most serious questions. So while I applied to other schools just in case, my mind was really made up to come to TAC.

Since being a student here, I have found the studies even more rewarding than my first impression. It’s amazing to see the development of ideas over the course of a semester or even over all four years. Just last Thursday we were using conclusions reached in Freshman Mathematics to make arguments in Senior Philosophy.

This feature of the curriculum is perhaps the most valued part of my studies here. It is especially well served by our class - room discussions and might be called the process of discovery. Presenting education as discovery rather than mere passive receptivity has had, for me, three main effects.

First, it helps bring the joy and wonder that true knowledge ought to bring. In one of our early Junior Mathematics readings, Descartes writes that he leaves out some of the steps because he doesn’t want to deprive us of the joy of discovery. And while this omission makes for more work, he is absolutely right. I remember working on a complicated and seemingly abstract proposition in his geometry when I suddenly realized he was producing the quadratic formula. I was completely amazed and excited! I had thought of the quadratic formula as merely a shortcut provided by math textbooks, but discovering its origins made it seem so much more real and wonderful.

The second effect of discovery is to make the subject material more lasting in the student’s mind. I remember math now far better than I remembered it in high school because everything is part of a whole, connected system rather than scattered rules. It makes what you learn an object of knowledge and not simply memory.

Third, and perhaps most important, the method of discovery really shows that the intellectual life is not simply a destination, but a journey, a lifelong quest to exercise your highest faculty in pursuit of the highest things. I remember how satisfied I was at the end of freshman year, how much I thought I had learned. Now I see how far I have come since then, while still seeing how much more there is to learn.

Yet Thomas Aquinas College is not merely concerned with our minds but with our whole person. The community fostered by the College encourages students to pursue the good. I was homeschooled, so leaving home was always going to be a bit of a culture shock, but TAC provides a fantastic middle ground where you are independent and responsible for yourself while also surrounded with good, like-minded peers, provided with healthy recreations, and encouraged in the spiritual and intellectual life. The rules here, then, like any moral precept, make you more free rather than less.

I expect the benefits TAC has provided me to continue and grow when I leave campus. I am interested in pursuing a career in law, and scored in the 97th percentile on the LSAT. (Honestly, that test is made for TAC students — it’s not based on needing knowledge of specific material but simply being able to think logically and read critically.) I am confident the skills gained here will serve me well both in law school and also in a career that follows.

Mr. Gardner is from Scranton, Pennsylvania.