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Dr. McLean’s Matriculation Address: Friendship and Thomas Aquinas College

Posted: August 21, 2017


by Michael F. McLean, Ph.D.
President, Thomas Aquinas College
Convocation Day
August 21, 2017


Welcome to our incoming freshmen and to all of our returning students. We greet you all as friends and companions in the lifelong effort to acquire moral and intellectual virtue and to strengthen and nurture the theological virtues — the God-given gifts of faith, hope, and charity.

The consideration of friendship plays an important role in the education you are about to begin. Of central importance will be Aristotle’s discussion of friendship in his great Nicomachean Ethics, which you will study in the Junior Year. Greatly influenced by Plato’s image of the “ladder of love” in the Freshman Year’s Symposium, an ascent which culminates in the love of the Beautiful itself, Aristotle distinguishes the types of friendship and the order among them, acknowledges the importance of friendship in a fully human life, and its crucial role in the acquisition and exercise of the virtues.

He notes the importance of friendship for the well-to-do, for the poor and those who suffer other misfortunes, for the young, for the old, for those in the prime of life, for parents, for offspring, and for the well-being of the state. “Friendship,” Aristotle says, “is not only necessary, but noble as well; for we praise those who have many friends.”

Without the benefit of Divine Revelation, he anticipates, too, the Church’s teaching about the complementarity of husband and wife and extols the type of perfect friendship that can exist between the spouses and in the family. This brief sketch is all we need to see why a consideration of friendship was important to Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and other pagan philosophers. St. Thomas himself relies heavily on Aristotle when he argues that charity, which St. Paul says is the greatest of the theological virtues, itself is friendship, and so reminds us that friendship is at the very heart of the Christian life.

You will find memorable images of friendship in many of the works of literature you will enjoy in your years here. You will soon be immersed in the Iliad and its depiction of the, in some ways, tragic friendship between Achilles and Patroklos. Later you will enjoy the friendship and escapades of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as they undertake to right wrongs and pursue virtue in their own inimitable ways. In your senior year, you will experience a certain nobility and greatness in the friendships between Pierre Bezukhov and Andrei Bolkonsky, central characters in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and between Huck and Jim in Mark Twain’s great American classic, Huckleberry Finn.

Unparalleled in many respects will be the evocation of friendship which concludes Dostoyevsky’s magnificent Brothers Karamazov, which also awaits you in Senior Year. “I give you my word,” says Alyosha to the boys, “that I’ll never forget one of you. Every face looking at me now I shall remember even for thirty years.” “Ah, children, ah, dear friends,” Alyosha continues, “don’t be afraid of life! How good life is when one does something good and just!”

Friendship not only figures prominently in our curriculum but it is essential to the community we have established here as well. We believe learning and the pursuit of wisdom require cooperation, not competition, between students and tutors, and that working together in a spirit of friendship and charity to understand the greatest texts and the greatest authors is the surest route to progress in the intellectual life. You will form wonderful friendships, both in and out of class, as you pursue a common curriculum, share common questions, difficulties, and principles, and a common desire to pursue the truth. You will learn from Aristotle that friendship ordered to virtue, as this community of friends is, is the most perfect form of natural friendship.

This is in no way to diminish the friendships you will naturally form — some of pleasure, some of utility, and some of virtue — as you enjoy the recreational and social opportunities provided by this community, as those of you on service scholarship will do as you fulfill your work responsibilities, and as all of you will do as you navigate the challenges and complexities of dormitory life together. As one parent said recently of their daughter after her time at the College: “Her faith has grown tremendously and she has good Catholic friendships that will last a lifetime.”

Not to be overlooked, of course, are the friendships we hope you will form with our chaplains and, through their ministry, with Our Lord Himself. The educational and spiritual life of the College is ordered to wisdom about the highest things — in short, it is designed to deepen your knowledge and love of God. The study of Sacred Scripture, which you are about to undertake, is the foundation of the College’s work.

Examples of friendship abound in Scripture — consider Moses and Aaron, Elijah and Elisha, Naomi and Ruth, David and Jonathan, and Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. These, in one way or another, are models or images of the friendship between Christ and His apostles, Christ and His church, Christ and ourselves: “I no longer call you servants,” says Our Lord in the Gospel of John, “but My friends.”

How this friendship with Christ is possible is a question for another day. That it is possible is clear from His words, and that you grow in this friendship is our greatest hope for you.

May God bless your years at Thomas Aquinas College, and may you keep the College ever in your prayers.

Thank you.



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