Dear students, it has been a pleasure to be your teacher these past years. I remember with fondness your first discoveries of the joy of Shakespeare in Room 116 as we performed Romeo and Juliet together. I remember, perhaps with less fondness, how I terrified Javy and others of you on my first day teaching you. I remember field trips downtown, college visits, compass group mafia games, and many, many other things with great fondness. It is with great joy that I address you on this, the capstone day of your academic career thus far. You stand at the pinnacle of one achievement looking at the rest of your life ahead of you.
As you enter life as adults, I feel certain that you will be charged to “bring the light of Christ.” Specifically, though, what does it mean to bring the light of Christ? In this time, I could point out that you are particularly equipped to those who Christ called “The least of these”. I could point out that your reading and practice here has particularly prepared you to proclaim the gospel. I could point out that your preparation here has particularly suited you to enter a world where immorality is cherished and redeem that world. I want, however, to show how you are particularly well-prepared to address three other challenges facing our world.
First: Fractured Communities. Our communities are fractured and broken. The people within them are distanced from one another (this separation runs deeper than just the social distancing policies with which we are now all familiar). The people in our communities have neither the close knit community of the monastery or the guild, nor the civic duty and sense of camaraderie of the earlier decades of our own country. Neighbors not only don’t speak to one another, they don’t even know one another. We live in a society which not only cannot love its neighbors, but doesn’t even know its neighbors down the street. A society which even has a hard time envisioning a world in which true community exists.
You have been given the vision of what redeemed community looks like. You have seen the way a community operates as you have been members of the WCA community. You have read books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Life Together, and The City of God that cast this vision for you. This will require you to take steps that will make you feel uncomfortable, because people who seek to build genuine community in our society are frequently socially uncomfortable. The way to go about this is also to do the uncomfortable things – meet your neighbors; talk to, cry with, build up, and listen to your friends; host meals and eat with others (even in a dorm room), build community in a thousand small ways.
You are all equipped to do this: I see that equipping in the tutoring you have done as you participated in our community by helping younger students. I have seen it in your desire to encourage and build up one another, younger students, and your teachers. I have seen it in your service in the kindergarten classrooms and other Grammar School classrooms. I have seen it in your senior theses where you thought deeply and carefully about precisely this activity. Don’t let this preparation go to waste – do the hard work of building community wherever you find yourself.
Second: A World Without Imagination, Wonder, or the capacity to appreciate Beauty. Our society’s conception of the world has neither the color of Chaucer, nor the mystery of Lewis. People in our society do not love beauty. Folks around us don’t care about it because they haven’t seen enough of it. Their environments are filled with ugly, practical things. They have been made to live in cities and buildings which are designed not for beauty, but for efficiency with much of the same mindset as that used to design particularly inhumane dairy farms. The language they speak has none of the imagery of Shakespeare nor the tripping lightness of Frost. To people who speak a purely utilitarian language, the beauty of Christ as the Word makes no sense whatsoever. If people do not know what beauty is, they will not desire it. If they do not desire beauty, they will not create or contemplate it. Without beauty, the people perish. “Sin is the receding of the soul from the beautiful” – Gregory of Nyssa
Yet you have the ability to see the world as miraculous; to see the world as George Herbert did:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
You also have the ability to create this beauty all around you. You have practiced this with Mrs. Halleland and Mrs. Ziegler. You have studied from those who are greatest at this – Homer, Michelangelo, Milton, Bach, and Monet. I see you creating and loving this beauty in your writing, in your music, in your art, and in your dance. Continue to do so. The creation of beauty is not a hobby or a secondary task, it is vitally important to make us fully human.
Third: Metaphysically Misled. Those around us do not know who they are or what their place is in the kingdom of God. They question even the nature of reality, but are too intellectually indolent to ponder what the true implications of that may be. This is not to disparage anyone, but to point out that as a society, intellectual indolence is valued. People in our society are not only metaphysically misled, but dangerously metaphysically lazy.
As the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe has said, we live in a world where “things fall apart.” The philosophical basis for understanding and interacting with reality has been taken away by men like Derrida and Beckett. Aquinas, Augustine, and Plato have been left behind. We must call people back to a world where truth is valued and where inquiry and the quest for truth is both acknowledged as hard and yet daily attempted.
You have been prepared to address this dangerous lack of truth in the world around you. You have read and considered the deepest thinkers of the Western World. You have written so much that your writing is precise, efficient, and logical; an excellent vehicle to communicate and seek after truth. You have sought for truth in class debates, in socratic discussions, in essays, and in presentations. Keep seeking for truth, and keep inspiring others to do it as well.
A warning before I wrap up: You have well-sharpened intellects. You have been given all of the necessary tuning, sharpening, and oiling. You have been prepared in all the right ways. Sharp tools, however, can be used for the wrong ends. It does not matter how much you sharpen the axe, if you use it to cut a hole in the boat, you will still drown. Use what you have been given in the right way and for the right purposes.
Calvin, who is always ready with a witty remark and a wise word
Morgan, who is always full of joy and who brings that joy to others
Jayna, who motivates us to excellence because of her passion to pursue it.
Javy, who is unceasingly kind to everyone, regardless of circumstances
Danny, whose writing is sharper than a knife
Stephen, who blends wit and a search for the truth in an incredibly winsome manner
Benjamin, who leads others well in every situation
Olivia, who loves and shares beauty in all she does
Priscilla, whose passion for Christian service is always evident
Abby, whose big laugh and big heart blesses everyone with whom she comes in contact
Eden, whose ability to build relationships and encourage others amazes me
and Helen, who thinks deeply and creates meaningful beauty as a result
It is for you that I give you this last charge which is especially dear to my heart: Continue to learn, be life-long learners. Search out truth with a vigor unfamiliar and strange to your contemporaries. If you do not continue to learn, you waste what you have learned so far. Learning which does not lead to more learning and more of a desire to seek out is sterile, useless, and wasted. Learn not only because it helps you to achieve other things, that is the vacuous route of Pragmatism. Learn as an end in itself.