The Catholic University of America

Education: A Precious Gift
Freshman Convocation Comments of Associate Professor J. Stephen Brown
Chair, Mechanical Engineering
The Catholic University of America
Sept. 10, 2003

First, let me join others who have already done so and welcome you to the Catholic University of America where you will spend the next four years of your life.

I am here today because I have been asked to make some brief remarks to you. It is appropriate that someone do so since today marks a new beginning for you. However, as you well know, the real beginning was two or three weeks ago when your parents dropped you off. What were you experiencing at that time? Some of you were probably scared. Some of you were homesick. Some of you were, I don't know, happy, glad to be free at last. No one to scream at you. No one to tell you to get up, to go to bed, to eat your vegetables, to do your homework, to clean your room. Free at last!

Whatever your emotions were at that time, or for that matter what they are now, you now find yourself here at CUA.

And why did you come to CUA? Some of you are here because this is the only school that you ever wanted to attend. Some of you are here because your parents made you come. Some of you are here to play sports. Some of you are here because this is a Catholic university. Some of you are here perhaps by chance. However, no matter what the reason, you are here and not somewhere else. As such, you should live the next four years intensely here; do not live them wishing you were somewhere else. Also, do not live them by being preoccupied with the future. Rather, live the present circumstances fully since the future does not belong to you. It is not in your hands. All that we have is the present moment.

You have all come to CUA with dreams and aspirations. Some of you want to be nurses, some of you doctors, some of you engineers, some of you theologians, some of you philosophers, some of you are perhaps unsure.

But why is it that you want to be a nurse, an engineer, an architect, a philosopher or a theologian? Is it because you want to make lots of money? Is it because you want to help people? Is it because you want to design and build buildings? Is it because you want to be able to provide for a family?

These are all reasons, probably some are even good reasons. However, are these reasons really at the bottom of what makes you act?

Look, I am an engineer. I quite like it. I like the type of work. I like being able to provide for my family. I like being able to design and build things. But I, like you, must ask myself why. Why am I an engineer? What is the meaning of engineering? What does engineering have to do with my desires as a person? Why do I do what I do? I, like you, cannot be content with partial answers. I, like you, demand a total answer.

I am not suggesting that you answer the question "why do you do what you do?" this very moment; however, do not let these four years go by without asking and seeking an answer to this question. Furthermore, this searching, this questioning should not end when you graduate but rather is a task for one's life.

Now returning to our earlier question, why are you here? In short, you are here to be educated. You may not realize it, but your education is an incredible gift. A precious gift. As such, it is not to be squandered because if we have any hope of answering the questions that we asked ourselves earlier, we need an education.

But what is education? Is it the learning of a skill? Is it being trained in something so that you can get a high-paying job when you graduate? Is it the memorizing of facts and figures? Partially yes, but it is not only these things, it is much more. It is the pursuit and discovery of truth, of the way things are, of reality as it is. So this is our task - to pursue truth! Quoting from the aims of CUA "The Catholic University of America is a community of scholars, both faculty and students, set apart to discover, preserve, and impart the truth in all its forms … where the only constraint upon truth is truth itself."

We recognize and adhere to truth by encountering someone who has already walked the path of truth and who is able to communicate it to us. Therefore, the place, the community where one pursues truth and where one is educated is not incidental because education always happens in a relationship. Student to teacher. Teacher to student. Student to student. Me to you. You to me. Me to reality. In my opinion, you have chosen wisely in choosing CUA as this community of scholars, as the place for your education because of its nature as a university dedicated to truth.

The educational adventure that you are embarking upon is an incredible occasion for you to pursue to the bottom your dreams and desires. And if we pursue truth, pursue it to the bottom, we will be led to the one Truth - God, the Desire behind all desires, the Truth behind truths.

I cannot speak for you since you must walk this path of truth for yourself. However, what I have discovered in life is that what I really desire is my happiness. And where have I found this happiness? In following and adhering to Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. My experience has been that without Christ, the rest of life makes no sense. The only thing that gives meaning and unity to my life from getting up in the morning to going to work to sickness and suffering to study to playing with my kids to dealing with students is Christ. Because, in the end, the only way to be happy, that is to be fully human, is to follow Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

This, then, is the education I desire - an education to the truly human, and this is an incredible gift. My wish for you is that you receive the same gift.