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May 26, 2005

The Revolution of Truth: 2005 Commencement Address to the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts

By

President Sampo, Dean Mumbach, Chairman Monaghan, members of the Board of Trustees, reverend fathers, administration and faculty, distinguished guests, close friends and loving relatives, and most of all, the Thomas More College class of 2005. I'm honored to stand before you today and humbled to have the privilege of addressing you on your wonderful campus at this world-class institution.

And I'm honored to share this podium with Mary O'Reilly Hart. I only wish I could match her eloquence. And I know you will wish I could match her brevity!

But before I begin my formal remarks, I want to take a moment to honor the extraordinary life, legacy, and teachings of our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II.

I had the honor to be up close to the Holy Father only once - during his trip to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993 when he toured the campus of Regis University, my alma mater, and met with President Clinton.

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet a number of men and women of historical consequence - President Reagan and Lady Thatcher are two who come to mind. But never in my life previously - or since - have I met someone as universally beloved as the Holy Father.

I will never forget the feeling of being in his presence and witnessing first hand what it meant for the thousands of young people from around the world to be there with him. A thousand years from now, no one will remember today's prominent Democrats or Republicans, liberals, or conservatives.

But history will never forget John Paul II. May he rest in peace in the communion of saints. And may our new Holy Father, Benedict XVI, advance and expand upon his legacy.

My friends, again, let me thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address you this afternoon. Your reputation as graduates of a genuine institution of higher learning precedes you.

You are earning a degree from one of the few remaining colleges in America that studies the Ancients. And because of this, you must surely be aware of the ancient commencement day ritual - first adopted by Horace, I believe - requiring the invited speaker to stand up here and lecture the soon-to-be graduates until they begged for mercy. I still remember the unmentionable suffering of my own commencement way back in 1963.

Since then, I am happy to report, the forces of human decency have made significant advances. So much so that President Sampo suggested (actually, it was more of a threat) that I should spend no longer than 15 minutes sharing with you today the wisdom and insight I have accumulated over the past 35 years of my life in and around public service and Washington politics.

I must say, I was surprised by President Sampo's temerity. With everything I've come here to share, you're asking me to speak for 15 minutes? What was I to do with the remaining 10?

But, indeed, I am honored to be in front of you today. I'm honored to have the opportunity to speak to men and women of scholarship with an appreciation of antiquity. But most of all, I'm honored to be at a campus that celebrates and advances the spirit and tradition of diversity.

Now, I should probably take a moment to define that. Because, as we know, many other colleges and universities claim to be diverse - in fact, these days, they all do.

To defend this claim, they cite the impressive panoply of foreign peoples that have emigrated from the far corners of the globe to take up study at their institution.

They cite the number of gays, the number of women, the number of Muslims, the number of students from Kentucky. For all I know, they may even cite the number of gay women of Muslim faith from Kentucky (a demographic, by the way, which has been grossly underrepresented over the years).

These schools cite all sorts of statistics and use terms like "diversity" and "multiculturalism" to distract parents, students, and the public at large from a much more sinister design: namely, the execution of an aggressive and intellectually intolerant ideological agenda. You don't have to travel far to find examples.

Head up Route 89 an hour and a half - maybe only an hour if my wife Linda is behind the wheel - and you'll arrive at the hamlet of Hanover, where our friends at Dartmouth College proudly and, perhaps they would even say, boldly, pursue their own personal conception of truth.

At Dartmouth you'll find many things: an absolutely majestic view of the Connecticut River, a vibrant and politically-engaged student body, and an entire academic department devoted to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies.

Among the courses one must take: "Here and Queer: Placing Sexuality," "Judaism, Sexuality and Queerness," and - this is my personal favorite - "Animals and Women in Literature: Nags, Bitches and Shrews."

Travel to California. At Stanford, another of our nation's renowned universities, a new course focusing on the works of modern feminists and homosexuals is required reading for all entering freshmen. Three-quarters of Princeton students will graduate without ever taking a class in American or Western history, and I don't even have to tell you what the curriculum requirements look like down the road in Cambridge.

My friends, Thomas More is different. It stands today as one of those brilliant and increasingly rare institutions that practices a special brand of diversity - one that is not superficial, quantitative, or obligatory.

You see, Thomas More proffers the only type of diversity that matters: intellectual diversity. And it does so in a way that is unafraid, unapologetic, and in full recognition of its eminent role as guardian and exponent of the Western tradition.

