Summer Program Blog
When we left off yesterday, the 2016 High School Summer Program students had just boarded three buses for a trip to Los Angeles. Traffic was heavy, as it often is in L.A., but the ride passed quickly. Students made good use of the time by practicing their Euclidean demonstrations, thanks to some prescient prefects who brought along paper and pencils for the whole group.
The first stop was the J. Paul Getty Museum in the Santa Monica Mountains, with its panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and the vast expanse of metropolitan Los Angeles. Students wandered the grounds, gazing upon world-renowned paintings, illuminated manuscripts, Greek and Roman sculptures, photographs, and other works of art, including some by Monet, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Bernini. They delighted to see a portrait of Boethius; to search for the hallmarks of excellent art that Dr. Nieto had identified in his Tuesday talk; and to admire one of the museum’s temporary exhibits, Unruly Nature: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau. They also found time to take plenty of pictures around the beautiful gardens, fountains, and outdoor patios.
At about 5:00 p.m. the group re-boarded the buses for a trip to the Hollywood Bowl, where students feasted on some 53 pizzas at the picnic grounds before settling in for the performance. The night’s concert was Mirga Conducts Beethoven and Ravel, billed as a meeting of “exhilarating power and sensuous grace,” conducted by the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “charismatic associate conductor.” Students enjoyed the spirited performance, relaxing under the stars on a hot summer night in the Hollywood Hills.
The concert ended fairly late (about 10:30 or so), at which time students returned to the buses back to campus. Then it was off to bed for some much-needed rest before Wednesday’s classes on Euclid’s Elements and Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy.
Any jitters that the high school students may have had going into this morning’s class — where, for the first time, they would be called upon to demonstrate Euclidean propositions on the blackboard — were for naught. By all indications, the students passed their first test with flying colors.
“Student spirits were high after the mornings demonstrations,” reports head men’s prefect Chris Sebastian (’13). “The conversations about various aspects of the props continued even as the students spilled out of the classrooms, with tutors asking them if there were other ways to prove the enunciations besides the way that Euclid proposed them.”
There is no afternoon class today. Instead, after lunch, the students filed into buses for a trip to Los Angeles, where they will first visit the Getty Center and then attend a concert — “Mirga Conducts Beethoven and Ravel” — at the world-famous Hollywood Bowl. Photos from the excursion will be available here tomorrow morning.
High school students on the bus to Los Angeles
Following Monday’s classes and an abbreviated recreation period, students took to the campus coffee shop, where Dr. John Nieto, a member of the College’s teaching faculty, presented his annual talk, “Art and Beauty.” As part of his discussion, Mr. Nieto spoke about many of the works that students would see during their Tuesday-afternoon trip to the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Then came dinner, followed by an Admissions meeting, at which Admissions counselors and Director Jon Daly took questions from students about the College and its application process.
During study hall students met with prefects and fellow members of their sections to prepare for Tuesday morning’s class, at which they would be called upon to demonstrate Euclidean propositions on the chalkboard. “They seem very well prepared,” one prefect observed. “Mostly I was only helping them put a little polish their presentation.”
After study hall and Rosary, the group gathered on the basketball courts for two highly anticipated match-ups of students vs. prefects. The women’s game was a nail-biter, with the prefects scoring the winning basket with only 10 seconds left on the clock. The men’s game was not as close, but was nonetheless hard-fought, with the prefects emerging triumphant.
Back in the residence halls after curfew, students recapped the basketball game and feasted on soft pretzels. Then it was time for consecration and lights out so that all would be fresh and alert for the next morning’s presentations!
On Monday morning the Summer Program students were back in the classroom, working out Euclid’s definitions, common notions, and postulates in lively discussions. Having come to an understanding of the meaning of such terms as “line” and “point,” they are now ready to take on Euclidean propositions throughout the rest of the week’s morning sessions.
At the afternoon class, after Mass and lunch, students discussed the first two books of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. Written in 524 A.D., while Boethius awaited his martyrdom in prison, this work is presented in the form of a dialogue between Boethius and Lady Philosophy, in which they discuss evil, happiness, suffering, fate, God, and free will. In short, it’s the perfect work to tie up the big questions that the students have been pondering for the last week.
At tonight’s study hall, students will get their first chance to try out their new knowledge of geometry when they practice demonstrating Euclidean propositions on classroom chalkboards …
Sunday began with two Masses in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, the first in the extraordinary form, and the second in the ordinary form, accompanied by the Thomas Aquinas College Choir. Students then quickly ate some breakfast burritos and changed their clothes before gathering in the Commons and boarding three passenger buses for a day of adventure …
First stop: Ventura State Beach, about a 25-minute drive from campus, where students delighted in volleyball, swimming, and bountiful natural beauty. In shifts, groups took breaks for lunch at a nearby In-n-Out Burger, the iconic California burger chain. The highlight of the day, however, came when pods of dolphins delighted the group by swimming, playing, and diving close to the shoreline.
Next, students re-boarded the buses and made their way up the coast to Santa Barbara. There they enjoyed dinner at various spots of their choosing: family-style Italian at Palazzio’s, burgers at The Habit, a local Lebanese restaurant, and others. Prefects then led students down State Street for shopping and ice cream.
At the end of the trip, all met up at Stearns Wharf for a group photo. Students prayed the Rosary in the buses on the way back to campus, where many then gathered for a voluntary study hall in St. Bernardine of Siena Library. “They were excited, but also a little nervous,” reports a prefect, about Monday morning’s class — the first of five devoted to Euclid!
Following Saturday night’s barbeque dinner was Open-Mic Night, a dazzling display of the great talent to be found among this year’s students! Each performance was beautiful, but for comedic value alone, prefects Martin McCann (’16) and Patrick Nazeck (’19) stole the show with their re-enactment of the Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye “Sisters” scene from White Christmas.
Afterward students gathered in front of the Chapel for a Rosary procession to the Lourdes Grotto, which prefects had prepared ahead of time with candles. Upon arriving at the grotto and completing the Rosary, the group fell silent, deep in prayer. The silence only broke several minutes later, when the students headed back toward the upper campus, singing hymns along the way.
In the remaining time before curfew, students returned to St. Joseph Commons for a movie, Cinderella Man.
Check in Monday for photos from Sunday’s trips to the beach and Santa Barbara!
After rising early on Saturday morning, over 100 Summer Program students joined the prefects on a hike through the Los Padres National Forest. The trail, which borders the campus, leads to the refreshing (but cold!) Punch Bowls — two naturally formed pools of spring water. Accompanying the summer crew was the College’s head chaplain, Rev. Paul Raftery, O.P., who offered Mass en route — a beautiful way to celebrate both Creation and Creation’s God. The students greatly enjoyed the three-mile canyon hike, climbing over boulders, crossing the creek beds, and finally lunch and a dip in the cool water at the top.
It was a quiet afternoon back on campus afterward, leading up to an amazing barbeque tri-tip barbeque dinner, prepared by master chef Patrick Nazeck (’19) and his fellow prefects!
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.
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!
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 …