2017 Commencement Address

“To educate man is the art of arts, for he is the most complex and mysterious of all creatures.” ~St. Gregory of Nazianzen, one of the Greek Fathers of the Church

How true. Consider just how much thought, time, and care (not to mention money) have been spent on trying to ensure that you become a good person with a well-formed mind and character, someone capable of living a full and free life.

Perhaps the most important person in your education thus far has been your mother, for your mother did not introduce you to this or that subject, but to the whole cosmos, to being itself. Most importantly your mother, in her great unconditional love for you, has been an image and carrier of God’s love to you, as you must be to other people. Her very being has revealed to you in a way that being itself, existence, and its author, God, are good, true, and beautiful. The theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar says that all this is revealed to the child the first time he beholds the smile of his mother. What a beautiful thought—and a true one, too, I think.

Dr Stephen Shivone

Dr Stephen Shivone

I have felt a special connection with Canongate since I first heard of it several years ago. I think this sense of connection is partly due to your small size. I myself attended two very, very small schools for high school and college. None of you has ever heard of my high school or college, I assure you. They are the least among the academies of the world. My graduating class in high school was not much bigger than yours, and I was in a graduating class of one from my college. I was the only graduate that year. I am proud to say that I was also the valedictorian, although I must admit the competition was not too keen. These schools, like yours, were not big, but they were good, and that is what matters.

Your small size is a good sign, a sign of health and virtue. Smallness is a condition of good education, because genuine education is always pursued in friendship and love. Of course there are always disagreements among people, and relationships are always hard, but for friendship to exist and flourish a school must be small enough that everyone knows everyone else and shares a common life, not only studying together, but eating and playing and praying together as well. This means that the teachers and the students should be living a common life, and that teachers and students should be friends of a sort.

Canongate: Class of 2017

Canongate: Class of 2017

The sad fact is that in our time and place great size is almost a bad sign, for it tends to indicate—though of course there are exceptions—that the school has become not a school—a place of friendship, learning, leisure, conversation about the most important things—but a kind of business, perhaps even at its worst a purely commercial enterprise selling its product like a huckster catering to the desires of his customers. The question now for most schools is what does the market want, which really means what will people pay for. Perhaps St. Paul predicted our situation when he said in his letter to Timothy, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths”(4:1-4).

But true education, like all truly important goods, cannot be bought or sold. It can only be given freely and received as a gift. This is why schools are not really economic institutions but cultural ones. True education is, in its essence, the gift we make of our whole soul—minds, hearts, imaginations—to truth. Education is not a commodity available for purchase. It is a natural and necessary inner activity of the person, a movement of the heart and mind.

Canongate’s small and successful mission of moving hearts and minds toward the truth invites you, and others you know, to pray for the students and become a benefactor of the school. Guardians, those who support Canongate monthly, are the financial pillars of the mission! Your sacrificial giving to Canongate moves hearts and minds toward the truth. Thank you!

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