Saturday, April 25, 2009

Valedictory Address for Augustine 2009

My dear fellow students,
Toward the onset of this semester, Dr. Tingley remarked in a lecture dealing with Augustine’s treatise on Grace and Free Will that it would seem that “man does nothing good without either being naturally predisposed to goodness or being whacked.” Perhaps the same could be said for exercise of the intellect as for the will. Quite credibly, we human beings do not exercise our capacity to think without either being naturally predisposed to rigorous thought or being whacked. Just two days ago we discussed the immense difficulty we students face in attempting to succinctly describe the Augustine College experience to the uninitiated. I would like to suggest that the education, training, and community we have passed through in the past eight months (it seems both a day and a lifetime) could be accurately represented as a massive case of Being Whacked. Consequently, tonight I’d like to consider facets of Being Whacked in general and by Augustine College in particular.

When you imagine a “whacking” you likely think first of discipline. We must all admit that our time at Augustine has disciplined us. For many, if not all of us students, the process of learning to think rigorously and enunciate those thoughts clearly and compellingly involved not a little pain. Professorial reproof hurt your pride, the deluge of information made your heads ache. Growth demanded a stretching; the soreness attending your cognitive growth no less distressing for being internal. The interpersonal relationships you have built with each other and with your professors taxed your patience and required self-sacrifice while forcing you to hone your communication skills. Even though I was not privileged to share the first term with you, you widened your close, necessity- crafted community to welcome me in. For my part, you, my fellow students, along with the professors, friends of the college, and academic texts have knocked me clean off my haughty, if fragile, high horse, over and over again. I came to Augustine with many erroneous preconceptions, prejudices and over-self-confidence. Living and learning with and from you exposed my ignorance, corrected, humbled, and forced me to see the world through new eyes.

In many ways, we’ve whacked each other with our “abrasive personalities.” At times our words have not been kind or helpful and we have had to apologize and forgive, growing in maturity through each incident. Each one of us is unique, with interesting, if slightly unusual, quirks. I’ve often wondered if admittance to Augustine College requires that students must be, pardon the slang, a bit nutty. Despite all of our personality differences and eccentricities, each one of you has become very dear to me. Each of you has given me a little bit of yourselves in words, in images, and in love that I will treasure as long as I have memory. You’ve drawn me in and shared your life with me, from long walks, study sessions and intimate conversations to roof climbing, Star Wars and Dante. We’ve laughed at ourselves, each other and our professors, we’ve quibbled and repented. As a class we’ve struggled to understand, struggled to stay awake, struggled to finish papers. Together we’ve played the intellectual fool and paid the academic piper. Yes, we’ve “ruined” many professors’ days, and now we’re all here together about to be told to “get out” for good.

But Being Whacked intellectually means more than mere disciplinary training. It also indicates motivation. A nail does nothing till struck with a hammer. The force of the hammer’s shock drives the nail to accomplish its purpose, its telos. A croquet ball has potential energy by virtue of its weight and location, but remains snuggled slothfully into the grass until propelled by the impact of a mallet. Augustine College dealt us that blow to transform our potential intellectual energy into kinetic energy. Our professors taught us how to think, but they did not spoon feed us what we must think. By forcing us to examine primary sources and demonstrating the import of our conclusions, they motivated us to search for answers ourselves. Our professors disciplined us in frameworks of inquiry, supplied us with quality materials, and challenged us to seriously process the information to produce credible and supported conclusions. Within the past four months alone, fellow students, your labor has turned a worthwhile product in academic papers, conversation and debates, not to mention the encouragement, hilarity, and stimulation you have provided for the rest of us as a community. The questions you, my fellow students, have raised by simply being who you are, believing what you do, and becoming vulnerable enough to share yourself with our community will continue to drive my own quest for Truth. Through both faculty and each other, Augustine has dealt us a blow of both discipline and motivation: discipline of mind and motivation to use it.

Through Augustine College, we have been whacked sufficiently to move us through the first hoops of our adult lives. But how long will the momentum of that blow last us? Long enough to pack our belongings and travel home, shedding a few tears for the sundering of our fellowship? Long enough perhaps to order a few books from Dr. Patrick’s long list of suggestions? Long enough to engage logically in a handful of critical issue debates? Like any force here on this earth, the impetus of the Augustinian Whack will dwindle as it encounters friction, unless it is augmented by additional and greater stimulation. Unless we continue to feed the appetite for truth whetted by Augustine with good intellectual sustenance our metabolism will dwindle until we are left as mental couch potatoes. But pursuit of the truth does not end with scholarly inquiry. We have grown intellectually and as a community under the rod of Academic Instruction. Now, if we would hone the skills here inculcated, we must submit ourselves to the tutelage of the rod of Life. The world will be less kind than our professors at Augustine, less forgiving – if it be possible – than we have been toward each other, more confusing and frustrating than all the opinions of a dozen philosophers the night before a final exam. But just as we needed, and received, a good whack from each other and our professors to jumpstart the machinery of our intellect, so we require and must receive, to quote an anonymous professor, “a good kick in the ass” – in all likelihood more than one – to teach us how to live, how to practically employ what we have learned in this place to build and defend a home, a family, a way of life, based firmly in an understanding of Truth and an ongoing journey towards it.

4 comments:

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Are you valedictorian, TQ? No surprise if you are, but well done and congratulations!

Can't wait to have you back "home" at Emmaus ;-)

TruthQuestioner said...

'twas a voted honour, sir, for which I'm heartily obliged to me classmates.

Can't wait to see you too! Tomorrow!! Jumps up and down.

elizabeth said...

I will try to send you the picture of you giving this speech soon... feel free to bug me for them!! :)

Nana said...

Good speech or whatever-it-is-called.