Rockbridge Academy Blog
5 Lessons I Learned on Grand Tour
It is the trip everyone looks forward to from kindergarten, the capstone of classical Christian education at Rockbridge Academy: Grand Tour. Grand Tour is a seventeen-day trek through some of the most historic places in Greece and Italy, where we spend nights in seven different hotels and a ferry, eat amazing food, and experience ruins, churches, museums, and breathtaking views. I'm grateful for the incredible experiences and learned valuable lessons along the way.
1. The priorities of man have not always been the same.
What a society creates says much about what they value. For instance, the Parthenon is a Greek temple in Athens whose construction began in 447 BC and is mostly still standing today. Clearly this temple was built to last. Many of the cathedrals, chapels, and basilicas we see in Italy are multiple centuries old and still in use today. We don’t have anything like that in the United States. In fact, we usually have the exact opposite. Our culture values efficiency, not longevity. We mass produce cookie-cutter houses in huge neighborhoods, get our coffee in cardboard cups without leaving our cars, and Amazon Prime just about everything. It is easy to forget that our priorities were not always the priorities of the past and still aren’t the priorities of people in other parts of the world. I went to restaurants where we ate dinner for three hours and saw buildings that are three times the age of our entire country. It was fascinating to step into another culture and experience their different values and priorities.
2. Man’s creations do not last forever.
Despite such an emphasis on longevity, it became abundantly clear that man’s creations do not last forever. Even with the impressive efforts of the ancient Greeks, there are extensive portions of the Parthenon missing and much of what we saw in Greece are now in ruins. The fact that any of these temples, villages, and buildings still exist in some capacity today is incredible. However, the ruined state of man’s labor serves as a humbling reminder of man’s limitations. The fallen pillars and marred stones stand in stark contrast to the giant mountains in Delphi, clear water on the Gulf of Corinth, and beautiful countryside in Assisi, all of which remain majestic and unscathed. This is God’s creation, utterly immovable and long lasting, and it is far greater than anything man could dream up himself.
3. All of man’s creation points to the ultimate Creator.
Although man’s creations are unimpressive beside God’s majestic work, we continue to create. It would be absurd to assume that anything man makes is entirely from his own volition and ideas. All that is in this world was inspired by God and is under His dominion. This being the case, everything we create points to the ultimate Creator. This fact was incredibly evident on Grand Tour. Greece’s many ruined temples are evidence of the emphasis placed on a supreme being, and the art and architecture of the Enlightenment is steeped in religion. One can not walk out of the Borghese Gallery without at least contemplating a higher power. The way Saint Peter’s Basilica constantly drew my eyes heavenward or the way Michelangelo's sculptures celebrated God’s greatest creation reminded me of the one whom we all will ultimately glorify. Creating is a gift unique to mankind, and it is a gift that magnifies the true Creator.
4. “All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (Ecclesiastes 3:20).
Possibly my favorite site we visited on Grand Tour was the Catacombs. The Catacombs of San Callisto is an ancient burial site in Rome where approximately five hundred thousand Christians were buried. We were able to descend into the Catacombs, walk through a few of many passageways, and see now empty graves and burial chambers which used to hold ordinary Christians as well as popes and martyrs. At one point along the way, I saw a glass case that held the disintegrated remains of a boy who had been buried in the Catacombs. What had once been a walking and talking human like me was reduced to powder, and all I could think of was that verse from Eccesiastes: “all are from dust, and to dust all return,” (Ecc 3:20). In Genesis 2, God created the first man out of dust from the ground and breathed life into him. It was a quieting experience to walk where my brothers and sisters in Christ had once laid their dead and remember that even the bodies of God’s people will one day return to the ground. However, it was also a joyful reminder of God’s grace and faithfulness that the dust of our bodies is not the end of our lives, but rather the beginning of our soul’s eternity with Him.
5. Beauty is essential.
If you go on Grand Tour and your jaw does not drop at least once a day, you are missing something. Beauty is everywhere, but it is incredibly evident on this trip. It was present in the Grecian countryside, in the main temple ruins, in the middle of the Adriatic sea, and in every painting, church, and sculpture. As we began to see these churches, I wondered about the morality of putting so much money and resources simply into making something beautiful. After all, Christians can worship God in a hole in the ground just as well as they can in the Sistine Chapel. However, the further along we got, the more convinced I was of the importance of beauty. I will not pretend to know the motives behind all of the beautiful churches, paintings, and sculptures we saw, but I can speak to the reaction they evoked. I and those around me were continually in awe. The beauty of these places created an environment that demanded reverence. Yet, for me, it was never toward the beautiful thing itself or the man who made it, it was always for a God who allows beauty such as this to exist. Man was created to marvel, and it seems that proper beauty evokes its siblings, goodness and truth, in such a manner that makes our God simply undeniable.
