Valedictorian Liliane G. Watkins reflects on Romans 12:2 (“Do not be conformed to the world”) in the light of her experience at St. Thomas More Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I would like to begin by thanking Mr. Luddy, our great benefactor and supporter throughout these past four years. You are the reason we will soon walk across this stage, so much smarter than we were four years ago. We owe you a debt of gratitude. I would also like to thank Dr. K, Dr. Noland, and someone else who has had perhaps a little more to do with my personal formation, my dad [Headmaster Deacon Brad Watkins]. You are the leading stewards of Mr. Luddy’s gift, and you work tirelessly to ensure for all of us an outstanding education. For that, we thank you.
I would like to thank our teachers. On behalf of the senior class, I would like to thank you for all of the papers you edited, all of the courses you meticulously prepared, and all of the other work you did to impart all of your wisdom. We could not ask for more gifted and dedicated mentors than you. I would like to thank Monsignor Ingham, Father Tighe, all of our pastors, and all of the priests that have come to offer mass and confessions at STMA. Without your donations of time, talent, and treasure, we would be missing a most crucial part of our classical and college preparatory education. Thank you for assisting the faculty in the development of not only our intellects, but also our spiritual lives.
Lastly, I would like to thank our parents. You are the ones who read over our papers until they made sense, held up flashcards until we had them memorized, and drove us to and from practices until we finally got our licenses. Outside of that though, you worked to send us to a school that you knew would help propel us towards success and into our future. Thank you for all of the sacrifices, big and small, that you have made for us.
Every year, each senior is asked to choose a quote from scripture to accompany his or her picture in the yearbook. There are some recurring favorites — John 3:16, Psalm 23, 1 Corinthians — just to name a few. This year, when the slips of paper went around asking us to choose our quotes, I, for one, smiled to myself and carefully copied out the verse I had chosen around my sophomore year. It was Romans 12:2 — “Do not conform yourself to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind”. I think that particular verse resonates with me even more now at the end of four years than it did when I was a sophomore. It is a dual command, telling us, first, to choose our own path in this world, and second, to allow learning and discovery to transform us.
This year, in the Advanced Topics in Humanities course, the first piece we studied was Emerson’s Self-Reliance. The treatise was thematic for our course on the Modern Era, and possibly a few of my college application essays and Literature papers as well. Emerson admonishes his readers to seek the truth for themselves, independent of the opinions of others. He says that, “whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” As Catholics in an
increasingly secular world, we have already set ourselves apart from everyone else. We no longer conform to the conventional mold. However, I think it is fair to say that accommodating to convention, particularly for our generation, is at times incredibly tempting. Sometimes, it seems far easier to assume the popular opinion rather than make a stand for truth. I think my classmates would agree with me, though, when I say that our time at STMA has given us the courage to make such a claim for ourselves as Catholic intellectuals in the real world. It remains a daunting task, especially as we collectively depart for college campuses far away from home in the fall. I think that we have been prepared for that challenge as we have continuously renewed our minds in the past four years. I know that I can attest to the growth not only of my knowledge about my faith, its reasons and its
traditions, but also growth in my personal relationship with God. Because of the education I have received at STMA, I feel that I have a secure foundation in my beliefs, and that, as Emerson says, “what I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.”
And so, my dear classmates, I now present that challenge to you. As we go out into this brave, new world, do not conform yourselves to its patterns until you have estimated their truth for yourself. Be brave in proclaiming the truths you have learned, not only in the classroom, but in the adoration chapel, in our weekly schoolwide mass, and in your friendships. Have the courage to spread our message of Christian hope and charity to a world that desperately needs it. And don’t forget to continue seeking that truth for yourself. Allow your mind to be transformed constantly, even after you leave college, and enjoy the results of a life built on curiosity and perseverance. Besides — I have a feeling that life is much more interesting that way. Thank you.