Ava’s Salutatory Address at FCA Leander’s 2019 Commencement

What happens to a student who has received a classical education? Parents of young people across the country take the leap to Hillsdale’s classical schools in the hopes that their sons and daughters will become young men and women of virtue. At some of our more established schools, we are already getting to see the results.

Ava N. was the salutatorian at Founders Classical Academy of Leander in 2019. She now attends the University of Texas at Austin, where she plans to study Government and Classics. Please enjoy the salutatory address she delivered last spring.

Salutatory Address
Ava, Class of 2019
Founders Classical Academy of Leander

Good afternoon, and thank you all for coming to the 2019 commencement ceremony. I am honored to be standing here as Salutatorian representing these 22 individuals who, as Marcus Aurelius would say, have done the work of human beings by demonstrating remarkable intellect and character throughout their time at Founders. We’ve braved the Odyssey, studied battle maps, built catapults, and this year each of us stood to defend senior theses on human nature and the human good, which I believe is pretty phenomenal. We have grown up together into the people you see today: a passionate, capable group of people who have important things to do and the skills necessary to attain them. 

Our class has often been described as “the passionate class” for our willingness to speak our minds, both for and against the matters at hand. We fight fiercely for what we recognize as the truth and are more than willing to articulate the ways in which our view follows from what we learned. Anyone who has watched our class discussions would agree that at no point will you hear someone say, “I fold.” In many ways our class character has its roots in strong personalities and being comfortable with the people we interact with on a daily basis; yet in another way, our education at Founders has allowed this trait to grow into dominance within the class of 2019.

We’ve braved the Odyssey, studied battle maps, built catapults, and this year each of us stood to defend senior theses on human nature and the human good.

Ava Norman, Class of 2019

In the first section of The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis introduces The Green Book and its authors, Gaius and Titius. Gaius and Titius use a method of debunking to tear down passages with clever sounding but ultimately superficial language. The Green Book, presumably a high school-level textbook, is responsible for creating what Lewis calls “men without Chests” by removing any notion of passion from education and replacing it with the idea that emotions are “contrary to reason and contemptible.” Lewis condemns Gaius and Titius for this teaching and proceeds to unpack the place of spiritedness in education. Citing both Aristotle and Plato, he says that “the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought” and goes on from there. 

His idea of “men without Chests” correlates to an illustration of men as being composed of a Head, a Chest, and a Belly. In a well-ordered soul, the Head, representing reason, rules over the visceral desires of the Belly through the Chest. The idea of the Chest has existed over time under a variety of names. To the Greeks it was thumos. Others have called it magnanimity, from Latin meaning “great-souled.” To put it simply, Lewis’ Chest can be described as spiritedness, the great defining trait of the class of 2019.

Ava N. (right) with Cassandra S. (left), the Class of 2019’s valedictorian.

Spiritedness allows Lewis to reconcile the disparity between man’s rational nature and his base tendencies. The Chest directs the soul by ordering the passions in accordance with what the Head has determined to be best. Through proper education, the Head learns more of what is true and the Chest discovers what it ought to love and what it ought to oppose.

Over the years, Founders has consistently given us an education which has allowed our souls to order themselves to the highest things. In a world of “Green Books,” we are part of the few that have chosen to do something more, and it shows. Since the start of high school, we have grown tremendously in our ability to understand the principles of literature and philosophy. We can debate the greatness of Jay Gatsby, evaluate Plato’s Guardian class, or pose questions to each other about the merits of the modern Supreme Court. 

Our education hasn’t been limited to the classroom, though. Each member of this class has a unique understanding of the world that comes from what they do and who they interact with when they go home every day. This variance is what allows us to come together and debate that which is common to all of us. It’s why we’re all going off into the world to do different things but taking with us the lessons we’ve shared during our time at Founders. 

We will take with us the words of wisdom we were given by teachers who have taken on Lewis’ charge “not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.” I hope that for each of us, this graduation is not the end of education, but merely a transition. Embracing our spirited nature, let us move on to greater challenges knowing that we’ve begun well.

Thank you.