May 21, 2017

Commencement greetings from the president

Father Shanley: "I say farewell to you in the hope that you, too, will be dedicated to living in the truth."
Father Shanley: “I say farewell to you in the hope that you too will be dedicated to living in the truth.”

By Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80

Let me begin by offering my congratulations to the graduating Class of 2017 for all your accomplishments.  You have enriched our lives and strengthened our community, and we will remember you fondly.

I have watched those of you in graduate programs and SCE come to PC at night, after work, over many years, and I admire your discipline, your dedication, and your perseverance. All of you have something in common as members of this graduating class and the PC family.  You are here today in the presence of those who made it all possible: your family, your friends, and your teachers. I invite you to begin this celebration by rising to give them a round of applause in gratitude.

We live in a time where people talk about “alternative truths” and “alternative facts” as if truths and facts are whatever we want them to be.  It is tempting to think that we have reached some low point in history because of this eroding trust in truth.  But you graduating seniors know that it is not so because you all had to take Civ.  Doubtless you remember that ancient Greek thought saw the emergence of powerful forms of skepticism and relativism that engaged the replies of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in favor of robust theories of truth.  You will recall too that modernity has spawned ever more sophisticated forms of relativism and skepticism in such varied thinkers as Hume, Montaigne, or Nietzsche.  Some versions of skepticism and relativism mark every human period.

In this context you have spent four years at a school with a simple motto, Veritas.  It is my hope and my prayer for you that you actually believe that you can know the truth and that there are no alternative facts:  there is only one way the world is, even if we may not see it clearly.  Soon you will swear your undying love and steadfast loyalty to the Mother of Truth that is about to become your alma mater.  I hope you mean it.  In case you are not sure, let me offer you two reasons to love and live in truth.

The first comes from Thomas Aquinas.  In an advent disputation in the year 1270, Aquinas had to answer the following question:  “Is truth stronger than wine, king, and woman?”  The short answer to this trope question, according to Aquinas, is naturally truth.  But the reason is important:  truth is stronger than drugs, political power, and sexual attraction because it effects the deepest change in the human person.  If you live in the truth you will be constantly changing for the better.  You will be continuing to change for the rest of your lives.  If that change is powered by the truth, then you will truly flourish.  If it is not powered by truth, then you will flounder.

The second aspect of truth that I want you to recall is what is encapsulated in the quotation of Jesus from the Gospel of John on the Ruane tower that I hope you have seen so many times that it is a part of your soul:  “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”  Living in falsehood is a form of self-imposed delusional servitude.  It is only in the truth that you can act in freedom.  In an essay on truth, the philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote autobiographically:  “My own dedication to truth originated, so far as I am able to recall, in the liberating conviction that once I grasped the truth, I would no longer be distracted or disturbed by anyone’s (including my own) speculations, hunches, or hopes.”

So I say farewell to you in the hope that you too will be dedicated to living in the truth until that day when we hopefully reunite together in the God who is truth.  Farewell and God bless.