The following is the letter I wrote to my graduating senior students, accompanying a copy of G.K. Chesterton’s poem, “The Ballad of the White Horse.”
You are now at the end of your classical education at Granite. You have learned how to seek out and absorb knowledge, how to think rigorously and logically, and how to express arguments with wisdom and truth. But you are not done with your classical education, or at least you ought not to be.
The education you have received here at Granite has been designed to transform you into a lifelong learner. You have been given the tools and skills you need to learn for yourself. You have been shown what truth, goodness, and beauty are, and you know how to discover and enjoy them for yourself. Keep doing so, recognizing that all that is true, good, and beautiful ultimately stem from the One who authored all truth, embodies all goodness, and radiates all beauty. The difference between the education you have been receiving and your lifelong education to come is that from this point on, it is up to you to continue to pursue wisdom and truth rigorously and regularly. It is up to you to meditate on the beautiful and the good. The world you are launching into will not do much to guide you toward these, as your parents and tutors have.
In fact, you will find that the world into which you are launching frequently does not think rigorously, often rejects the true, generally fails to do or even desire the good, and regularly disdains the beautiful. You might not find this out right away—the world after high school is exciting and full of new adventures.
But eventually, I think you will find that you are indeed living in the world that Chesterton describes at the end of “The Ballad of the White Horse.” It is a world in which “dead words” have done their best to sap the world of truth and goodness and beauty. Chesterton likens the modern invasion of flawed ideology to the foreign invaders King Alfred once fought off in England:
Yea, this shall be the sign of them
The sign of the dying fire;
And Man made like a half-wit,
That knows not of his sire.
What though they come with scroll and pen,
And grave as a shaven clerk,
By this sign you shall know them,
That they ruin and make dark;
By all men bond to Nothing,
Being slaves without a lord,
By one blind idiot world obeyed,
Too blind to be abhorred…
When is great talk of trend and tide,
And wisdom and destiny,
Hail that undying heathen
That is sadder than the sea.
You are launching into a world that has largely lost the fire of truth and reason. It is a world that has forgotten where it came from. It is a world that attempts to make the light of the gospel dark. It is a world that is enslaved to many forces—consumerism, technology, pursuit of pleasure—without any kind of fealty to morality or virtue; it blindly follows the latest ideological trends without much critical analysis or careful thinking.
My prayer for you is that—when you reach the point in your young adult life when you fully realize the extent to which our modern culture daily attempts to rob us of access to and deep consideration of the true, the good, and the beautiful—that Providence would simultaneously guide you to deep wells of wisdom and virtue, and that you would draw from those wells eagerly.
In part, this is why I’m giving you “The Ballad of the White Horse.” It is a thing of great beauty, and a deeply true poem. You can read it in a few hours, and contemplate it for many more. But I’m also giving you this particular poem because in it Chesterton so aptly grasps the problems with the modern world and so fittingly points us to hope in the midst of it.
Chesterton says that the next invasion—that of the modern world and its flawed ideologies—will not be fought with swords, but with words. Each of you, no matter what field you are going into, is going to have opportunities to speak God’s truth to a deeply broken and hurting world. You have been prepared for this—you are eloquent speakers and you know how to defend your worldview with winsomeness and grace. Do so, and do so boldly, clinging to God’s truth and defending the gospel with everything in you.
And when you need hope, or inspiration, or reassurance, turn to the stalwart defenders of wisdom and virtue who have gone before you. Turn to the Biblical authors, to Plato, Augustine, Dante, and even to modern authors who grasp and articulate truth. Chesterton and many, many others are there, waiting to help you.
Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.