I could not be more grateful for the opportunity God has given me to go on this trip and learn these lessons along with many others. Grand Tour is a time to learn: learn about yourself, learn about your classmates, learn about God, and learn about His majestic creation. Grand Tour is truly unique, and its blessings are beyond words. I look forward to seeing what future Rockbridge students learn in Europe!
Olivia Reardon, ‘22, is attending Messiah University where she continues to pursue her passion for reading, writing, teaching, and dance. While she loves learning, quality time, and ice cream, she is particularly passionate about serving Christ in all that she does and says.
The Why Behind Grand Tour
Ever since kindergarten, my fellow students and I looked forward to Grand Tour as the highlight of our Rockbridge Academy careers. From Latin and history classes to field trips to cultural feasts and soirée dinners, all of our education foreshadowed our class trip to Greece and Italy in the weeks following our junior year. When I try to explain Grand Tour to family or friends outside of this community, I usually refer to it as “a sort of senior trip.” The truth is, though, Grand Tour is not just your typical senior trip—a relaxing week at the beach or skiing in the mountains. Grand Tour enriches both our classical education and Christian relationships within each class.
First, Grand Tour is distinctly classical. We don’t visit England, Germany, Israel, or anywhere else directly involved in our national or religious history; we visit Greece and Italy. This confuses some people: isn’t our recent history more important and influential for us now in America? After all, they would say, Greece and Rome haven’t affected monumental worldwide events for thousands of years. Some of this is true, but, as a classical education emphasizes, what did happen way back when irreversibly shaped the entire western world. We see Greek and Roman culture in our government, art, architecture, language, sciences, philosophy—the list goes on and on. For hundreds of years, as Europe formed out of the chaos of the Dark Ages, leaders looked back to authors like Plato, Aristotle, and Vergil to see how a successful and prosperous country should run, and how its leaders should act.
This past summer, the school worked hard to make sure both the classes of 2022 and 2023 could experience the Grand Tour:
Throughout our Rockbridge education, we study these authors, thinkers, and cultures, tracing their influence all the way to the modern era. Instead of only learning from our immediate past, we go back to creation, where everything began. We then move to Greece and Rome, where ideas and ideals were more developed. Lastly, we see how all these past events have impacted today, where we can make a difference. This is what separates classical Christian education from other models: an integration of God’s sovereign story into every class and all of history.
Second, Grand Tour is not only educational for the mind; it also fosters a precious brother-and-sisterhood between classmates and fellow believers. In fact, I saw the presence of Christ more strongly in our informal Bible study and hymn singing the Sunday we spent ferrying across the Adriatic Sea than in many luxurious cathedrals. Relationally, my whole class grew in leaps and bounds.
In May, before the end of school, the teachers told us to write out our “best selves” and our vision for our class’s “best self.” We then picked two accountability partners, who would encourage us to maintain those best versions throughout the trip. On our way to Delphi about a week into the trip, Mrs. Ball warned us that this was when most classes fell apart and started to get tired of each other’s company. Instead of succumbing to our tiredness and the temptation to do exactly that, we turned it into a joke: “Oh no, Drama at Delphi!” That evening, nothing had happened yet, and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Still, Mrs. Ball and Mr. Keehner were not convinced and encouraged us to have “accountability sessions” with our partners in order to check on how we were doing so far. One talk led to another, and soon several of us were involved in deep conversations about our actions as individuals and as a class. We started to realize that we definitely weren’t as relational gracious as we had believed and identified some major problems with our thoughts and actions. We grew closer as we went through this sanctification process together.
That night, and successive rooftop, balcony, and garden discussions, made me more thankful than ever for a strong, supportive community of Christians who are still growing, just like me. On Grand Tour, we shared more of our hopes and struggles than we had ever been able to do before. In fact, I had the privilege of watching a dear classmate come to Christ on the trip; the new light shining from within her almost blinded me, it was so bright and evident. We hope and pray that these class experiences will enable us to better enjoy each other, lead the school, and praise our Savior for His goodness in this coming year.
Jane Farr, ’23, loves playing soccer and various intramural sports at Rockbridge as a break from studying. The rest of the time, she can usually be found reading, playing the flute, or making yummy food to share with family and friends.