Go Forth and Set the World on Fire

The society convened for the third time and first Merrick debate of the semester to consider Resolved: the Georgetown Bachelor’s Degree is for Making a Living rather than for Life Itself. Mr. Taylor Willis (SFS ’16) of Texas keynoted for the affirmation while Chancellor Peter Prindiville (SFS ’14) of Illinois negated.

Mr. Willis carefully framed the debate. He stressed that the question at hand was normative. We were considering what Georgetown should prioritize given limited resources: producing financially successful graduates or fulfilled graduates. Mr. Willis argued that since successful alumni not only attract the best new students but also donate to the university, they are crucial for its continued existence in a challenging economy.

Chancellor Prindiville countered that Georgetown’s unique history, values, and mission forbade Mr. Willis’s argument. He pointed to Georgetown’s position on a hill, beside a river, and in a city as the physical embodiment of the visionary reflection, Jesuit values, and missionary zeal that created this institution. Georgetown has survived the test of time because it has used these ideals to form persons, not produce professionals.

Ms. Tiana Baheri contended that students can only work to uphold this beautiful Georgetown tradition after achieving financial success. Ms. Madeleine Ringwald agreed that no one can fulfill one’s purpose without a career to act from, but argued that Georgetown must form students so that they know which career they should pursue. Mr. Samuel Kleinman countered that the promise of a university education is a successful life.

Vice President Anna Hernick reminded the society that the debate was about Georgetown, not university education in general. She maintained that Georgetown’s unique tradition brings it prosperity, but Mr. Dennis Quinn disputed this framing, stressing instead the financial needs of individual students.  With the eloquence of an English major, Ms. Emily Coccia countered that financial success will only come to those who know and can articulate who they are.

Mr. Luke Young criticized the structure of the debate, dismissing both sides as marketing when the real purpose of a college education is admission to the upper class, but Mr. Daniel Kendrick disagreed, arguing that a Georgetown education is meant to bring self-fulfillment.

Mr. Michael Mouch asserted that self-fulfillment can be achieved outside Georgetown while wealth cannot but Mr. Jacob Arber pointed out that money can be made without a Georgetown degree. He insisted that the hilltop sets itself apart by offering a community of people who want to go forth and set the world on fire. Ms. Abigail Grace disputed this generalization of the Georgetown community, arguing that prosperity is universally desired whereas fulfillment varies by individual. Mr. Christopher Stromeyer agreed, but claimed that bright Georgetown students will succeed regardless, so the school has room for the “luxury” of Jesuit values.

During non-member speaking time, Mr. Andrew Shaughnessy (SFS ’16) linked personal identity to employment while Mr. Christopher Canntaro (MSB ’15) contended that the pursuit of Truth ad majorem Dei gloriam defines him far more than any job could. Ms. Emily Durdan (U of Georgia ’15) said that if we really wanted the Truth we would find it in our own way. “College is for getting a degree”. Ms. Annie Aleman (SFS ’16) countered a degree is meaningless if graduates don’t know where their passions lie.

Mr. Timothy Rosenberger berated what he saw as Georgetown’s moral wishy-washiness but Mr. Gregory Miller defended liberty of thought as a crucial part of life-long education. “The Truth shall set us free”.

Ms. Colleen Wood criticized the debate to that point as an inaccurate dichotomy. Since all Georgetown students deal with questions of philosophy and religion, it makes no sense to pretend that a vote for the affirmation is a vote against morals. Like Ms. Wood, Ms. Amanda Wynter stressed that we were debating Georgetown, where we are called to magis. She declared that as an institution grounded in this pursuit of the more, the Philodemic ought to understand the importance of formation better than anyone.

Mr. Alden Fletcher claimed that as much as Georgetown tries to give us values, it can really only grant us an opportunity to create them, but Mr. Patrick Spagnuolo asserted that such an opportunity is a unique and beautiful gift that we ought to treasure as our highest ideal.

Mr. David Edgar responded that Georgetown cannot claim a monopoly on the granting of values to students. Since both sides of the debate can be accomplished outside Georgetown, he insisted that responsibility demands we make a living. Mr. Warren Wilson beautifully rose to Mr. Edgar’s challenge. Harkening back to Ms. Wynter’s point, he asserted the uniqueness of Georgetown’s identity. “Soulcraft is what we do”.

Mr. Alejandro Perez-Reyes had the unenviable position of responding to Mr. Wilson, but he spoke well nonetheless. Appealing to Mr. Willis’s original argument, Mr. Perez-Reyes observed that no matter how grand a vision the negation presents, their position cannot stand in the bidding war of today’s education market. Georgetown’s competition is rich, and we need all the money we can get.

At that point, President Christopher DiMisa closed the floor and returned to Chancellor Prindiville, who stressed that Georgetown must be different than other universities because the world needs us to be different. Georgetown helps her students find their vocation through reflection and discussion. In a spirit of service she charges her students to go forth and mend this world’s pains. The Philodemic embodies this ideal, charging its members to use their eloquence in defense of a liberty that can only be achieved with a thorough understanding of the self.

Mr. Willis lauded the ideals expressed by the chancellor and emphasized that the affirmation did not stand against them. But any grand vision requires economic security, and to retain its ability to ask the higher questions, Georgetown must first raise money. Given the expense required to run a modern university, Mr. Willis believed that Georgetown must charge its graduates with the primary task of making a living.

This Amanuensis is pleased to announce with great purpose and missionary zeal that the society voted 18-3-30 to negate.

As this was the first Merrick Debate, the society voted to determine the best speakers of the evening, who were awarded points towards a chance to keynote at the 139th Richard T. Merrick Debate. The tally was as follows:

  • Ms. Amanda Wynter – 5 points
  • Chancellor Peter Prindiville – 4 points
  • Mr. Warren Wilson – 3 points
  • Mr. Patrick Spagnuolo – 2 points
  • Ms. Emily Coccia – 1 point


Michael Whelan


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