Dr. Jonathan Sanford: Commencement 2023 Commencement Speaker

Thank you for that introduction. My greetings to each of you and I want to recognize especially executive director, Mrs. Mary Rowles, Chief academic Officer, Mrs. Megan Lengyel, the esteemed Faculty and administration of Kolbe Academy, parents, grandparents, and other family members, and friends, and especially you the 2023 graduates. Good morning.

This is indeed a blessed day. Commencements are liminal events. You are celebrating the completion of one set of activities, your formation through Kobe Academy and marking the beginning of something new. It is a good time to ask two questions. Where have you been and where are you going? Kolbe Academy is explicitly dedicated to a formation in wisdom, truth and virtue.

What do these terms mean? What have you learned? How have you been formed as a threshold moment? Your commencement provides an excellent opportunity to look back in order to move forward for it is only with what you have received, the habits of mind and heart which now shape you that you are able to venture forth. So what exactly have you received taking up that question broadly?

I hope you recognize that everything you have is a gift, your life, your parents, your siblings, your friends, your teachers coaches, your faith, even your struggles, your pains, your toils, your hardships are gifts. Often, our most important lessons come through failure and hardship. If that is we have an eager spirit, ready to learn.

What do you do when someone gives you a gift, you thank them. Of course. And the greatest giver of gifts is God himself. The source of all that is good, true and beautiful and the redeemer of all our failures and sufferings. My first lesson is to encourage you to give thanks and all things to cultivate the habit of a grateful spirit. This is what Saint Paul exhorts us to do.

And first Thessalonians in all things give thanks for. This is the will of God through Christ Jesus for all of you. I guarantee that in heeding this command, you won't just be expressing your fidelity to the word of God. You'll be far happier and your life will be more readily felt as a gift to others as part of this exercise of looking back to see ahead.

Let's reflect together on the nature of education, albeit briefly focusing on the true good and beautiful in order to review what you are taking with you and to direct you to where you are going. Kolbe Academy provides a Catholic and classical education. One that cultivates the intellectual, moral and theological virtues, a Catholic and classical education is in its fullest sense, a liberating education, freeing its recipients from ignorance and the strife of one's passions and freeing them for a life well lived. This is an education that takes a lifetime to grow into return to what you have learned and build new avenues for learning. God made us to be know and lovers of Him and all truths, we grasp our encounters with what God vouch saves for our knowing. God made us intellectual beings and he intends for us to put the gifts of our nature to their best uses.

This is the central principle of the Catholic intellectual tradition. Like many of those central principles. It draws some of its depth from the classical pre Christian Western tradition, a tradition in which Socrates Plato and Aristotle figure prominently as do Greek chromatis like Esus and Sophocles and others at the heart of one of his most important works, Plato admonishes us to think rightly about what it is to learn.

He writes in the seventh book of the Republic that education isn't what people declare it to be. It isn't what people declare it to be mainly putting knowledge into souls that lack it. Like putting sight into blind eyes, the power to learn is present in everyone's soul. And that instrument with which each learns is like an eye that cannot be turned around from darkness to light without turning the whole body. That when memorizing things like the periodic table or Latin second to clinch, you may well have felt like you were shoving facts into your soul. These distinct acts of memorization were in fact accidental to the essential matter of coming to see things themselves. What your teachers have cultivated in you is what medieval thinkers like Saint Thomas Aquinas called Cito.

The virtue of docility facility is derived from the Latin which means to teach and its nobility is captured well in some recognizable cognates such as when we bestow the title of doctor on one who has achieved a great mastery of learning in a particular discipline. Every virtue we learn from both Aristotle and Aquinas makes its possessor good and enables him to perform his proper work.

Well, docility is that virtue which actualizes the potential learner in each of us. And it does so by disposing us to receive from those persons, works of art, symbolic utterances, literary artifacts and indeed nature herself, the treasures they contain far from enslaving us to these teachers. Docility enables us to realize that we can become free only by subjecting ourselves to those truths.

What that means for a learner is that we absorb, we absorb or assimilate or become measured by or otherwise come to be one with the objects of apprehension. Knowing as both Aristotle and Aus observed is a matter of becoming one with what one studies that is, we become what we know according to our own mode of understanding. There is no learning without the virtue of a standing readiness to learn from others.

For humans do not gaze on the world with God's all seeing eyes we see for ourselves only what we encounter, but we have the benefit of being able to turn to others who have made sense of what they have encountered and submit their insights to us. This is where the notion of a tradition as in the Western intellectual tradition or the Catholic intellectual tradition has special relevance for holding forth for the learner.

