On Saturday, May 11, 2019, The King’s College hosted its 71st annual Commencement exercises, honoring the Class of 2019, at St. George’s Episcopal Church in New York City. Hundreds gathered to celebrate the 119 students graduating.
President Tim Gibson welcomed the guests and gave a brief history of The King’s College, saying “While our location has changed over time, our commitment to Christ was and is our unwavering foundation.” About the graduates seated before him, Gibson said, “They will enrich any workplace and any community in which they find themselves.”
Mrs. Martha Jones, member of the Parents Advisory Council and mother of 2019 graduate Zoe Jones, opened the ceremony with a prayer and invocation. Virginia Pike, lecturer of musical theater, and Dr. Mark Hijleh, provost and professor in music, led the assembly in singing The King’s College Alma Mater, which Hijleh set to original music two years ago. Then 2018-19 Student Body President Brandon Smith gave a Scripture reading from Philippians 1:9-11.
United States Senator for Missouri Josh Hawley presented the keynote address. Hawley is currently the youngest senator in America, graduating from Stanford University in 2002 and Yale Law School in 2006. Hawley is known for taking on tough fights against special interests, big government, and organized crime including human trafficking. His career to date demonstrates how he represents the interests of families, local communities, and small business, and promotes religious liberty and the pro-life movement.
Hawley opened by telling the graduates, “We stand at one of the great turning points in our national history, when the failure of our public philosophy and the crisis of our public life can no longer be ignored. What we do about these needs will define the era that is to come.”
He said that our public philosophy has been dominated by a philosophy of freedom—of liberation from family, tradition, and community, and of self creation by escape from God and responsibility. It is “far from new,” hailing back to Pelagius, a highly educated British monk who settled in Rome in the late 300s A.D. Pelagius taught that the “individual possessed a powerful capacity for achievement,” even the achievement of one’s own salvation. He was condemned as a heretic, yet his philosophy lives on in America, and has “informed our recent past and precipitates our present crisis.”
It is ironic, Hawley said, that this philosophy of freedom has made American society more hierarchical and elitist. “If freedom means choice among options, then people with the most options are the most free, and that means the wealthy,” he said, adding that Pelagian freedom “celebrates the wealthy, prioritizes the powerful, and rewards the privileged.” This defines modern America, Hawley argued, citing statistics like the fact that 70% of Americans don’t have four-year degrees and are fighting to keep their jobs and their families together. The wealthy and well-educated, on the other hand, have bright life prospects and all the advantages. The working class is “losing their voice and standing of citizens in this nation.” Hawley enjoined, “The age of Pelagius must end, and you, graduates, must end it.”
Hawley painted a picture of the solution, saying Pelagius was condemned as a heretic because he “misunderstood the Cross.” The message of the Cross is antithetical to Pelagianism, for “God choose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise . The Cross excludes the boasting and the pride of the few.” Pelagianism says the wealthy and educated are of more value than everyone else; the Cross says “it is the humble through whom God chooses to exercise his power. It is not the elite, but the everyday person who moves the destinies of the world.”
Hawley spoke directly to the graduates, saying, “God has given you much, and to whom much is given, much is expected.” He told them they now face a choice: “Will you retreat into the enclave of the elite, to pursue your private pleasures and make your own life comfortable? Or will you use your elite education, your training, your gifts, to serve others? Will you affirm the dignity of every life, will you celebrate the contributions of those who do not boast a degree, will you work for the prosperity of all and not just the few, will you hear the voice of the forgotten, will you embrace the way of the Cross?”
On the answer to this question, Hawley said, depends the future of this country. He expressed hope that a better future is near at hand: “Build that future, Class of 2019. Build it for us all.”
After Hawley’s remarks, Gibson and Hijleh conferred degrees upon the graduates and welcomed them “into the society of learned men and women.” Forty-one graduates received a Bachelor of Arts in Media, Culture, and Arts; three received a Bachelor of Arts in English; three received a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities; 37 received a Bachelor of Arts in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics; one received a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy; eight received a Bachelor of Arts in Religious and Theological Studies; 21 received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration/Management; and five received a Bachelor of Science in Finance. Forty-five students graduated with academic honors: six summa cum laude (including valedictorian Elle Rogers), 13 magna cum laude, and 26 cum laude.
After the graduates received their degrees, were welcomed into the alumni association, and moved their tassels from right to left, Elle Rogers (PHL ’19) gave the valedictory address, saying the world in 2019 seems like “pandemonium,” full of the vicious and the power-hungry, but the King’s education offers hope.
She told a story of a conversation with her professor and mentor who told her “that my obsession with success was destroying our professional relationship and our friendship.” It taught her the lesson described in C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, where the protagonist learns about confronting her own selfishness. The King’s education teaches us, Rogers said, to recognize our own disordered desires in the viciousness of those we are taught to indict.
“But King’s helps us to see something else, too,” she continued, saying her professor could have done the easy thing and ended their friendship. However, she said, “He forgave me, and continues to encourage me to build better habits every single day.” At King’s, Rogers said, we see our selfishness and tendencies to manipulate, but through coursework, conversations, and forgiveness, we also are taught that “character transformation is possible.”
Rogers explained, “We were taught about a way of life bound up in questioning and examining and searching for the good together. We listened to a message, whispered first in an upper room: ‘The light has come into the world.’ It became shouts on the street, announcing a new political order in which the good was always present.” She encouraged her classmates that now they are participants in this order, and the shouts on the streets are theirs as they pursue wisdom and “withness.”
“The City of God is here if we’re willing to see it, and it is in all the families and the workplaces and the communities we’re preparing to enter if we give of ourselves—even when it’s painful.” She concluded, to the Class of 2019, “Thank you for these four years. Until we have faces, let us stumble together.”
Mrs. Kara Lee Mantinaos, a member of the Parents Advisory Council and mother of 2019 graduate Dino Mantinaos, gave a benediction, praying that the graduates, being “rooted and grounded in love, would have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and would be filled with all the fullness of God.”
The ceremony concluded in singing the Doxology, and the new graduates recessed out of the church with the trustees, faculty, and executive staff.
Opportunities awaiting the Class of 2019 include graduate school at Columbia University for Michael Napoli (PPE ’19); a job at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency for Hannah Hagadorn (BUS ’19); a full-time offer for Noah Campbell (FIN ’19) as an associate at Alliance Bernstein; a job for Jacob Hutchins (FIN ’19) as an analyst at Corry Capital Advisors; an associate role at Grace and Mercy for Kyle Kendrick (RTS ’19); and a job at Ambra Health for December graduate Hannah Swain (PPE ’19). Over 60% of graduates have accepted full-time job offers. Ninety percent had at least one internship during their times at King’s, and almost half found their job through that internship.
Swain said, “Since graduating from King’s I’ve realized two things: that I would not have wanted to attend any other college, and that my education at King’s taught me far more than Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. I am now working in the health technology space, two industries that are complex and rapidly evolving, yet through King’s have formed a mental framework to understand this unfamiliar territory.” She feels prepared to handle this city, her first job, the new industry, and anything else that comes her way, saying, “I’m proud of my time at TKC and the work it took to earn this diploma.”