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Dr. Matthew Peterson (’01), vice president of education at the Claremont Institute and editor of The American Mind, recently served as the commencement speaker at Providence Christian College in Pasadena, California. In his address, Who is the Elite?, he discussed the vital role that education should play — yet all too often, does not — in uniting the leaders of society with the public at large through shared values, a common ethos, and a unified sense of the common good.

T.S. Eliot worried that in our modern educational system our elites would be, “united only by their common interests and separated by everything else.” The modern elite, in other words, would not share ideas about human nature, character, or virtue, religion, or the most important questions human being have to answer to live a good life. Instead, Eliot worried that our modern elite would consist solely of individuals whose only common bond with each other was their professional interest.…

If education is just professional training, and if there is not a unified understanding of morality or religion, but in fact, a rejection of morality and religion, nor a unified elite culture educated to love and serve their communities and country, but in fact, a rejection of American principles and purpose, what is there to unite the elites except raw self-interest? What is there to prevent them from putting their own good above the good of everybody else’s? From becoming snobbish and corrupt?

You see, college doesn’t just unify us through our social lives, as important and vital the relationships we make are, and as meaningful as the time you’ve all spent together was. It also unifies us in what we learned. The secret is that a college’s curriculum is a central source of student and national and theological unity. But this unity, above all else, is what is broken down in many colleges today.

But not at all colleges! Dr. Peterson had kind words to say for his host, Providence Christian College, and its classical curriculum. And just a few months ago he was at his alma mater to take part in a Career Services panel for students who are considering careers in journalism. There he offered a robust assessment of the College’s program of Catholic liberal education, particularly in contrast to what is offered at most “elite” institutions today. “It is a priceless gift, and you should count yourself extremely lucky, extremely blessed, just to have that opportunity,” he told the College’s students. “It is incredibly rare, what you’re able to do, and it will assist you throughout the rest of your life. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. I’ve seen it in countless ways, countless people, graduates across the country doing amazing things, and they will all testify to this.”