Summer Program Blog
After a hard week of work — and yes, plenty of play, too — the students on this year’s High School Summer Program happily welcomed the weekend at the conclusion of Friday’s classes. Recreation period consisted of the usual volleyball, basketball, trips to the ponds, and dance practice. But all of that was merely a precursor to the highly anticipated staged reading of Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors, which followed dinner:
As the show came to an end, the prefects set up candles along the edge of the fountain in St. Thomas Plaza, from which Fr. Sebastian led a procession to the Colleges’ Stations of the Cross. There students walked and prayed together, meditating on Christ’s passion and death as the sun set and the day’s heat finally began to break:
The night concluded with singing and ice cream by the fire pit on the campus fairway:
Then it was back to the residence halls for consecration and lights out. This morning, students are taking a hike to the “Punch Bowls” in the Los Padres National Forest, which abuts campus. Photos from the hike should be available on this blog by early this evening.
Can we know by reason that God exists?
The High School Summer Program students considered this weighty question in today’s two classes, starting with this morning’s session, in which they discussed Blaise Pascal’s famous “wager” from the Pensées. Pascal argues that, absent definitive proof, man should operate under the assumption that God exists. He puts the matter in betting terms, explaining that, if there is no God, the believer’s belief will cost him very little, but if God does exist, then the believer’s faith will win him eternal life.
That may be so, but is there not a better case to be made for God than “play the odds”?
That brings us to this afternoon’s class, in which students considered two very different, but complementary texts.
The first is Jean Henri Fabre’s detailed account of the workings of bees. Fabre’s descriptions of insect life reflect brilliantly complex operations performed by hopelessly simple-minded creatures. The insects partake in a process far beyond their comprehension, yet essential to their existence, offering the hint of a design and, thus, a Designer. St. Thomas Aquinas makes this argument explicitly in the students’ second reading, from the Summa Theologiae. In one of his “Five Proofs” for the existence of God, St. Thomas contends that “whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence … Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.”
And so, drawing upon three of history’s greatest thinkers in a variety of disciplines, the students made a good “first start,” into the question of God’s existence. Not bad for a day’s work …
Thursday afternoon’s recreation began with a brief scare — a minor accident involving a golf cart on the College’s main drive. As a precaution, Ventura County EMTs, who routinely use the College’s athletic fields as a landing site for their helicopters, asked the College to clear the fields. And so, for the first 30 minutes of the recreation period, most students took to the Chapel to pray for the driver — who, by God’s grace, was not seriously injured and is recovering well.
Once county officials determined that they did not need a helicopter, afternoon recreation resumed, with students engaging a wide range of activities: With the athletic fields reopened. some played Frisbee, and others practiced for Monday’s basketball tournament. In St. Gladys Hall, some built upon Wednesday’s dance class with an impromptu swing-dancing session in St. Gladys Hall. Musicians, meanwhile, auditioned for the upcoming open-mic night, while in St. Joseph’s Commons, Director Daniel Selmeczy (’08) held a rehearsal for this evening’s staged reading of A Comedy of Errors.
At dinner students resumed their discussions of Fear and Trembling from their afternoon class. Conversation centered around why Kierkegaard chose to present his ruminations on the Sacrifice of Isaac not in his own voice, but in that of a fictional character. Summer Program Chaplain Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem, who teaches philosophy to seminarians at St. Michael’s Abbey, enlivened the conversation by adding his insights.
The rest of the evening was pretty relaxed — study hall, Rosary, and iced drinks in the Commons before curfew. Students are resting up before a big weekend that will include the Punch Bowls hike and a trip to the beach and Santa Barbara!
During this morning’s classes, the 2016 Summer Program students continued their study of Genesis, focusing on chapters 11-25. Today’s discussions focused largely on the question of covenants, and the different kinds of covenants that God makes with His people. Students also compared the Bible’s account of Creation with that envisioned by Empedocles, one of the ancient Greek, pre-Socratic philosophers they studied earlier in the week.
Today’s Genesis reading also covers the Sacrifice of Isaac, the perfect prelude to this afternoon’s class, in which students took up the four different accounts of that story that Søren Kierkegaard put forth in his Fear and Trembling.
