Virgil has vanished. Before Dante realizes it, his steadfast guide and guardian disappears in the Earthly Paradise, the gateway separating Purgatory and Paradise. Though this brings Dante much sorrow, the continuation of his journey depends on this necessary parting. Seven hundred years later, leaving Highlands Latin School for Hillsdale College, I find myself in the same position: a pilgrim facing a change in his path. I let go of the world I have known thus far, but do not forget the wisdom I have learned. As the experience of Hell and Purgatory allowed Dante to continue his journey into Heaven, likewise the academic, spiritual, and familial lessons of my youth prepare me for the road ahead.
The enriching influence of my classical education reaches further into my memory than nearly any other experience. I have attended HLS since the first grade, and while some people (including some in my own extended family) have made light of the idea of studying a dead language like Latin, this study has shaped me in a fundamental way. I cherished what I learned even while I was learning it. Studying the poetic beauty of Latin and Greek and the natural harmony of calculus and chemistry were to me a privilege, never something I thought should be forgotten at the sound of the bell.
The small size of the classes gave me not only the close attention of the teacher, but made it easy to better participate in class discussion. My friends and I often carried these dialogues beyond the walls of the classroom, considering the themes found in ancient works even as we waited in line for a movie. These twelve years studying ancient languages and the philosophers who spoke them, alongside advanced math and science, have given me a well-rounded education. I would never trade them for the “useful” education so many seem to value today.
My interest in the history of man and his thoughts found a natural partner in my Christian faith. I developed a love for apologetics at the beginning of middle school and often found myself digging through my basement, searching for books through which I learned to defend even the most minute doctrine. I believed in what my parents taught me, but enjoyed reading the theology and beautiful explanation for my faith. The teaching I encountered growing up as a Catholic revealed that courage, honesty—all those virtues whose praises I heard ring through the pages of my ancient texts—were manifestations of God’s own greatness. I had discovered these “Beatrices” in school, so to speak, but had not fully considered what Good they reflected. The different priests I had met at my Dominican Parish similarly revealed the greatness of God through their eloquent homilies. From the fervor of young friars fresh from the seminary to the sage wisdom of the older parish priests, I marveled at the zeal of God through these modern guardians of the church. My faith encouraged my interest in the natural truths of old and allowed me to consider them from a Christian perspective.
Reading Dante in particular helps me always to remember, in my schoolwork and faith alike, that a fellow pilgrim and close friend trod this path before me. I continually strive to emulate my sister Alison, whose steadfast virtue guided her through college and beyond. Surrounded by good friends but virtuous in her own right, Alison displayed an uncommon fearlessness in her life choices and a still more uncommon humility in her personal relationships. She blazed with the same scholarly fire that burns in me and remembered from Whom her achievement came. Though she would occasionally feel overwhelmed by her studies or troubled by the actions of a friend, she turned to her faith as a refuge and always emerged a stronger woman. Her words of wisdom when I face similar challenges are an unfailing aid, and I strive to conduct myself in an equally honorable fashion. As the godfather of her newborn daughter, I hope that in this spiritual act I may begin to repay her for the example that she set me.
I owe my greatest debt to my parents. I would have neither an education nor a faith, the two pillars of my life, without them. Yet there are things I regret as I reflect on my interactions with both my mother and father. I often have little patience for those who maintain constant love for me. In every outburst or cynical whisper, I take all that they’ve sacrificed for my sake and tread upon it. I find myself, like Dante yet again, as he wept bitterly in the Earthly Paradise at the rebuke of Beatrice. He wept not only for his arrogance in his despair at Virgil’s departure, but also for his own sin inherent in the flesh. However, these tears were necessary for his passage into Paradise. This reminds me that whatever deed I accomplish or action I perform, I am my parents’ son and must give them the honor they so greatly deserve.
With these seventeen years of experience in mind, I know that no amount of tours, overnight stays, or even classroom visits can prepare me for what I will face in college. My whole world will change forever. However, I know that it is into a familiar world that I will travel. I will be surrounded by fellow students and teachers eager to exercise the mind in the light of their faith, now a more important guide than ever. I will be in the company of men who, aware of our flawed human nature, strive after the truth available to man while simultaneously discovering the vocation to which each of us is called. I will stand alone in many ways, but the virtue and wisdom I will gain from the fellowship of good men will prepare me for my life beyond the borders of Hillsdale. I will imitate Dante’s proclamation of Heavenly glory, spurred on by his return to the mortal world after experiencing the Vision. God willing, the humility that ordered Alison’s life at Hillsdale will guide my own journey through hallowed college halls and safeguard my waxen wings from the sun of my own hubris. Like Alison, I hope to be a role model for others, an example for other pilgrims who follow this same path.
From this space between the realms, I remember what I’ve loved, what I’ve accomplished, what I’ve regretted, and what I’ve grieved. I am thankful for all that I’ve experienced, even the pain, for it is in that pain that I learned my most important lessons. Though one part of my life is ending, my spiritual journey will never be complete, not even after college. My mortality may keep me from completion in this world, but my soul allows me to contemplate Wisdom in this realm and the next. With the knowledge gained from my friends and studies at Hillsdale, in conjunction with the lessons I have already learned, I will be able to appreciate the Reason behind this world even more fully. With my friends at my side, family in my mind, and God in my heart, my pilgrimage goes on.