Before I arrived here on campus for the first time 23 years ago, my high school classmates had voted me the quietest kid in my class and the most likely to become a millionaire; I also wasn’t even Catholic. Now, I am in the Order of Preachers, I have made a vow of poverty, and I am a Catholic priest. So, trust me when I say, Thomas Aquinas College can radically change your life!
To get the most out of your time here, I have some advice:
Love to learn.
Ignore your grades.
Learn to love.
First, love to learn. The first time I checked my mailbox as a new freshman, I found a “Letter of St. Thomas Aquinas to Brother John.” Thought I was special, right? And one line of that letter lodged itself in my heart: “Never mind who says what, but commit to memory what is said that is true.”
In everything you read during your time here, seek the truth! Seek the truth with your mind! Seek the truth with your heart! Seek the truth with every single sentence you read, no matter who wrote it. You are reading the Great Books, so seek what makes them great. Don’t nitpick and find mistakes and complain about how crazy and wrong someone might be. Stop focusing on the errors, and get back to seeking the true, the good, and the beautiful. “Never mind who says what, but commit to memory what is said that is true.” Love to learn!
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Here’s a little nugget I found while a student here: “There are three proofs for true divinity: prophecy that reliably predicts the future, miracles that are naturally inexplicable, and extraordinary happiness.”
“You are reading the Great Books, so seek what makes them great.”
Isn’t that something, right? Listing “extraordinary happiness” alongside miracles and prophecy as proof of the divine? Wow! Who do you think wrote that? St. Augustine? St. Thomas Aquinas? Nope. This little nugget of truth — that extraordinary happiness is proof of true divinity — came from the same pen that just a couple pages later argues that we are all created equal … because everyone can kill anyone! Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan.
“Never mind who says what, but commit to memory what is said that is true.” And extraordinary happiness is proof of the divine. Love to learn! Your years here are your chance to find little nuggets of truth and share them with the world.
Second, ignore your grades. Now, this may be strange advice at the beginning of an academic year, but if there is one college in the country where grades really are irrelevant, it’s here. I’m a prime example of this fact.
My first semester here, I earned a D- in philosophy. Dr. Kelly nearly kicked me out of the school! I still remember being called into his office when I was scrubbing pots in the kitchen — that was my job. He’s holding my disastrous final exam in his hands. He says, “I’ll ask you one question. If you get it right, you get a D- and can continue. If you get it wrong, you get an F and you start packing your bags.” And I don’t even remember what he asked, but I got it right. I earned my D-. And he agreed to be my godfather, so I could be baptized that Easter, and then — see this silly hood and this silly hat I’m wearing? — earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from The Catholic University of America on a full-ride scholarship and stipend….