It’s hard to believe that it was just four years ago when I first started at Wilson Hill. Was there really a time when I was just a freshman in high school beginning this whole “online school” thing? A time when I didn’t know the incredible teachers and students whom I’ve learned from these past four years? Even a time when I didn’t yet know how many times Adobe would kick me out at precisely the right moment?
I am so grateful, first of all to my parents for giving me the classical Christian education I have been so privileged to have. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for this gift and for supporting me and encouraging me in everything I’ve done. I am also incredibly grateful for the teachers and students here at Wilson Hill who have shaped who I am today. Whether it was exploring the intricacy of an Augustine chiasm in Latin class, or being introduced to the mind-blowing ideas of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in Great Conversation class, or staring in awe at the masterful display of talent within a Baroque sculpture in Art History class, and so many other wonderful moments, I have truly loved my time at Wilson Hill, and I want to say “thank you” to all my teachers and fellow students for such a delightful journey. I think I speak for all of my fellow graduates when I say that our education has certainly been a journey—an odyssey, if you will—and I think this odyssey of our education has taught us about three things in particular: beauty, grace, and friendship.
So first, our odyssey of learning thus far has taught us about “capital B” beauty because it has taught us to look for the bits of that beauty that are around us. We’ve learned so many delightful things about the world. We’ve learned that there is delight and value both in the wonderfully-crafted poetry and prose of Christian authors like Dante and Thomas Aquinas and even in the work of those authors who are staunch opponents of Christianity like Nietzsche and Camus. Whether it was physics or philosophy, we’ve learned in light of the One who is Beauty. We’ve been taught not to look at what we learn inside a vacuum, but to look at all we learn in light of the fact that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:11) and in light of the fact that “all the earth worships [God]” (Psalm 66:4). Our education has taught us to be grounded in Truth and to understand Goodness, so that we can know Beauty. As David says in Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire into his temple.” As we seek to gaze at the Beauty of the Lord, who is the ultimate form of Beauty, the Truth and the Goodness and the Beauty converge in God. And these ideas of truth, goodness, and beauty together are parts of who God is. So, as we continue on our odyssey, let’s keep striving to know the One from whom Truth and Goodness flow. As we’ve been taught thus far, let’s continue to look out for those bits of beauty that tell us more about God—that tell us more about what a Beauty filled with Truth and Goodness looks like.
Along with showing us Beauty, our educational odyssey has continued to point us back to God’s grace and mercy. It is by God’s grace that we’ve enjoyed the classical Christian education we’ve had. We’ve been so blessed to have parents and teachers around us who have helped us realize anew just how glorious God’s grace is and how we see His grace in what we learn. For instance, through reading the stories of Flannery O’Connor, we’ve learned how scandalous God’s grace is in that God continues to pursue us even when we seem beyond rescue in our sinful state. And through reading the Divine Comedy, we, along with Dante, have been struck with the epiphany that, as Dante says, God “suffered so that [we] might live…and set [us] on the shores of the true love” (from Paradise 281). So, with all that we’ve learned, let’s not lose sight of who has given us our knowledge. May we always remember that God “will not restrain [His] mercy from [us]; [His] steadfast love and [His] faithfulness will ever preserve us” (Psalm 40:11). As He has been more gracious and merciful to us than we ever dared hope, let us embark on our new odyssey, following the charge given to Adam in Milton’s Paradise Lost to “Be strong, live happy and love, but first of all Him whom to love is to obey, and keep His great command!”
And just as our odyssey of learning has taught us to look for beauty and glimpse God’s grace, it has also given us incredible friendships. I’ve heard it said before that the goal of classical education is friendship; and I’m not sure if I believed or fully understood this when I first heard it, but as I’ve reached the end of this odyssey of classical education, I’ve come to believe this wholeheartedly. The friendships that we likely think of first are those with our peers. Our education has certainly not been easy—it has been one which has required hard work and diligence. But we’ve encouraged each other along the way. I know I have certainly received incredible encouragement, especially this past year, from dear friends and classmates who have stood with me and pushed me to keep going, even when senioritis threatened to consume me. We’ve taken this odyssey together, and we’ve formed lasting friendships with each other along the way. But I believe that our classical Christian education has also helped us form relationships with our subjects. As we’ve gone through the stages of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, and as we’ve studied such a wide range of ideas, we’ve learned to appreciate the value of every aspect of our education. Even though we might have been overwhelmed and intimidated at first by the size of Thucydides or the length of a complex math problem, our education has taught us not to fear those things, but it has instead taught us that we can appreciate whatever we’re learning for its own sake—that we can form a relationship with what we’re learning because all that we learn has value. But most importantly, our classical education has taught us to pursue a friendship with God. We’ve learned more about ourselves and more about God, and I pray that we may hold fast to that friendship most of all. As T. S. Eliot says in his Four Quartets, may we keep moving towards God, who is the still point of the turning world and may we “be still and still moving into another intensity / for a further union, a deeper communion” with God.
Now that we’ve reached the end of this stage of our education, our odyssey takes a turn. Much like Odysseus, as he arrives home in Ithaca at the end of Homer’s Odyssey, we’ve come to the end of one journey. As we embark on a new odyssey and whatever it may hold, let us continue to look back upon all that we’ve collected along our most recent journey: the bits of beauty, the glimpses of God’s grace, and the forever friendships. I want to conclude with the exhortation Odysseus/Ulysses gives to his mariners at the end of my favorite poem, Ulysses, which is by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Ulysses and his crew have just arrived back home in Ithaca, and these are his remarks as he closes one chapter of life and moves on to the next.
Fellow graduates, I think his words apply to us as we remember the Beauty which has been the direction to which our educational compass points, the grace of God which has been the means of bringing us safely home from our most recent journey, and as we remember also the friendships which we hold fast to and the people with whom we sail the next journey. So, here are Tennyson’s words:
Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
So, to all my fellow graduates, as we end one odyssey and embark on the next, let’s take with us the beauty, the grace, and the friendships that our education has given us as we, along with Ulysses, go out to “seek a newer world.”
Wilson Hill Academy 2019 Valedictorian Annika Reynolds surrounded by family at Commencement