The first handbook on how to administer a Jesuit school was begun not long after we opened our early colleges from the mid-1500s. It included details about awarding prizes for place-getters in different subjects at annual assemblies. Here was an early encouragement to recognise academic excellence. Jesuit schools have always pursued and encouraged excellence. In those days, excellence was also sought in communication. Eloquentia perfecta it was referred to – “flawless eloquence”. At that same time, there was an acknowledged and unparalleled excellence in drama and theatre.
In Jesuit education, the criterion of excellence is applied to all areas of human life: the fullest possible development of every dimension of the person, linked to values, of course, and to the service of others. The latter manifests itself in giving priority to the needs of the poor and putting aside self-interest for the promotion of justice. As our current document, The Characteristics of Jesuit Education, puts it so succinctly: “The pursuit of academic excellence is appropriate in a Jesuit school, but only within the larger context of human excellence.” So academic excellence is rightly valued and esteemed here, but always within a repertoire of full human flourishing, in the spirit of what is styled Christian humanism. Head, heart and hands all together. And always embracing matters of the spirit.
So what do we have to say to these seventy-five fine young men present with us, whom we are to honour today? Firstly, to congratulate them on their remarkable achievement. For developing their talents to the full. For modelling commitment. For setting the bar high. For sharing their gifts in the generous ways in which they helped and encouraged others.
And what do we ask of them? Well, they are young adults now, and I do not presume to instruct or hector them still. But I can express a hope. And I suspect that hope will come as no surprise to them.
St Ignatius’ College, like all Jesuit schools, has an ultimate horizon beyond its front gates, beyond HSCs and ATARs, beyond the groves of academe you will soon be moving into and thriving within. The vision is that you will, each in your own way, build up God’s kingdom. Not some future “pie in the sky”, but right here, and right now. You have been richly blessed with such talent and drive to do so. More than likely, you will, in time, find yourself centre-stage. Attracting the glittering prizes and status. You may move easily into lucrative careers. But imagine what more you could do. I hope you don’t fold up the “man for others” maxim along with your blazer or House tie and stow it away in some hidden cupboard at home. Because soon will come greater opportunities to live that vision. As you flourish in your varied professions and careers, remember that Prayer for Generosity which was so often on your lips. You prayed often to be generous. Allow it to be realised, say, in the pro bono work you might take up. When you give of your time and talent to Médecins Sans Frontières, or Engineers without Borders, to Jesuit Mission or the Jesuit Refugee Service. Or to return here as a mentor or tutor for those who need it most. Or to use the financial resources that will come your way for those on the edge who always have the greatest claim upon us. As the future movers and shakers of society, use your intellect and your influence to shape any less-than-noble public opinion for the good. God knows, this world needs it.
The Gospel clearly challenges you: “From those to whom much has been given, much more will be expected,” it says. But you have already demonstrated that you are not ones to resile from challenges. The world needs men like you. God’s kingdom will be fashioned by men like you.
Remember, the magis is never about following the crowd or taking the comfortable way, the easy path. It is always to go where the need is greater. So much dear to do. Recall what the poet Emerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path. And leave a trail.”
In your case, make it a trail leading to what is good and true, to what is loving and just. One that others might follow.
God continue to grace that way for you all.