“It is difficult to read this short work without glimpsing something of the greatness of Abraham and being drawn to at least a spark of desire for the Faith he exemplifies,” reflects Dean Brian T. Kelly, in a 2013 talk about why the College includes this work in its curriculum. Kierkegaard, he continues, draws the reader into a “sense of wonder and admiration.”
Their sense of wonder and admiration bestirred, the students can now look forward to afternoon recreation and an evening of more prayer, study, and fun.
Adoration in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel
Following their morning class on Genesis, then midday Mass and lunch, the high school students enjoyed a brief respite on Wednesday afternoon — which they filled with a volleyball tournament. The competition consisted of several teams, each including two prefects, that battled against one another until only two remained for a championship round. In the end, the team captained by Thomas Cain and Anna Goodwin won the title. But that victory, alas, proved short-lived, as the champions then lost a hard-fought bonus match to a team of talented (and well-rested) tutors.
Immediately after the tournament, there was a barbeque dinner on the lawn in front of Sts. Peter and Paul Hall. “The students seem more comfortable with each other,” reflects one prefect. “You can definitely see the friendships beginning to form.”
From there it was on to study hall, where students prepared for Thursday’s classes on Genesis and Kierkegaard, and then the nightly Rosary in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel. Program Chaplain Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem., gave a talk about the Parable of the Prodigal Son and its application to our lives. He then exposed the Blessed Sacrament for half an hour of Adoration, during which time he and two of the College’s chaplains heard confessions. This time of prayer — amid the studies, the recreation, and the fun — allowed students to turn to the “source and summit” of Christian life, our Eucharistic Lord.
Leaving the Chapel spiritually refreshed and reinvigorated, the group then made its way to St. Joseph Commons for dance class. On the final night of the Summer Program, there is a farewell dance, and the students want to be prepared! Prefect Daniel Selmeczy (’08) led the way, instructing the group in the basics of swing. “The students were all really good about practicing,” one prefect remarked. “For a lot of them, it was their first time swing dancing, but they didn’t seem nervous at all.” The session lasted only an hour, but many remained afterward, all the way up until curfew, to keep practicing.
Meanwhile, students who volunteered for Friday’s staged reading of Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors received their assignments. They then watched a film production of the show, so as to inspire their own performances.
After curfew, back in the residence halls, it was a tamer night than Tuesday’s had been. “There was no whiffle-ball dodgeball,” laments one of the men’s prefects, “but a lot of guys were asking for it!” Instead, the men and women alike enjoyed cheese and crackers, plus some good conversation, before retiring for the night.
At this morning’s class, the High School Summer Program students examined the first 10 chapters of the Book of Genesis, including Creation, the Fall, Cain and Abel, and Noah and the Ark. The conversation covered such questions as “What is man, according to Genesis” and “What is meant by ‘knowledge of good and evil?’” By all reports, the students are gradually becoming accustomed to the Discussion Method, learning how to work together to achieve a better understanding of a text and derive the truths it contains.
At Thomas Aquinas College, the Discussion Method works via sections, groups of about 17 students who, for the duration of the academic year, take all their daytime classes together. Because the method depends on open discourse — which, in turn, relies on trust — it is important for students to come to know each other well. By taking nearly all of their classes together, the members of each section achieve a sense of intimacy and come to rely on one another in their shared pursuit of the truth.
Classes in the Summer Program are also arranged by sections, and the slideshow below features photos of each of the sections — all eight of them! — in this year’s program:
After students wrapped up their discussion of the pre-Socratic philosophers on Tuesday afternoon, most descended onto the athletic fields to prepare for this afternoon’s highly anticipated volleyball tournament. Others played basketball or tennis, and several cooled off in the campus ponds:
At dinner, head women’s prefect Sarah Dufresne (’14) led the entire group in singing “Happy Birthday” to student Connor P., whom she presented with a chocolate cake. Then the students were off to study hall, where they read the first 10 chapters of Genesis in preparation for this morning’s class, or got a head start on some of next week’s readings, particularly those by Boethius and Kierkegaard. Afterward was the nightly Rosary in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, after which Head Chaplain Rev. Paul Raftery, O.P., gave a blessing to all present.
