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2023 Valedictorian Address, Joseph Norton

Good Morning!

On behalf of the graduating class, I want to thank everyone here for your presence and support. As I reflect back on these last four years, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. As you all know, the St. Jerome Institute had a very humble beginning. As freshmen, we quickly realized that the school was in some ways only an idea that still needed to be brought into reality. There were no traditions, no history, and no classmates to look up to. We were pioneers. We were given a unique opportunity, and responsibility, to help flesh out what this school would actually be. This work is not complete. The classes who have come after us also play a role in continuing to define this. As the school has grown, there have been new opportunities and challenges. A theatrical company, varsity sports, and new classes of students who need to be mentored. These new students have brought new life into the school community, and we all have much to learn from them.

I am so thankful for all the work that was put into developing the curriculum of this school. Over the last four years, we have come to realize how truly beautiful it is. Nearly every day we saw new connections between each part of the curriculum. Over time, this gave us a deeper appreciation for all our studies. For example, learning about the biology of plants, animals, and humans in natural philosophy, gave us something to draw on as we discussed St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body as we developed our understanding of the ontology and the nature of living things in our Humanities seminar.

As beautiful as this curriculum and these great works of the western tradition are, it was only together as a class, with our teachers guiding us, that we were able to draw fruit from it. In the beginning, we really didn’t even know how to begin to tackle some of these works. Our teachers had to teach us how to learn. One of the most important things we learned was how to annotate, and to receive feedback on our annotations. In some ways, we had to even relearn how to read. This meant bringing a critical eye, asking questions of the text, and having a sense of wonder in everything we studied. In reading the original texts, even reading the historical treatises and theorems in math and natural philosophy, we learned how to receive, and even challenge at times, what the authors were giving us. We were not simply asked to memorize a set of disconnected facts.

Angliche putas. You are thinking in English. This was a common admonishment from Mr. Hudson in our latin seminar. But the idea was something that all of our teachers asked of us. When reading challenging, or at times even scandalous, ideas and philosophies, we had to put aside our previous knowledge and beliefs, so that we could truly understand each idea in itself. Our teachers then helped guide us through patient questioning and discussions to place this within the overall framework of a true Catholic understanding.

Each of us came with different strengths and weaknesses, for example Jake Spurgeon and I both received regular corrections for participating too much, or perhaps for participating in a way that did not help draw out the best that everyone had to bring to the seminar. Judith Cronin and Matthew Reardon brought a real passion and sense of wonder to the seminars, and at times played the role of the devil’s advocate. This forced us all to really think through the complexity of the arguments, and come to a deeper appreciation for each idea, and for each other. Liam Burgoyne and Joseph Ramdat were both humble and more reserved, but when they did speak, it was always with insights that drew from perhaps a deeper reflective nature. Anya Ly played a key role in unifying our class, and brought about wonderful friendship, and at times even provided motherly corrections to us all. Dante Trudeau, who we all know is brilliant, was also humble and did not rest on his natural talent. He always challenged himself, and consistently set the bar for us, and helped us all to rise to it.

We are forever indebted to our teachers. They prayed with and for us at mass and during lauds every day. They truly loved us and desired the best for us. Each teacher has given so much of themselves, and has left a permanent mark on our lives. Every teacher at this school loves what they teach and expertly leads and guides each student. They have all given us individual attention and support. Just one example is that Mrs. Aujero was very intentional about helping me to overcome a lack of confidence in math; It is hard to minimize the effect this had on my life. As Dr. Higgins always said: “God gives the gift of giving”. All of our teachers have done this same thing for us. We have been given a beautiful gift of education and it is of such a nature that it must be shared to be fully received. I know that my classmates will bring their passion for truth, beauty, and goodness into their future studies, professions, and life.

I ask you to join me in thanking the board and the generous benefactors for making this school a possibility. Also, I am so thankful for our parents and all that they have given us. In supporting us in our studies, serving us at the feasts, the theatrical performances, the athletic matches, and many other events. But most importantly in sacrificing to send us to this school.

I thought this quote from Dostevsky’s Brother’s Karamozov was very fitting:
“You hear a lot said about your education, yet some such beautiful, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If man stores up many such memories to take into life, then he is saved for his whole life. And even if only one good memory remains with us in our hearts, that alone may serve someday for our salvation.”

Thank you all again. Congratulations to my fellow classmates. And I would like to close with a prayer that we have said in Math class since freshman year:

A reading from the Book of Wisdom 13:1-5:

For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists, nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world.

If through delight in the beauty of these things people assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them.

And if people were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is the one who formed them. For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.

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