The Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts Class of 2021 graduated on May 8, 2021. Congratulations graduates! Here are excerpts from the event.
Dr. Erik van Versendaal, professor at Magdalen College, called graduates to a poetic, beautiful and generative life:
The truth of beauty, and the beauty of truth, can’t be seen all at once. You’ve spent four years learning how to discern what’s real and what’s really satisfying, so that you can continue to do this for the rest of your lives. Unless you end up a crusader, or you find yourself rapt to the Primum Mobile, or embark on a whaling voyage when your hypos get such an upper hand of you that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent you from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people’s hats off, or are called to establish a new empire after the towers of your own collapse in the flames of a decade long war, you won’t always be able to apply what you’ve studied directly to your future profession, or to your life in your home or religious community. It won’t always be clear what is needed to sort out what’s truly human, and to live accordingly.
As Socrates tells us in the Republic, one of the first requirements for being educated into a life that is whole is to surround yourself with beautiful things, as you have done in the classroom over these years. We hope that many of the works you’ve read here will stay with you, that some of those volumes will become bent and torn from overuse, and maybe even reverently passed down. But even if you forget one or two – I won’t blame you if you never read Kant again – their purpose will have been met if they move you, in small ways and great, to recollect in an ugly age a most human life – which is to say, a life that most fully gives glory to God.
To return to an earlier point, while it’s true that acquaintance with the tradition gives you a sense for the great variety of positions, and the vast disagreements, that run through the history of ideas. the more overwhelming realization to which this study leads, it seems to me, is the inexhaustible abundance of witnesses to the things that make for beautiful life: membership in a community, lovingly ordering the corner of the world for which you are responsible, sharing the lot of those who are afraid and in need and grieving, faithfully obeying God.
If a liberal arts education frees you, it frees you for a task: to live in such a way that you can communicate something of this wondrously rich inheritance that you’ve received, which most of you will do seldom or rarely by teaching. But all of you are tasked with carrying forward this patrimony in your own given office, whether you’re on a stage film set, by the side of a mother in labor, starting your own company, or helping your children enter into the celebration of the mass.
I think here of Charles Peguy, who wrote this of the words of Christ:
“Mystery of mysteries, this privilege that was given to us,
This incredible exorbitant privilege,
To keep alive the words of life,
To nourish with our blood, with our flesh, with our heart
The words which, without us, would collapse fleshless.
O misery, o misfortune, that this would happen to us,
That it would belong to us, that it would depend on us
To make the word understood through the centuries of centuries,
To make it resound.
O misery, o happiness, that it would depend on us”
In this task that is your life you can’t always be creative, for to live it well you will have to take on forms and ways of being that your forebears have left for you, but by doing so you will certainly be generative, life-giving, because you will be making the truth resound for others. The education you have received here, the example you’ve beheld in faculty and staff, the lasting friendships you’ve fostered – all of this will give you a beginning in following out a poetic, a beautiful, a generative life.
Dr. Eric Buck, interim president and professor at Magdalen College, exhorted graduates to become alumni of Magdalen College actively in the world:
Magdalen believes in “the communion of saints” which is the supra-historical social structure of the Catholic Church. The work of the college is set in that context, “ordering” its education “toward human … communion.” As itself part of the communion of saints, both in the vale of tears and beyond it, both living bodily and eternally, the college, to quote the Mission Statement, “calls all within her community to enter the great conversation of authors seeking wisdom.” This applies most directly and visibly to the four classes of students on campus during an academic year. But it ought to apply to graduated members as well. The conversation ought to be continued and enriched by those who leave the campus program but remain members of the Community of Magdalen. Whatever walk of life they follow, the “perennial questions” and the “classic books,” ought still to be on their minds.
This is part, maybe the most important part, of what it means to be an alumnus or an alumna of Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts. You are still members of the community. Because of your faithful devotion to your education, you have become members indelibly; you have permanent standing as members. Such members of such a community are called to go on reading and talking, discussing and applying those great ideas, those virtues you witnessed on display, those possibilities of moral formation evidenced by the heroes of all the stories, and that having gone on reading, you will go out and call others to join this community.
Fr. Roger Boucher, chaplain of Magdalen College, closed the ceremony with this prayer to the Holy Spirit:
God, we praise you. God, we love you. We go forth now with your Holy Spirit aware that you are always with us. Come to us. Remain with us. Enlighten our hearts on our way.
Give us light and strength to know your will, to make it our own and to live it in our lives. Support us by your power. Guide us by your wisdom for you are God sharing the glory of Father and Son.
Do not allow us to be misled by ignorance or corrupted by fear or favor. Unite us always to yourself in the bond that keeps us faithful to all that is true. Help us to earn the reward promised to the good and faithful servant.
You live and reign with the Father and the Son forever and ever. Amen.
Congratulations Class of 2021!