A Light in the Darkness - Valedictory Speech 2022 Commencement - Holy Apostles College and Seminary

S Beach Graduation Speech - Holy Apostles College and Seminary - May 2022

Video available below. 
Hello class of 2022, my name is Stephen Beach. I am graduating from the Master’s program in Systematic Philosophy. I want to begin with a sincere thank you to Fr. Kucer, and all of the Holy Apostles faculty and staff. It is an honor to be here. 

For my speech today I want you to think of a simple image. In your mind, imagine yourself in complete darkness; the darkness of a moonless night, the darkness of a windowless room. And then in that darkness, imagine a singular candle being lit. The light of that candle stands against the darkness with a contrast that is unparalleled. The light from the candle orients us. The candle allows us to understand what’s behind us … in a metaphorical sense, the light shows us where we have come from … it shows us our past. The candle also allows us to take a glimpse of our own selves … again, metaphorically, the light shows us who we are … our identity. Finally, it orients us to what is ahead of us … where we should go … our ultimate purpose. 

In the darkness of our lives, with its complexity, confusion, incompleteness, and the tragedy and suffering that are always present, no one wants to stay in the darkness. As Jesus says in the Gospels, “... if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.” The darkness is an unbearable present from which we must journey forward into the light. 

Growing up I have always struggled to understand the context of the time and place in which we live within history. When I was younger, my grandfather (who is now 103) would always tell stories of the past. He would speak of his childhood friends. He would speak about the struggles of the Great Depression, the deep friendships that he forged working on the railroad and as a musician, the grit and determination it took to provide for his family. And he would talk about the bravery of those who fought in the war, as well as the physical and mental aftermath that some of his friends experienced. One thing that always bothered me was my lack of ability to connect those stories to my own average middle class life growing up in the 1990’s and 2000’s. And that may have been exactly the point. It was his sacrifice, and the sacrifice of so many of that generation, that allowed their children and grandchildren to live a more comfortable and prosperous life in freedom than they had. 

In the 1970’s and 80’s, Russian literary figure, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn gave the Western world a glimpse of the suffering that took place earlier in the century: “The 1920’s in the USSR witnessed an uninterrupted procession of victims and martyrs … Scores of arch-bishops and bishops perished. Tens of thousands of priests, monks, and nuns, pressured by the Chekists to renounce the Word of God, were tortured, shot in cellars, sent to camps, exiled to the desolate tundra of the far North, or turned out into the streets in their old age without food or shelter. All these Christian martyrs went unswervingly to their deaths for the faith…” And so as I have grown, and had more of an opportunity to understand the past 100 years of our history, it has become clear to me that living in the light of freedom and prosperity is not the historical default position of human beings. The darkness is never far from creeping back over us all. 

We are told today that science will answer all questions in the coming age, that we should stop seeking answers to the religious and philosophical dimensions of life, that the Materialist worldview has taken Christianity’s place. The Naturalist philosopher, John Dewey, claimed that, “We do not solve [religious questions]: We get over them. Old questions are solved by disappearing, evaporating, while new questions corresponding to the changed attitude of endeavor and preference take their place. Doubtless the greatest dissolvent in contemporary thought of old questions, the greatest precipitant of new methods, new intentions, new problems, is the one effected by the scientific revolution that found its climax in the ‘Origin of Species.’” 

But in reality, religious and metaphysical truths cannot be destroyed. Such truth cannot be contained and manipulated for very long. It will always make a return. The light always shines back into the darkness. In the words of the Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset, “It is not escapable. One cannot simply abandon the perennial questions of existence. What I mean by this is that we are given an escape from the ultimate questions. Whether we like it or not, they live, in one fashion or another, within us.” And so we must stand up today for authentic human rights for humans at all stages of life, for objective moral truth in the face of relativism, for freedom to practice our faith in the midst of persecution. These ideas are not superfluous. They are not absurd. And they are not unanswerable. Their reality beckons us to that mysterious part of life that is transcendent, they call us beyond ourselves, and beyond the physical world. And so, again, in the words of Solzhenitsyn, “I am, of course, confident that I shall fulfill my duty as a writer in all circumstances … No one can bar the road to truth and, to advance its cause, I am prepared to accept even death.” It is in the pursuit of the truths of the humanities that we learn what it means to be fully human.

And so the light lives on in places like Holy Apostles College and Seminary. In Dr. Smith’s class, my whole philosophical foundation was formed as we read through Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics. In the works of Plato I found an awareness of eternal truths and a love for discussion and debate. In Dr. Mango’s class, as we read through the works of St. Thomas, I found the beauty of Catholicism embracing faith and reason as means to truth. In other classes I dialogued with Modern and Contemporary philosophers, learning the ability to find aspects of truth in different viewpoints. For these experiences, for the faculty, and for my fellow classmates, I will always be grateful.

And so, class of 2022 as we say farewell, let us take this gift of our education, and let us be a light to the world. Let us make the Kingdom of God shine brighter than any of the false ideologies of this age. I will conclude with the words of the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “[Our calling is] to succeeded in reaching the deepest chords [of someone’s] heart, [to] arouse in them a vague sensation of that eternal, sacred yearning which some elect souls can never give up for cheap gratification when once they have tasted and known it.” Congratulations class of 2022, and thank you.