Note: Miss Bessette is a senior from Upland, Calif. The following is adapted from remarks she made to the Thomas Aquinas College Board of Governors at its spring 2013 meeting.
My path to Thomas Aquinas College began in grade school. I went to a small private elementary school in Upland, Calif., two hours southeast of here. The program was academically intense, but not exactly liberal — that is, freeing. The teachers worked to form the children in virtue and a true intellectualism, but many of the families had a utilitarian approach to education. Often it seemed like we were studying hard just so that we could score well on tests … so that we could get into the best high schools … so that we could get into the best colleges … so that we could get into the best law schools and medical schools … so that we could make the most money — and thereby be happy.
This approach to education went hand-in-hand with a more worldly and materialistic culture. In grade school, I was the weirdo who watched black-and-white movies, listened to oldies music, and didn’t swear. I remember being distressed one time after receiving some mockery from friends. I remember crying to my mom, saying, “Why do people think it is bad to be good? I just don’t understand!”
Knowledge for its Own Sake
In February of my eighth-grade year, I discovered St. Monica Academy, a small Catholic school in Pasadena in the classical tradition. I am sure many of you have heard of St. Monica’s since the headmistress and several of the teachers are Thomas Aquinas College alumni. I attended St. Monica’s for high school, and it was there that I found a new approach to education. At St. Monica’s, we asked the question, “Why?” We pursued knowledge for its own sake.
It is no surprise to me now that this approach to education went hand-in-hand with a truly Christian culture. It was, finally, good to be good. The culture was Christcentered and focused on faith and family.
This experience prepared me for Thomas Aquinas College. St. Monica’s made me think about the purpose of education and how true faith ought to create a unique culture and inform everything we do. My freshman year at the College was both a natural transition from my high school and a new beginning. I had the sense of starting over, and found myself immersed in a community and culture of faith and love.
Truth and Love
However, there was one large bump along my way at the College. A few weeks before my sophomore year, my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV kidney cancer. We knew the disease was fatal, but I decided to return to school and go home to visit Mom on the weekends. My mom died in October of that year, and I was back in the classroom two days after the funeral because I had already missed so many classes in the weeks prior to her death.
At school, I was distracted and found it almost impossible to focus on the readings. I was slogging through the school year and became discouraged. I became resentful of my studies since they seemed so distant from my life. I remember telling myself, “I don’t need truth right now. I just need love.”
In recent months, I have come to see the absurdity in my thinking. Thomas Aquinas College is not about filling my mind with particular truths. It is not about packing in as much information as possible. The point of the College is to make my whole being more receptive to truth itself, which is Christ. And Christ is where I find love. I cannot have love without truth, or truth without love. Far from being opposed, they are both found in the one person of Christ.
Even though I may not be able to get as much out of the curriculum as I could under normal circumstances, I know that this is the best place for me. The education and community here at the College are satisfying some part of my soul’s fundamental needs for truth and love in a way that few other institutions could.
The Fire of the Holy Spirit
After life at the College, I hope to work for the Church in some capacity. I like to get things done; I have something of a passion for planning. I would love to put my skills to work in a diocese or in a parish school. Whatever I end up doing, though, I am so excited to enter the world with the fire of the Holy Spirit, and help invigorate whichever parish community I may find myself in.
On behalf of the entire student body, I would like to say thank you to all you members of the Board of Governors of the College for all your hard work and dedication to the success of this program. We appreciate your sacrifices so much, and you are in our prayers.
“I thank you so much for what you are doing at Thomas Aquinas College. I hope there will always be a Thomas Aquinas College. Your contributions to the Church and the world are marvelous to behold.”
– John Cardinal O’Connor (†)
Archbishop of New York