Natasha De Virgilio, Class of 2017
Valedictory Address at Founders Classical Academy of Leander's First Annual Commencement
Natasha De Virgilio, Class of 2017
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.
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.”
Natasha De Virgilio will attend Hillsdale College in the Fall.
Natasha De Virgilio, Valedictorian of the Class of 2017
Natasha De Virgilio with Dr. O'Toole, Headmaster, and Ms. Harris, College Counselor