Those books, experiments, works of art and other artifacts that are of central importance to his study. It is also the tradition that can provide some guidance to determining who in fact can be trusted as the contemporary conveyors of the tradition's treasures, learning from the wise and learning from the things the wise point us to requires as well an educational culture conducive to study facility.

The capacity of being taught implies not just the sheer capacity to learn, but it implies as well. The desire and in cultivating such a desire to learn, one needs an environment in which one finds others who are similarly desirous, such a culture and and the many acts of learning that take place within it are best understood within the context of friendship.

Exercising the virtue of docility requires friendship and education itself is a kind of friendship for the sake of friendship. First speaking, somewhat Analogically, a Catholic and classical education is a friendship with the truth of things. Second now, literally a Catholic and classical education fo fosters friendship between teachers and students.

Third, a Catholic and classical education fosters friendships between students and between teachers and fourth. And most significantly, a Catholic and classical education is ultimately about deepening a friendship with God. I know you have benefited tremendously from these friendships throughout your time at Kolbe. And I encourage you to continue to cultivate them as you go forth from this academy.

I also encourage you to seek and nurture the right sort of new friends. It makes a tremendous difference with whom you spend your time and what sort of culture you contribute to, find friends who share with you a desire to learn, who challenge you to be more excellent, who encourage you to grow into your knowledge and love of God. This vision for education stands in stark contrast with that predominantly held in high schools and colleges we live in what is often called the digital age. One of the implications of this is that we can come to think that knowledge is digiti seamlessly transferrable into any variety of so called smart devices and therefore cheap. Just as Renee DesCarte makes the mistake of approaching metaphysics with the methodology of the mathematician. And so reduces the material world to the merely extended, flexible and mutable.

It has become common to think anything that can be scanned. And in fact, everything physical can be scanned is nothing more than its digital expression. But things are not their representations and some representations are more and others less revealing of things. Knowledge is not information. Knowledge is always, as I've already said, a matter of personal encounter between a knower and a thing.

It is things that measure us revealing to us. If we listen attentively to them, they're being, it is their relationship between your mind and it is the relationship between your mind and beings that yields what we call truth. Your teachers have been craftsmen of the art of directing your intellects towards those beings most worthy of your attention.

More than only striving to instill in you those habits of mind. We call the intellectual virtues like plato, your teachers know that the whole of your being must be oriented rightly. And that is a matter of fostering in you those perfections of character we call the moral virtues is at this juncture that the quest for discovering the truth of things and the quest for achieving the good ought to be seen to go hand in hand integrated formation, entails full human formation.

I congratulate you on your accomplishments. It's right and proper to celebrate the not insignificant accomplishment of graduating from Kolbe Academy. I congratulate you as well for a gift you did not earn having parents with the wisdom to entrust your education to this academy and who have been willing to make what I am sure for many of them is a significant sacrifice to pay for it.

I also want to congratulate you for having friends who encouraged you when you felt like there was no way you could pull together that essay on time and who cheered for you even in your less graceful moments in your extracurricular activities. I want to congratulate you for having a God who loves you so much that he created you with sufficient gifts to graduate from high school and infinitely more blessed than that.

Who through his death and resurrection has called you into friendship with himself. You should see a similar pattern here. What you have you have received, as I've said already, all that you have is a gift that should humble you being humbled. However, is anything but crippling humility is not mere modesty. Nor does it make you hold back from great ventures, Saint Thomas Aquinas captures just the right entry point to making sense of the virtue of humility.

When he recognizes it to be the sister of magnanimity, magnanimity or mega suon literally means great soul. This virtue is a matter of striving with the very seat of your deepest desire for great and glorious things. This is what constitutes the essence of magnanimity. How is humility compatible with striving after great and glorious things.

The essence of humility is acknowledging your gifts precisely as gifts. And you can only do that by giving credit to the giver of all gifts. Therefore, with humility, one glorifies God as the gift giver. And just as in the parable of the talents, God is pleased when we use our gifts. He is most pleased when we use our gifts especially. Well. Therefore, with magnanimity, one strives to do great and glorious things that build up the kingdom, thereby pleasing the king through putting to use those talents he bestowed upon you. So practice genuine magnanimity so that you might thereby be truly humble. The greatest challenge that lies before you is existential. Will you be the person, the man, the woman God has called you to be, we can become our own obstacles to heeding that call by imagining ourselves to be independent agents wholly responsible for our successes, more or less self made and free to do as we want.

