Jonathan J. Sanford

Jonathan J. Sanford

Jonathan J. Sanford
Provost and Professor of Philosophy

Your Excellency, Most Reverend Bishop Edward J. Burns; your Excellency, Most Reverend Gregory Kelly; Chairman Dr. Thomas Zellers; Distinguished aluma Miriem Benselah-Chaqroun; Distinguished alumnus Thomas Nealon; Board of Trustees Members; Acting President Dr. John Plotts; University Chaplain Fr. Thomas More Barba, OP; Rome Chaplain Monsignor Thomas Fucinaro; Rector Father James Swift; other priests and religious; my fellow faculty members, administrators, and staff of the University of Dallas; parents, grandparents, friends and other relatives; and last, but certainly not least, the graduating class of 2018; It is truly a delight to stand before you this glorious morning.

This is a day set aside to celebrate your rite of passage from degree seekers to degree recipients. But, it is far more than that, for, in celebrating your accomplishments, we are given an opportunity to reflect on who we are as an institution of higher learning. The University of Dallas as a whole — in its faculty, students, administration, staff, board, alumni, benefactors and friends — is a community of learners. Our purpose is to cultivate truth, wisdom and the other virtues in our students. That is why we exist. We are a university, not a multi-versity, because we are organized around the conviction that the universe is ordered from one source, that it is a cosmos. That source is divine and personal and worthy of our praise. As a Catholic university, we recognize that all wisdom and truth begins and ends with the creator who loves us, and we have at our disposal the long tradition of learning, a tradition that draws from non-Christian as well as Christian sources in weaving together a coherent whole that we call the Catholic intellectual tradition. That tradition is no staid and stodgy thing. It is living, a tree with roots and a clear pattern of growth. Our tradition is a source of creativity, ingenuity, and new discovery, as well as continuity and rootedness. It finds its way into every degree program at the university, undergraduate and graduate, liberal and professional. It has been essential to your formation, whether you found your home here in Constantin, Gupta, Braniff or Neuhoff; and it will continue to guide you along your various career paths.

There are goals that apply to every career, goals that apply to every facet of your lives. You can find these goals emblazoned across the top of the seal affixed above and behind me on UD’s most significant landmark and the symbol of its educational aspirations, the Tower. The Tower beckons and radiates, and thus is a metaphor for the souls of our students who are enkindled and enlightened.  

Veritatem, Justitiam Diligite: These are the words surrounding the top of the University of Dallas seal, and comprise UD’s motto. These are words meant to encapsulate the point and purpose of your education. These are words to guide you. Love Truth. Love Justice. The first thing to notice is that diligite, the Latin word for “love” and “seek diligently”, is a command.   Diligently seeking, loving, is not merely a matter of feeling. Feelings do not respond immediately to command.  Your will does. The good news upon which all education is predicated is that we are shapeable, we can be guided, we can be commanded. We have wills that can be directed, redirected, reoriented. In your life, no doubt, you will have many opportunities to take stock of the orientation of your will. Are you seeking what you ought? What ought you to seek? The answer is not elusive: your alma mater commands you to love and seek diligently truth and justice.

Love truth.
What is truth? There is much to commend with respect to our age of technological innovations, but it would be a mistake to think our technologies represent us. One of the negative implications of this digital age is that we can come to think that knowledge is digitizable, seamlessly transferable into any variety of so-called “smart” devices, and therefore that knowledge is cheap. If knowing is a matter of absorbing information, and sharing knowledge a matter of transferring information to another, then we really do have reason to fear our machines will surpass us.  

One thing I hope you’ve learned is that knowledge is not information. There are two basic reasons why knowledge is not information. The first is that information is always a matter of packaging things in byte size bits. But things are not their packaging. Each thing has a depth, a beauty, a being, a goodness, that reaches far deeper than what can be collected and contained about it. So, the first reason why knowledge is not information is that knowledge is of things as they really are. The second reason why knowledge is not information is that information can be contained by any old thing — your computer, your phone, your calculator, even those archaic things we call books. But knowledge is always the achievement of a person. Knowledge is always a personal encounter between a knower and a thing. Things measure us, revealing to us, if we listen attentively to them, their being. Learning to do this well is a matter of developing the habit of mind, the intellectual virtue, that is a part of wisdom.  

Your teachers have been masters of the art of directing your intellect towards those beings most worthy of your attention. Like Plato taught, your teachers too also know that the whole of your own being must be oriented rightly, and that is a matter of fostering in you those perfections of self that we call the moral virtues. Unlike owls, we cannot turn our heads to see behind us; instead, like the freed prisoner in Plato’s cave analogy, we have to turn and walk towards the light.  It is in that light that you encounter things as they are. Those encounters with the truths of things will, if you commit yourself to continued exploration, lead you to deeper encounters with him, the one who is the source of all truths.

Love justice.
We want you to be successful. You want you to be successful. Please remember — as you leave us to go out and do great and glorious things (and make no mistake that you have an obligation to do great and glorious things) that being a successful and independent individual is still a very long way from being truly successful. We can become an obstacle to our own success by imagining ourselves to be independent agents responsible for that success, more or less self-made individuals who are free to do as we want. Your nature is not that of a solitary person; you are not most yourself when alone. You came into this world radically dependent upon your parents. Your mother carried you to term and nursed you. Your father fed you with a spoon. Your parents changed your soiled clothing and held your hand as you learned to walk. They, and the many others they invited into your life as helpmates in raising you, have indeed brought you to a point where you can take care of yourself. But that does not make you a self-sufficient individual. The mark of real maturity is acknowledging your radical dependency on others and delighting in their relation to you.  

No being can flourish except by fully being the sort of being it is. If you are to flourish, if you are to be truly successful, then you can only do so by acknowledging your dependency on others and caring for those who are dependent on you, especially the most vulnerable. We need, in other words, to practice especially and above all those social virtues of what Alasdair MacIntyre calls “acknowledged dependency,” and foremost among those is the virtue of misericordiae, of compassionate charity, by which we not only suffer with those who suffer, but also are compelled to relieve their suffering. That is where you will learn to obey the command to love and seek diligently justice. Justice is most perfected in charity.  

Veritatem, justitiam diligite. The command the University of Dallas issues to all its sons and daughters is not a diversion from your pursuit of a life well-lived, it is rather a guide to the achievement of your life-quest. Since knowledge is a personal encounter with the truth of things, you become more yourself the more you cultivate knowledge in pursuit of wisdom. Since putting your life at the service of others is a fulfilment of your dependent rational nature, you become more yourself the more you cultivate justice. We want you to be happy, and the path to happiness is the love and pursuit of truth and justice. We also hope you want strive to do great and glorious things, to cultivate the virtue of magnanimity. If so, you ought to want to be humble.  

How is humility compatible with striving after great and glorious things? These virtues are not only compatible, but also interdependent. You cannot have one without the other. How can that be? Well, the essence of humility is acknowledging your gifts precisely as gifts, and you can only do that by giving credit to the giver of all gifts. With humility one glorifies God as the gift-giver, and just as in the parable of the talents, God is pleased when we use our gifts, he is most pleased when we use our gifts especially well. With magnanimity, one strives to do great and glorious things that build up the kingdom, thereby pleasing the king through putting to use those talents he bestowed on you. So practice genuine magnanimity so that you might thereby be truly humble. Be humble, that you might be magnificent in the way you live and in the great and glorious things you do.  

In living magnanimously, you will love truth and justice well, becoming who you are called to be.  We are eager to see you come into your own and set this world ablaze with your great and good life and works. Let us commence.