Earlier this summer, David Brooks wrote a piece in The Atlantic that he called “A Commencement Address Too Honest to Deliver in Person.” In it, Brooks says what he could never say in front of faculty, administrators, or students or their parents. His harshest criticism is addressed to parents, who have paid an enormous amount for prestige over substance, and to administrators and teachers, who have “failed” in what they “should have given you but didn’t.”
By ignoring important authors (Brooks mentions Austen, Nietzsche, Augustine and Tocqueville), educators fail to “plant the intellectual and moral seeds students are going to need later, when they get hit by the vicissitudes of life.” Noting that our culture devotes a great deal of attention to proper food for the body but utterly neglects our “mental diet,” he appeals to what he calls the “theory of maximum taste,” which is that exposure to genius has the power to expand our consciousness. He worries about a diet that is consumed with streaming mediocre Netflix series in a way that completely excludes attention to more substantive nourishment for our souls.
I hope Brooks will excuse the fact that I spent part of my evenings in the early pandemic period streaming The Sopranos. I have also spent time with the music of Bob Dylan, about which I have recently written. I have found time to reread some of my favorite books, including Jacques Maritain’s Art and Scholasticism and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. As a devotional tool and in order to appreciate more fully the great gift our alumni have given the Irving campus with our Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, I have also been reading a richly illuminated book about the history and impact of Our Lady of Guadalupe, protectress of the unborn and of the Americas, the latter title having been bestowed upon her by St. John Paul II in 1999.
I have also held a series of three Presidential Conversations with Bishop Robert Barron, Bishop Dan Flores, and Montse Alvarado of Becket and Louis Brown of the Christ Medicus Foundation. Spending time discussing current events with these thoughtful intellectuals has been food for my mental diet.
Stacey and I had a wonderful experience just last week. We traveled to that remarkable gem of a museum, The Kimbell in Fort Worth, to see the astonishing exhibit of Italian art on loan from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. The exhibition, titled Flesh and Blood, contains paintings from some of the greatest artists of the 16th and 17th centuries, including Titian, Raphael, El Greco and Ribera. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a large and magnificent Caravaggio piece, “The Flagellation of Christ,” which he painted around 1607, not long after he arrived in Naples, on the run from criminal charges in Rome.
Reflecting on Brooks’ fictional commencement speech and the glories of Italian art, I could not help but be grateful for our UD education, both in Irving and especially in this 50th anniversary year in Rome. I have seen nearly all of the Caravaggios in Rome, some of which I wrote about years ago for a piece in National Review.
Of course, what Brooks sees as an ideal education and as almost impossible in mainstream
universities is something we’ve been about at the University of Dallas since our inception.
Brooks cites the work of Maryanne Wolf on behalf of what she calls “deep literacy.” That’s a pretty good description of one
of the chief goals of a UD education. The relevance of that education to our current
pandemic is eloquently expressed in a recent piece in the Dallas Morning News by Chair and Professor of Philosophy Chad Engelland.
I hope you will join with me in expressing gratitude to our staff and faculty for the hard and generous work they have devoted to preparing for multiple scenarios for fall and especially for our plan to return to residential learning. The education offered at UD is a rare and beautiful thing, to which we are all deeply indebted.
Thomas S. Hibbs, Ph.D., BA ’82 MA ’83