The Wisdom of Virtuous Friendship
This past Sunday, St. John’s College in Annapolis held its 223rd commencement ceremony.
By long tradition, the outgoing senior class selects the commencement speaker. This year, the seniors chose long-time tutor Jonathan Tuck, who retired in 2013 after more than thirty years of service to St. John’s.
Mr. Tuck spoke about our common efforts, about our single community of tutors and students bound together by our joint activity of reading, examining, and discussing the books on our program of study. You can read the entire speech here. But I’d like to share the end of his address with you, because it captures so well the activity of the College:
[blockquote] One of the many things that make other people think that Johnnies are strange is that we learn to use the word “soul” in non-religious contexts, almost casually and without embarrassment. It’s certainly not because this College has made us all religious. It’s only partly because there are words in Greek and French and German, used by our authors, that seem to correspond better to “soul” than to anything else. I think the main reason we speak about souls in this way is that our habits of reflection and introspection, practiced as we learn together, have made us aware of the complexity of the inner life, the ways that “mind” and “heart” and “will” and “sense” are all mutually interwoven in one unitary self. Each of us is a more complicated mythical beast than Typhon, or the Centaurs, or Chimera. And trying to know other things means also trying to know your self. One consequence of this complexity is that we are not willing simply to accept the bright line that Aristotle draws between intellectual virtue and practical, moral virtue. In asking what we know, we naturally also ask how we should live. The immersive experience of being a part of this community results from not drawing that bright line. The things of friends are common. The program we have in common, our common objects, the books we read, our common understanding of our undertaking, the community within which we live and grow—all these bind us more closely in virtuous friendship. If we are wise in no other way, we are wise enough to reflect on this experience and to value it as it deserves. . . .
“We shall not cease from exploration”—The activity of inquiry continues, and our friendship will continue, fostering in us the growth of some virtue we don’t know how to name.[/blockquote]
Though we may not know how to name the virtue, we continue to cultivate it among ourselves in all our interactions as alumni, and in all our relationships with our loved ones, and in all our social and civic associations, spreading virtuous friendship as far as we are able.
Thank you, Mr. Tuck, for reminding us to nurture the seeds that were planted in our souls during our stay at St. John’s!