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.
Natasha De Virgilio was the valedictorian at Founders Classical Academy of Leander in 2017. She now attends Hillsdale College, where she is beginning her junior year. Please enjoy the address she gave in the spring of 2017.
Introduction of Valedictorian
Mr. Michael Berndt, Faculty Speaker
Anyone who knows Miss De Virgilio—or anyone who even knows of her—is well aware that she might be introduced with a long list of the academic awards and honors that she has received. We could weigh and number the cords and the stoles that Natasha is wearing today, and this would prove the fact of her achievement; but it would not express the cause of her distinction. One of the primary reasons for Natasha’s continued success is her conviction that while a grade may be a fair measure of content mastery, it is a poor measure of intellectual virtue, and an even poorer measure of a person. And so grades, awards, and academic achievements are not the best measures for Natasha, because they are not the measures that she has chosen for herself.
As I have come to know Natasha better, and especially over the course of this past year, I have realized that she is quite willfully much more than a mind, and that she is driven by something far better than a thirst for recognition. One sign of this is that failure has never diminished Natasha’s enthusiasm for learning; but perhaps a stronger proof is that she has never become complacent in the face of academic success. The great fact of the matter is that Natasha strives at every turn to put her knowledge in the service of goodness. This point was driven home for me a little over a year ago, when I heard her remark to a friend (and I quote), “I cannot believe that I ever thought it better to be intelligent than to be good.”
This is the Natasha that I have come to know—a young woman who works tirelessly to cultivate the virtues, both moral and intellectual, from which her more visible and material accomplishments proceed. And it is by reason of these virtues that Natasha will be speaking here as a true representative of her class and as a true exemplar of our school’s motto: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
And therefore, without further ado, it is my great pleasure to introduce the Valedictorian of the Class of 2017, Miss Natasha De Virgilio. Natasha, please come forward and accept your medal.
Natasha De Virgilio, Class of 2017
Thank you, Mr. Berndt, for your kind and just remarks. And on behalf of the class of 2017, thank you to all of the Founders faculty and staff who have worked so hard to get us here today. I’m honored to be here as the first valedictorian of this school that we’ve founded together.
As valedictorian, I’m told that I am qualified to say a few words to celebrate the class of 2017—all eleven of us—and to celebrate the education that has brought us together. There’s much I could say, but I’d like to take this time to highlight a few points of that education which I think are particularly important for us to keep in mind in the future. As many of you may know, a few weeks ago, the seniors presented their theses on the question, “What is the good life?” In response, I’d like to pose these questions: Why ought we to appreciate it? And how should we go about pursuing it?
Over the past three years, our teachers have been introducing us, little by little, to a thing that we call virtue. By now, we’ve come to understand the Aristotelian idea that the end, or goal, of human life is happiness. The happiness that Aristotle describes is an impressive and serious sort of thing, belonging to an impressive and serious sort of person. Knowing this, we can readily point at happiness and say, “This is the good life,” but it isn’t immediately clear that that’s the same as saying, “This is the life that I would like to live.” As we go forward, let us remember why it is that the good life is not only worth living, but also deeply appealing to us; why, of all things, we call our end “happiness.” Let us remember that if the good life were not delightful, it could hardly be called good.
One of the great reasons why classical education, and particularly an education at Founders, is so important, is that it gives us constant reminders that life is, in fact, truly delightful. Reading beautiful passages of literature, coming out of an exceptional class discussion, developing an appreciation of, even a love for learning—these experiences lift up our souls to glimpse the richness of the human experience. To put it in the words of Chesterton, “This world is a wild and startling place, which might have been quite different, but which is quite delightful.” And in fact, we should recognize that it is all the more delightful just for that point: that things really might have been quite different. It takes real risk, real struggle, real confrontation with temptation in this world to enjoy fully the choice to do what is right. Part of the reason why the good life is precious to us is because it could so easily not be good, because it could so easily not have been, at all.
How, then, are we to pursue this life that we so desire for ourselves? We can look back to the next lesson that classical education teaches us, which is that, as Socrates says, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In that respect, our education has given us the best guidance there is: a solid foundation in the liberal arts, allowing us to cultivate the ability to become thoughtful about who we are and what our purpose is. We’ve learned to articulate our thoughts in the tradition of all the great thinkers who have come before us, and through them, we’ve gained a clearer picture of what it means to be good, and what it means to live a good life. We know now that there is not only something unfulfilling about living the unexamined life, but also something dangerous. And, putting it all together, we can also know this: there is no delight in a mindless existence. True delight comes from knowing, and from loving just the same.
We know now that there is not only something unfulfilling about living the unexamined life, but also something dangerous. And, putting it all together, we can also know this: there is no delight in a mindless existence. True delight comes from knowing, and from loving just the same.
As we leave behind our younger and more vulnerable years, I think a fitting lesson we ought to take with us is this: that life is a beautiful and sacred gift, with tremendous potential for, but no guarantee of, achieving the good. So I urge you, in the way that classical education best teaches us how, to spend it wisely. Spend it well.
Finally, just as in English one might say in parting, “Go forth. Be strong. Farewell,” in Latin I say to you, friends, family, faculty, honored guests, and class of 2017: “Valete.”