The semester came to a wistful end with the sound of hammers, vacuums, and hastening students. Finals were conquered and graduation was fast approaching. As Thomas More College’s class of 2014 enjoyed one another’s company, all underclassmen, upholding the college’s tradition, gave of their time and talents to beautifying the campus – a final thank you to a class who played such an integral role in Thomas More community life.
Friday afternoon called the eighteen seniors to present a shortened version of their “Magnum Opus” or senior thesis, to gathered friends and family; two simple words to entitle the fruit of long sleepless nights, dozens of chocolate bars, countless cups of coffee and trips to the chapel. As the round of applause for the final presentation gave way to silence, President Fahey, faculty members, seniors, and guests proceeded to the Presidential Reception where several seniors, members of the Chamber Choir, performed ensembles accompanied by piano, double base and violin. The joyous reception was crowned by a formal meal served by students in the candlelit piazza.
The smell of incense, flowers, and rain brought in Saturday’s dawn, the long awaited day of graduation. Despite a forecast calling entirely for rain, the sky began to clear early on, giving way to a sunny and splendid spring day under whose sunlight campus was resplendent. As the main tent was prepared for the graduation Mass, group’s of students made final touches to the campus. At eleven o’clock, the class of 2014, faculty, students, families and several alumni entered the main tent where college chaplain Father John Healey celebrated a beautiful Mass accompanied by the student choir. Nourished by the Bread of Life, charged with Christ’s blessing, and spurred by the Saint Michael hymn, all gathered in the piazza for lunch.
Two o’clock came quickly and all proceeded to the main tent as the eighteen soon-to-be alumni excitedly adjusted their caps and gowns: the long awaited garb of the student. As the brass band sounded, the class of 2014, filing in behind faculty members, guest speaker Dr. Jonathan Reyes, and President Fahey, processed into the graduation ceremony. President Fahey began, as is tradition, with an apology to the senior class on behalf of himself and the fellows. “We too are human,” he reminded them, “and have at times fallen short of the standard expected of Catholic teachers, the standard you each deserve.”
Dr. Jonathan Reyes – public speaker, diplomat, and personal friend of President Fahey – then imparted three simple words to the class of 2014: Gift, Magnanimity, and Encounter.
The First word: Gift. “At each moment,” Reyes spoke, “God is holding each one of us in our very being, every breath, every heartbeat, our very existence is all gift. But we might also apply this in a more particular way to each of you graduates….The education you have received is superb. You are also gifted with parents and loved ones that made the past four years possible. Only 30% of Americans will graduate from college…Even fewer will have been formed in a culture that is ordered to an encounter with Jesus Christ and a life of love of God and neighbor. I hope you allow this truth to sink into your hearts and fill you with gratitude today and for the rest of your lives.”
The second word: Magnanimity. “That virtue…of being willing to pursue great things. The vocation to which the Lord has called you, which He alone knows and you will be continuing to discover as you go forth from here, is a call to greatness. The Lord did not make you for mediocrity. In fact, He made you to share in His very divinity. The road through life is a road to that highest of destinies and it involves greatness here and now.”
The third word: Encounter. “Encounter, or better in Spanish encuentro, is a favorite word of Pope Francis. The reason for this, I contend, lies in his diagnosis of many of the problems of the modern world. For Francis, at the heart of the modern malaise is isolation…Isolation is the greatest poverty….for all the praise of our socially connected age, many people who put their lives on a screen are often inventing those lives, making up who they are, and so rather than being more known, they are in fact only adding layers to a disguise. To be unknown, to be unloved, to be unwanted. This is the greatest poverty….What is to be done? For Francis the answer is encuentro. The culture of Thomas More College, with its guilds, its service, its commitment to friendship, and its love of beauty, is a school of encuentro, of true love of neighbor.”
Following Dr. Reyes’ moving address, each graduate was called by name amidst clapping friends and alumni, cheering siblings, and parent’s tears of happiness. After receiving his or her diploma and hood, each graduate proceeded to the line of faculty where they exchanged a firm handshake or hug of mutual respect, acknowledging each of the friendships formed over the course of four years – whether it had been over coffee or tea, Aristotle or Aquinas, latin or art, poetry or Euclid.
The graduation ceremony came to a close with President Fahey’s charge to the class of 2014; a charge crowned with words familiar to the Thomas More College graduate: love, pilgrimage, journey, and temperance. “The tavern is not the end of the journey,” he reminded them. “It is but a stop along the way to our final end.” The class of 2014, encouraged by Dr. Reyes’ words and charged with President Fahey’s reminder, stood, moved their tassels and processed out of the tent.
Though each graduate will surely be missed, they will be embarking upon a new journey. During their collegiate years at Thomas More College, these students pursued truth in a way that was utterly captured by Dr. Reyes’ three simple words: Gift, Magnanimity, and Encuentro.