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Peter DeLuca: Honoring the Class of 1975

Posted: June 10, 2015

Peter L. DeLuca
Vice President for Finance and Administration
Thomas Aquinas College
Alumni Association Dinner
June 6, 2015

I was just asked to say a few words with respect to the anniversary of the College’s first graduating class, which it turns out actually is tomorrow. That is, the 40th anniversary of its graduation is June 7, tomorrow. So this is not only the anniversary year, it’s very nearly the anniversary day, for the Class of 1975. Forty years, and it seems like yesterday.

There were 33 students in that class when they matriculated, and they matriculated on September 14, 1971. There were 17 men and 16 women. It’s hard to imagine, but they came to a school that didn’t exist. I mean, there were buildings there. Actually, there were more buildings than there were for the Class of 1978, but there were no Sophomores, no Juniors, no Seniors, no upperclassmen.

In fact we had to pick prefects from the freshmen. We picked the two oldest freshmen, Tina Langone (’75), who’s here tonight, for the ladies and Bill Sockey (’75). They did a wonderful job, as did their entire class. It’s very difficult to imagine how that must have felt, coming to this college that had this very unusual academic program and was just an idea. It was a very strange situation because we knew what we thought education was better than almost anybody else in the entire academic community, but we knew almost nothing about running a college. So they came to a place where everything was being invented as we went along except for the academic program

For example, it didn’t occur to us that there was a reason why colleges had a break between the semesters. So we got to the end of the first semester, and the second semester began on Monday. After that happened once we had a semester break. It’s the sort of thing that kept happening. We were having to reinvent the wheel with respect to the ordinary mechanics because none of us had ever been an administrator in a college.

At any rate they came, and we did start, and on the first Friday night Dr. Neumayr gave a lecture, the first of the Friday-night lectures, the first-ever first lecture of the year. And, of course, it was on the nature of liberal education.

So, they managed to survive — some of them at least — the four years, and when we got to the graduation, of course, we had to invent that, too. By then we had John Schmitt with us, who had studied the history of education at Harvard and so he knew a lot about how to organize it, and he invented the Commencement ceremony, essentially the same one that we use to this day, for our first graduation. We had 18 graduates, and in the newsletter their names were listed just as they are now. But as I looked back at the issue, I noticed that we did not publish the thesis titles then. Instead we published what the graduates were going to do next. I looked at that and I thought, “Why do we have that difference?” I think maybe it was because that was the thing people were always asking us, “What are they going to do when they graduate?” So we were anxious to show that they had something to do, that they just weren’t going to be out there standing on a street corner with a big sign that says, “TAC graduate, will think for food.”

So we did get this graduation ceremony organized 40 years ago, and here are some of the details. The ceremony was presided over by Bishop John Ward, who was an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, and was sent there to represent Timothy Cardinal Manning, the ordinary. He passed out the diplomas and presided at the Commencement. The Commencement Speaker was H. Lyman Stebbins, then the National President of Catholics United for the Faith, and his topic was, “John Henry Newman, a Man for Our Times.” And he was awarded the very first Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion. The Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion was, in fact, invented for the occasion. The Board of Governors created it as a way that the College could recognize people, particularly people whose devotion to the Catholic Church was outstanding, and that was particularly true of Mr. Stebbins.

One of the difficulties we had was, if you’re going to establish a medallion, you actually have to have a medallion, and we didn’t. We discovered that the Vatican had struck a medal, a large medal, in honor of the seventh centenary of the death of St. Thomas Aquinas, so we bought 10 of them, and we gave them out over the next 10 years. Then we went back and asked if we could order some more, and they said, “Sorry, they’re all gone.” So we had to find a sculptor and actually had our own made, which is the one we use today. It’s a relief based on the Botticelli St. Thomas, so that’s what we actually give people today.

The medallion was invented and given for the first time at the first commencement. The Baccalaureate Mass was celebrated by Rev. Thomas Aquinas McGovern, S.J., who was then, according to our newsletter, a “senior tutor” — this is a four-year-old college, and we already had a senior tutor! But the homilist was Rev. Charles Taylor, who was a friend of Dr. McArthur’s who at the time was the pastor of a parish in Jackson, Wyoming.

About the occasion Dr. McArthur had a statement which I thought I would conclude by reading to you. He said:

“This event represents a major milestone in the history of the College. It should provide a true sense of accomplishment to all who have made sacrifices that this institution might come into being. The initial task has been accomplished. If we are to ensure a growing number of liberally educated Catholic men and women, we must now devote our attention to the growth and perfection and the permanent establishment of the College.”

That was Ronald P. McArthur on June 7, 1975 — 40 years ago tomorrow. Thank you.

Peter DeLuca Alumni Dinner 2015
Suzie Jackson (’15)

“The texts we are reading ask the fundamental questions in life, which every human person needs to be able to answer. You want to answer these questions, and you experience the beauty of wonder in discussing them.”

– Suzie Jackson (’15)

Manassas, Va.

“Thomas Aquinas is already the preeminent Catholic college in the country.”

– John Cardinal O’Connor (†)

Archbishop of New York