The truth rather is that free choice of the will is but an intermediate good and to mistake it for full freedom is to fail to realize that whenever we willfully sever ourselves from the truth, we only make ourselves slaves. It is Saint Augustine who points us out most vividly in the second book of on free choice of the will. We must serve the truth if we are to be free for only the truth makes one free.

One of the choicest fruits of a genuinely liberating education is that you're able to think for yourself, that you have become an independent thinker as we call it at the University of Dallas. But it is not the case that you are free to make of your life, whatever you will and thereby flourish. That is simply not the case for the simple reason that each one of us is already and I immediately enmeshed in a whole network of obligations which we have not voluntarily undertaken like it or not. Each one of us does owe honor to our parents. Gratitude to our teachers, help to our siblings, comfort to our friends and religion, to God. You don't have a choice in those matters. You can of course make choices that pretend as though you don't have those obligations, but that does not make them any less binding upon you to explain a little of what I mean by that consider that your mother's carried you to term and nursed you, your fathers fed you with spoons, both your parents changed your diapers and held your hand as you learned to walk. They and the many others they invited into your life as help mates in raising you. Like your teachers at Kolbe Academy have indeed brought you to a point where you can more or less take care of yourself. But the mark of real maturity is acknowledging that you are in fundamental relation with others and exercising virtues that promote their flourishing.

Even during those most independent seeming periods of our lives, college can seem that way. We are still at every moment dependent on others for any variety of things from the food, you procure from the grocery or the cafeteria to the streets or walkways, you utilize the books you read. Moreover, no great reflection is required to see you will.

If you are fortunate enough to live to old age, once again, be in need of someone to spoon feed you to turn you over in bed. In order to avoid bed sores and to change your diapers. All this focus on basic needs is not meant to shock, but rather to remind you that you are each an animal, a wondrous unique and bound for heaven animal to be sure. But an animal nonetheless, your body is not something you use for a bit before your true self departs to be with God.

Rather as the Catholic Church, specially guided through the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas teachers, you are your body and a separated soul is just that a soul that we're told is so incomplete that it roams in anticipation of its resurrected body. It is this insight about our biological nature that puts the lie to the idea that you can, for instance, change your gender like you change your clothes.

We are the beings, we are, we are rational animals, but being rational means that we speak. And the things we speak about primarily have to do with the ways in which we live our lives together and no one learns to speak unless taught to do so by others. So we're not just rational animals. We are what the contemporary philosopher Alistair Mcintyre calls dependent rational animals.

It is simply a fact that no living being can flourish except by being fully the sort of being. It is if you are to flourish, if you are to be truly successful, then you can only do so by acknowledging your dependency on others and caring for those who are dependent upon you. We human beings need. In other words, if we are to be happy, to practice, especially and above all those social virtues of acknowledged dependency and foremost, among them is the virtue of Missouri Cordier of compassion, by which we not only suffer with those who suffer but are compelled to relieve their suffering. This sort of compassion is not pity, but rather an ingredient of genuine love of charity. And it motivates spiritual and corporal works of mercy and taking you through these philosophical reflections which you might be relieved to know we'll come to an end.

So do not fear that I have forgotten the purpose of this address. Quite the contrary, our goal has been to reflect on where you have been in order to point you to where you are going. I've assumed that you want to live happy and flourishing lives both on earth and in heaven. I've been focusing on real happiness, not the cheap and fleeting stuff.

Advertisers wave before our noses. You cannot achieve real flourishing genuine happiness without exercising the virtues. And that takes planning focus practice prayer, the whole of your energy and continuous nurturing of the graces that only God can bestow upon you. I have submitted for your consideration, five virtues. Were you keeping score five virtues that I think are especially important for the next phases of your life.

Gratitude, docility, humility, magnanimity, and compassion. Each one of these virtues rightly understood is a particular perfection of the radically communal beings. We are, I challenge you to foster more deeply, each of these five virtues building first and foremost, on the fundamental disposition of gratitude of giving. Thanks and all things.

Your parents are rightly proud of you. As are your teachers, a significant milestone has been reached but do not think of graduating from Kolbe Academy as merely a hoop you have jumped through so that now you can get on with your life. Your life is one in which you must continue to build on what you have learned. Love, the truth, promote charity, be genuinely humble so that you can strive to do great things for the greater glory of God, be magnanimous so that you inspire excellence in others and thus build up the kingdom that God is establishing and in all things, whether good, bad or ugly, give thanks for the tremendous gift of your life, your talents, your family, your friends, and the adventure that lies before you. Thanks.

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