Wisdom, Eloquence and Senior Thesis Presentations
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom.” – Solomon
Authentic education is the pursuit of wisdom and eloquence. But first comes wisdom, as the Italian educator Giambattisto Vico wrote: “Eloquence is none other than wisdom speaking.” In other words, eloquence grows out of wisdom, which is its proper and necessary foundation. The Roman rhetorician, Quintilian, put it this way, “”¦no one can be a true orator unless he is also a good man.” This is what we strive for in New Covenant’s School of Rhetoric. But as with all virtues, wisdom and eloquence are more easily imagined than realized. They can only be cultivated through experience””and experience is hard work.
For this reason, from our founding twenty years ago, New Covenant Schools has required every senior to research and write a paper that is both interesting and of substantial academic importance. The senior thesis project is a challenging and rewarding course that engages the students’ organizational and creative powers throughout their entire senior year. Three modes of learning support this project: the mode of reading, the mode of writing and the mode of dialogue. By reading, the student refines an initially broad idea into a precise theme and along the way, of course, he deepens his grasp of the subject. This in itself is a challenge – to read an author and truly understand him is a skill that requires patience. Perhaps even more challenging is the power to articulate an author’s ideas in a written form that is both charitable and clear. To cultivate this our students write and re-write several drafts before the paper is complete. After the each draft is submitted, faculty members meet with the student to critique the draft and make recommendations for improvement. From the dialogue that occurs in these meetings, ideas are sharpened and new ones are born.
Reading. Writing. Dialogue. These three modes support the senior thesis project. We believe this is the hard work that leads to wisdom and eloquence.
Finally, after a semester of “invention,” the day arrives on which the student defends his position before faculty family and friends. In every case the student has reason for satisfaction. From the vast possibilities he has selected a single topic to study, arriving at a truth claim that has implication for the way we live and see the world. These truth claims have a wide range of import: from Christian music to Christian missions; from Aquinas on art to Aristotle on Happiness; from St. Paul on Mars Hill to a Eucatastrophe (Yes, that’s a real word) in Esther; from just war theory to theories of economy; from Catholic orthodoxy to Orthodox controversy. We have also had our share of aliens, pirates, and vampires!
No matter what subject under consideration may be, we strive to speak and write about it with eloquence. But more importantly, we labor together with the certainty of Solomon: that wisdom is the principal thing, and that the happy path toward wisdom stretches over a lifetime. Our work here in the School of Rhetoric””and in the senior thesis project””is an important part of that journey. Come to a senior thesis presentation and be a part of the journey with us!