By Peter Rao ’24
On Saturday, May 21st, Thomas More College gathered to celebrate and bid farewell to the graduating class of 2022. Graduates and their families began the day with a Mass offered by the Reverend Marc Crilly, Abbot of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Still River, Massachusetts. Music for the Mass was provided by the Thomas More College Choir, led by Joel Marshall ’24.
Shortly after Mass and lunch, students, faculty, and family members rejoined for the main event of the day. The commencement ceremony began with the conferring of honorary doctorates upon the Rev. Marc Crilly and the commencement speaker, Francis Xavier Maier, Senior Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
In his address to the graduating class, Mr. Maier stressed the importance of strong Catholic leadership in modern society and put special emphasis on the fact that people are converted by concrete human examples, not abstract ideas. Ironically quoting an enemy of the Church, Mao Zedong, Mr. Maier stated, “It is people, not things, that are decisive.” It is for this reason that good Catholic leaders are necessary during indecisive times, for it is through their individual efforts, in cooperation with grace, that God brings about a renewal of the world.
Following the commencement address came the conferral of the Bachelor of Arts degrees. It is at this moment that graduates receive the ultimate recognition of their academic achievements. To the applause of family members and students, the Senior class stood to receive their diplomas and greet the professors and board members one last time before becoming alumni.
In his presidential “charge” to the Senior class, Dr. William Fahey referred to Vice President Harris’s commencement address at Tennessee State University. Harris, he said, operated under “the common assumption that the graduates have been given the right information to immediately transform the world.” Modern society expects of its graduates what it admires in the superhero, whose “humanity is shattered and unnaturally augmented, because nature and especially humanity can’t really be trusted.” Modern education teaches that humanity and nature cannot function together because they are “too limited and too limiting,” while Christian culture uses human weakness to point out the need for healing and redemption. Faith, Dr. Fahey concluded, has been replaced by “mutation, technological enhancement, and self-annihilation.”
Whereas the true Christian hero recognizes that difficulties exist for a reason, modern society is prevented from contextualizing suffering by a lack of faith and an admiration for the unnatural. Dr. Fahey acknowledged the difficulties the graduating class encountered during their years at TMC, asking, “What mortal is not the heir of calamity and misfortune?” Hardships are “given for our glory.” He called upon the Seniors to follow the example of the College’s patron, St. Thomas More, who constantly persevered in his vocation. He challenged the graduating class to think of More whenever they felt unsure of their vocation and to “imitate Christ with Thomas More” by pondering the same question: “How shall I live the life God calls me to?” Dr. Fahey continued, “More saw how every apparent misfortune, twist, and turn, every bruise and setback . . . was a moment of grace, preparing him for the next and the consummation.”
At one point, Dr. Fahey touched upon the theme of teaching as a type of parenting. “Teaching is the only other human activity that comes close to parenting, in that you are able to watch a person mature over time, and perhaps help in the process.” When asked how he dealt with saying goodbye to a different class every year, Teaching Fellow Dr. Patrick Powers used a similar analogy. “As a teacher, much like a parent, you have to learn how to let go. If you don’t let go, you can’t focus your attention on new students as they arrive.” Letting go, he clarified, is not the same as forgetting. “For me, memory is a prayer. Whenever I remember a student, I say a prayer for them. That way I can continue to play a role in their life in some way.”
If letting go is hard, the going must be even harder. A few days after commencement, I asked two graduates about what leaving TMC was like and if reality had fully set in. “I think it will take a long time to fully comprehend the fact that I have a life to lead outside the world of Thomas More,” said Bridget Ruffing ’22. “It’s slowly starting to sink in that I won’t be returning to TMC in the fall.” She continued, “Leaving is a very difficult thing. I will miss my fellow students most of all, especially when I realize that I can’t just meet up with them for a meal, a chat, or even just to review a homework assignment. Of course, I’ll miss my professors. At TMC, you get to know each of your teachers on such a personal level that it’s impossible not to.” Nevertheless, Ms. Ruffing admitted that she did feel ready to move on. “It’s been a long and difficult academic journey,” she concluded, “and I am satisfied that I gave it my all.”
Peter Thompson ’22 shared similar feelings. “It has hit me . . . but I think it’ll hit me harder when I don’t return to school in late August,” he said. “In one sense, it is nice to be done. I no longer have the stress of oncoming deadlines. But it’s also pretty sad. I will dearly miss all of my friends and regret not taking better advantage of the time I had with them. I am glad to be finished, because completion brings closure and a sense of fulfillment; however, I am also saddened by the fact that I won’t be going back in the fall.”
Dr. Fahey left the graduates with the following instruction: “Desire the Truth, know the Truth, rejoice in the Truth, and as you do so remain in Christ.” And just like that, on a hot Saturday afternoon, with the move of a tassel, another Senior class has come and gone.