Candles flickered in the dusk as 400 of my graduating classmates filed across the second-story cloister walk of our ivy-clad college. It was early May, the evening of the school's annual Candle and Rose ceremony, a longstanding tradition that celebrates the outgoing class the night before graduation.
I stood on the podium, a sea of seniors' faces before me, and delivered my final college speech. I've long since lost the transcript, but I've never forgotten the essence of it. In fact, if I had to give a speech today to the college self I was then, I'd probably say the same things.
I'd still talk about the professors, many of them Catholic nuns, who modeled what the intersection of godly living and scholarship looks like. These women devoted their lives to teaching students how to think critically, articulate thoughts and ideas logically and persuasively, and write clearly. They formed and infused our worldview with faith, teaching us to see all learning through the lens of caritas et veritas—love and truth—my college's motto.
As an English major, this meant analyzing literary works for clues to the author's beliefs and signs of God's redemptive work in the characters and storylines. It meant learning to research and write with integrity and intellectual curiosity. It meant savoring the artistry and beauty of great writing, both for sheer delight and as a means of praising God for his creative force working in and through writers. Knowing how hard it is to craft a decent sentence, much less to get it to sing, I'm in even greater awe now than I was in college of writers who make writing seem effortless.
In college, I saw the nuns spend hours in the library doing advanced research in their fields. Sister Clemente, for instance, who was my college advisor and remains a dear friend today, is an expert on Piers Plowman, a Middle English allegorical narrative poem. Years after graduating, I returned to her classroom and got to drink in another lesson on Piers from her. She explained how William Langland's poem had fed her soul for years. She dove deep into this literary pool and has been swimming in it her whole life. She showed me what a life of intellectual depth looks like, and she shared her passion for this work, offering us beauty, love, and truth by it.