For evening recreation, the volleyball diehards returned to the courts for nighttime play, while other students found their way to the Coffee Shop for iced drinks. At curfew, all returned to their residence hall, where the prefects hosted parties. In Sts. Peter and Paul Hall, the men feasted on donuts and engaged in a fierce whiffle-dodgeball tournament, from which Team Rossi emerged triumphant. They then stormed the campus flagpole and sang a rousing rendition of the National Anthem. Meanwhile, in St. Monica’s, the women enjoyed hummus and pitas, plus music and dancing, as well as some ice-breakers.
At last, the fun came to an end, and it was time for consecration and lights out.
Next post: a recap of Wednesday morning’s class on Genesis, plus photos of the class sections!
This post begins where the last one left off, at the conclusion of Monday’s second class, in which students considered the meaning of piety as it relates to Plato’s Euthyphro. Afterward it was recreation time, during which some played soccer, others took to the sand volleyball courts, and others still cooled off in the campus’ three spring-fed ponds. Over on the basketball courts, Fr. Sebastian and several of the men’s prefects engaged in fierce pickup tournament with a number of students.
Following dinner, the students gathered in St. Bernardine of Siena Library for their first study hall. “They were amazing,” reports on prefect. “It was impressive to see what a studious group we have!” At the end of study hall, the prefects led the nightly Rosary in Our Lady of the Most Trinity Chapel, after which some students returned to the volleyball courts, while others met up in the Dumb Ox Coffee Shop for Italian sodas, iced mochas, and card games.
At curfew the men and women found their way back to their respective residence halls. In St. Monica’s, the ladies listened to talks from their prefects, who shared their stories of how and why they came to Thomas Aquinas College. In Sts. Peter and Paul, the men enjoyed a light snack of chips and salsa. Then, the chaplains arrived — Fr. Paul in the women’s residence hall, and Fr. Sebastian in the men’s — and answered questions about the Mass before leading students in the nightly consecration, followed by lights out.
At this morning’s opening class, students moved on from Oedipus Rex to Sophocles’ Antigone, questioning of the title character’s decisions, and whether they make her more heroine … or villain.
We mentioned in this morning’s post how hard the high school students worked at last night’s study hall. Now we present the photographic evidence:
No doubt they were working hard, in part, to prepare for this afternoon’s class on the pre-Socratic philosophers. These ancient, fragmentary texts reflect some of man’s earliest attempts to comprehend nature and the physical world. “The students seemed to find the works both fascinating and mind-boggling,” says one prefect. “They had never read anything like that before!”
As a reward for their efforts, there will be the usual recreation period this afternoon and parties in the residence halls tonight. Check in tomorrow for updates and photos!
Note: We apologize for the delay in posting material to this blog. Due to technical difficulties beyond our control, we could not post content to the College’s website on Monday. The difficulties have been resolved and, by God’s grace, this blog will be regularly updated throughout the remainder of this year’s program. Please accept our apologies, and thank you for your patience!
The 2016 Summer Great Books Program for High School Students is under way!
On Sunday afternoon, students began arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, where they were met by the Summer Program prefects and boarded one of four buses to campus. “There was constant chatter on my bus; the students did not seem shy at all,” reports one prefect. “As we made the turn on Highway 150 and first saw the campus, a hush fell over the whole bus. They were super-excited!”
Over the course of the afternoon, more buses arrived, as did cars carrying students who live closer to campus. Upon settling in their residence halls, the students began visiting, playing sports, and touring the campus, while parents attended an orientation meeting at 4 p.m. At 5:00 there was the opening barbeque, followed by a travelers’ Mass at 6:30 p.m. in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel. Students then returned to their residence halls for an ice-cream social and a talk about the rules of residence, after which some played basketball right up until the 10:30 p.m. curfew.
Monday morning began with breakfast, followed by an academic orientation led by the director of this year’s summer program, Dr. Michael A. Augros, a member of the College’s teaching faculty. Students then headed over to the Chapel for this year’s opening Mass, offered by program chaplains Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem., and Rev. Paul Raftery, O.P.
After Mass, it was time for the first class of this year’s program! In a discussion of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, students contemplated such questions as, “Was Oedipus responsible for the horrors that befell him?” and “What role does fate play in our lives?” From there followed lunch, and then the second class — an examination of Plato’s Euthyphro.
Stay tuned for more updates!