The curriculum here at Thomas More is diverse, and the expectation of scholarship rigorous. You come here to learn Latin, to learn Greek. You come here to acknowledge the cultural heritage of generations past and build upon an intellectual tradition that has both captivated and defined Western civilization for millennia.

You come here to study philosophy, the classics, and political economy. You come here to measure Machiavelli's Prince alongside Erasmus's Christian Prince.

Like other university students, you come here to wrestle with the implications of Descartes and Hume. But unlike those students, you come to lay your modern insights atop the firm foundation of metaphysics introduced by Aristotle and Aquinas.

In short, you come here to learn. You come here to be, like the great Thomas More himself, men and women "of all seasons." But you also come to understand that learning of any sort cannot move forward without the recognition of a fundamental starting point. And it is this: there is a unity to all knowledge, and there exists a truth to be discovered.

It is in pursuit of this noble end that ought to be the raison d'être of modern education. It no longer is. But here, at Thomas More, you recognize that through genuine liberal education, the mind is opened to consider the contents of a vast sphere of historicity - all in preparation for that moment of singularity when the mind arrives at an ordered view of the whole and is able to seize upon the truth.

Contrast this vision with that of the multiculturalists - a term, by the way, which is perhaps far too charitable. To a multiculturalist, diversity is not a means to an end. Rather, it is an end in and of itself.

To them there are no universal truths to be found in human affairs. Ergo, to them, education is a quest for something they readily admit does not exist. It is a rudderless voyage, a quest without a map, without a captain, and without a destination.

And, as I told our children when they started driving, if you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Today's postmodern university seeks to open minds without any thought that minds might actually close upon discovery of the truth. But when, in the course of their studies, today's students do arrive at some conception of truth, they are immediately ushered away from it and, in most cases, made to feel shamed for even approaching it.

To many of today's professors, the absence of truth - of order, of natural law - is, in fact, the only truth. Man is pure potential. Pure utility. And pure resignation in the face of chaos.

I was born and raised in Chicago. Now, perhaps some of you have heard of or even visited the Old Water Tower in Chicago. It stands as one of the only structures still around today to have survived the Great Fire of 1871.

There is an exhibit at the Water Tower featuring hundreds of different high-resolution photographs capturing a single spot on Lake Michigan - but each picture looks different from the one before, because each was taken at different times of day, in different seasons, in different weather. At first blush, one would never know it is the same spot on the lake. But, a second look reveals that it is.

I bring up this photo display because, in a case like this, we see that diversity can - and, in fact, does - color reality. But although diversity can color our world, it can never define it. Whether during fall, summer, winter, or spring; and despite snow, rain, sunshine, or cloudiness, it's still the same spot on the same lake.

Today's university professors would do well to pay a visit to the Old Water Tower in Chicago. There it might occur to them that a university culture truly committed to educating the leaders of tomorrow would champion diversity in its truest sense, infusing its discourse with a variety that furthers - and not retards - a pupil's progress toward truth.

Perhaps they would learn that intellectual diversity consists not in following lockstep the reigning orthodoxy of today's transitory academic elite, but rather in having the courage to seek and acquire the truth.

Perhaps they would come to understand that, while diversity can be a great help in the pursuit of truth, it can never be identified with it; the means should never be confused with the end.

My friends, my advice to you today is simple: do not let the apostles of diversity convince you there is no underlying truth to be found; do not let the multiculturalists of the world convince you that diversity is an end in itself; and do not allow yourself to forget that without truth, there is nothing for diversity to color.

I'd like to bring us back to a Whittaker Chambers quote of over a half-century ago: "Man without God is a beast, and never more beastly than when he is most intelligent about his beastliness."

My friends, I challenge you to never apologize for your faith and never let your commitment to learning be denied. Don't be afraid to apply your knowledge to human needs that preserve the best of the human heritage. And don't be afraid to strive for brilliance, to believe in yourself, and be willing to grow emotionally, intellectually, and especially spiritually.

Because if you meet these challenges - and I am confident you will - you will be responsible for perhaps the most remarkable revolution in the history of mankind: the revolution of truth.

Today I came to Merrimack to honor the future. To honor you, the Class of 2005. And in so doing, you have honored me.

Thank you, congratulations, and Godspeed.

Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.

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