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.
Basil Inman was the salutatorian at Founders Classical Academy of Leander in 2017. He is now a seminarian with the Norbertine Order at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. Please enjoy the address he gave in the spring of 2017 and Mr. Berndt’s introduction.
Introduction of Salutatorian
Mr. Michael Berndt, Faculty Speaker
Mr. Berndt: The honor of Salutatorian has traditionally been awarded for one of two reasons: it is either given to the student who has achieved the second-highest marks in the grade, or it is accorded to a senior who truly exemplifies the spirit and character of his or her class. It is a happy coincidence, therefore, that in the Class of 2017 both of these reasons for recognition converge in Mr. Basil Inman. When Basil first came to this school at the beginning of his junior year, he entered a small and tightly knit group of friends, all of whom were very different in their own ways, but who had shared the common experience and responsibility of being the oldest students in a brand-new school. It speaks well of both Basil and his classmates that he so quickly became an integral part of the group.
Over the past two years, Basil has distinguished himself through his accomplishments in the classroom, on the field, on the court, and even on the dance floor. But it is not so much Basil’s material accomplishments that distinguish him, as it is the manner in which he has attained them—and in particular, I mean his manner of friendship. Basil has made a habit of giving all of his time and energy to anyone who asks. He knows all of the middle schoolers by name, and speaks with them as equals because he cares about them as persons. His generosity and personal kindness have made a deep impression on his class, on his teams, on his teachers, and on his school.
The remarkable thing about Basil’s success is that he has distinguished himself without separating himself from his peers; and this is because he is so intent on lifting others up. In this way he truly exemplifies the virtue of friendship, and truly represents the spirit of his class. And the fact that Basil’s friendship has so readily been returned by his fellow students—and especially by his fellow classmates—is a great honor; because to be loved by true friends is a sign of real virtue.
And so it is my pleasure to introduce the Salutatorian of the Class of 2017, Mr. Basil Inman. Basil, please come forward and accept your medal.
Basil Inman, Class of 2017
Welcome to the first graduation ceremony in the history of Founders Classical Academy of Leander, or as Dr. O’Toole has become fond of calling it, “our last big first.” I hope you all will not tire of hearing so many times about firsts and lasts today. While I can not say that I won’t continue this trend, please take some comfort in the fact that you are hearing this from the second in the class, not the first—though, as I am regularly reminded, that makes me the first loser.
I am honored to be the first salutatorian of this excellent school. My first experience with Founders was the week before school started, when I had yet to decide what school I would attend. I went with my family to see the first annual “Navy and White” intra-squad basketball game. On walking into the gym, the first thought to enter my mind was, “They don’t have a wooden court.” My next thought—well, I’ll just say that it was not the basketball program that attracted me to the school. A few days after the exhibition basketball game, I timidly showed up to the weekly open gym, and not long after being called “Baboon” by a soon-to-be eighth grader who could not properly pronounce my name, I rolled my ankle quite badly. It wasn’t the most propitious omen.
I ended up hobbling into Founders two days later, putting my best and only good foot forward, placing my trust in the school, though not really knowing why a classical education is best. Now I see it was the best decision I could have made. Growing up, I had often been told that a liberal arts education is the best education—indeed, the only true education—and I accepted that opinion on faith. But over time Founders showed me why that opinion is true, and before long proved itself invaluable for everyone here.
Ironically, classical education has become the new kid on the block. As the new kid it gets bullied for being different. Today, the educational norm is best described as relativistic and career-oriented. It falsely assumes that empirical “facts” are all that can be known, but neglects the importance of true values. The average student is brainwashed by politically correct maxims, chief among which is the mindless (and self-contradictory) insistence that making judgments is wrong, since each individual has and is entitled to his own truth. By refusing to judge between right and wrong, these educators deny truth itself, and they accuse those who adhere to the classical tradition and recognize that education’s goal is truth of malicious insensitivity.
The teachers at Founders, however, believe not only that truth can be discovered, but also that true human happiness is found in virtue, and that virtue can be taught: we can and should judge between good and bad actions, and between good and bad character. Morality as it is taught elsewhere amounts to a vague humanitarianism: people are taught that they have a duty to make everyone else in the world feel comfortable. This is a morality that ignores virtue, that is the good of the soul of those who do moral deeds and those who benefit from them. Modern students who are taught that there is nothing true or good are left worse off than I was on my first day: they don’t have even one good leg to stand on! As the times change, their morality follows suit. Classical education, however, adheres to the advice of Henry David Thoreau: “Read not the times. Read the eternities.”
What is the point of education if truth is not objective but relative, if nobody can be right? Founders does not teach so that we might attain material “success”; rather, it teaches in order that we might attain virtue and live the good life. This is what our education these past years has been all about; we have been given the ability to stand firmly on two feet, and to see what is true, to judge what is good, and to admire what is beautiful.
Thus we have begun on our journey in pursuit of the good life. I know I speak for the rest of my classmates when I say that we are truly thankful for all that our teachers have taught us. We will miss you dearly.
To my classmates: congratulations! I am glad it was all y’all with whom I’ve spent these past years. I will only say this as regards advice: whether you find yourself on the top or the bottom of Boethius’s—and later, Shakespeare’s—“Rota Fortunae,” you can always take heart in what we have learned from the great authors we have studied here. From Plato’s Socrates that “the opinion of the many does not matter.” From Chesterton, that “there are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” And finally, from Tolstoy’s Levin, that we must “live for the soul, and remember God.” Thank you!