by Jessie Loehr, Class of 2018
The following address was delivered at Founders Classical Academy’s Second Annual Commencement on May 25, 2018.
“Tell me muse of the man of many ways…”
These are the first shared words to breach the minds of 45 incoming freshman, who by chance, or coercion, or happy intention, have embarked on a journey at Founders Classical Academy and who have actually decided to read the summer assignment, Homer’s Odyssey.
I was not one of those kids. Halfway through book three of the Odyssey, I realized my grevious and hubristic error in thinking that a few days was ‘plenty of time to read it’, because, as I’d reasoned, ‘it’s just one book—how hard can it be?’ Needless to say, I did not finish that book.
Entering Founders four years ago, each of us came from very different places. Some of us, like me, did not know anything about “great books” and may have written complaints about Homer being “repetitive, as if he can’t come up with any new phrases” on her summer reading questions, when discussing Homeric epithets. Lots of us came from LMS and were surprised by the high standards of morality at Founders: in dress code, in speech, and in everything else. Others were homeschooled and could hardly contain their excitement both at more Latin classes and at the social scene. And a lot of us were from the Church of the Latter Day Saints, meaning that those of us who thought everyone was getting a new start here, were quite abruptly made aware that “most of our classmates had been acquainted with each other for half a decade.”
What makes a Founders experience spectacular, and what makes our class who we are, is not what our differences were coming in, but what we share in common leaving now.
But these differences in background are true for every school and every class. What makes a Founders experience spectacular, and what makes our class who we are, is not what our differences were coming in, but what we share in common leaving now.
Before ever stepping into the classroom, we were expected to read the Odyssey. The expectations didn’t lower once we did make it into the classroom—Mr. Baker’s Latin I to be exact. As we went from classroom to classroom that first week, we diagrammed sentences, began ancient history, and were given copies of the Iliad. The expectations were high, and a lot of kids dropped out. Some dropped out and some, after soul-searching journeys in Idaho and Rouse, came back.
But “we few, we happy few” who remain get the greater share of honor. As we trudged through muddy portables that first year, we contributed to the founding, shaping, and moulding of our school community. And we’ve shaped each other as well. Throughout the years, we’ve been founders and we’ve been founded—both by one another, and by the great books we’ve read and brilliant ideas that have been taught to us with such great care.
We’ve shared confusion, yes, but we’ve also shared discovery. And this discovery is not a lower or coincidental good. What we’ve shared is a pursuit of the good, the true, the beautiful. We’ve pursued it in the Oresteia, in recitations of Julius Caesar, in translations of Cicero, in geometry, algebra, physics, and in equations that lead us to relate temperature to time. We’ve sought to see a unified truth and though each of us is far from finding it, what we’ve seen together thus far has been sublime.
Of course, we’ve not just been handed these truths. Each of us has suffered immensely for them. But, as we’ve learned from Mr. Peterson: “we must suffer into the truth.” In sundry ways, each of us has suffered. Latin might be a common source of suffering, or mathematics, or physical education—but whatever it was, we’ve made it this far. And as every cheesy graduation speech has pointed out, this is only the beginning. In this speech, I’d like to liken our situation to Lord Alfred Tennyson’s Ulysses.
In Homer’s Odyssey, we are told of a man of many ways. He travels and suffers much on the dark broad seas and finally attains his long-awaited homecoming. In Tennyson’s poem, however, Ulysses has long spent his time in his homeland, but does not find himself content. He says: ‘I cannot rest from travel,” and pledges to adhere to his “gray spirit, yearning in desire to follow knowledge like a sinking star beyond the utmost bound of human thought.”
Here, now, the class of 2018, we’ve completed our Odyssey. We’ve had our homecoming; we’ve finished our journey through every class Founders could throw at us; every challenge, we’ve overcome.
But as Ulysses says: “How dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use! As tho’ to breathe were life!”
To breathe is not life, of course. And as Founders graduates, each of us in our own way can no longer rest from travel. Our Odysseys can never truly end. Rather, each of us is now setting out to a new one. We, having suffered and toiled much, both with those that loved us and alone, we now have had our long awaited homecoming, only to realize that we must once again begin.
As we know, virtue is an activity. And as we prepare to set out on the dark broad seas yet again, we know that our pursuit of the good, the true, the beautiful, can never end. And though we now go our many ways, what Founders has given us, what our teachers have labored over—that we have to guide our journeys: we’ve been taught to think seriously about the world and to act, not hindered or paralyzed by our thought, but urged forth by it.
As we know, virtue is an activity. And as we prepare to set out on the dark broad seas yet again, we know that our pursuit of the good, the true, the beautiful, can never end. And though we now go our many ways, what Founders has given us, what our teachers have labored over—that we have to guide our journeys: we’ve been taught to think seriously about the world and to act, not hindered or paralyzed by our thought, but urged forth by it. No matter the differences we had coming in, what we share now is the best thing: we’ve suffered into a common truth.
We’re a part of all that we have met; leaving now, we’re a part of each other, of the great books we’ve read, of the teachers who have poured their time and thought into us. Each of us goes forth with thought that can lead us toward the good. May we not lose sight of it.
“Come my friends; tis not too late to seek a newer world.”
Jessie Loehr will be attending St. John’s College, Annapolis, in the fall.