Reverend Father, Guests, Teachers and Dorm Fathers, Alumni and Students:
Thank you for being here for the graduation of the class of 2015 from Gregory the Great Academy. I have never given a speech before, so I am a little uncomfortable. Actually, I would probably be more comfortable if someone threw me a rugby ball and I had to charge through all of you, score a try, and call it a day. But since that would probably make you uncomfortable. So I think I’ll just stick to the plan and do my best with the speech. I would like to begin with a poem, one of the first poems I learned at St. Gregory’s. It is called “The Rainbow”:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky.
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man,
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
I think it is fitting that this poem I just recited should be the last poem I recite as a student of Gregory the Great Academy. When I walked up this aisle a few moments ago, I came up as a student with my class. In a few moments more, I will walk back down with my class, but I won’t be a student of this school anymore. I am moving on, together with my friends, to different days, to a different life; and this poem resonates with the passing of time—and I refer both to the passing of the days and the maturing of the mind. Good poetry, I am told, only gets better with time, and I know it is true with this poem. It has always been a guide to me through my times at St. Gregory’s. It has taught me what this school is about, and helped me learn from this school not only how to become a man, but also—and more importantly—what kind of man I should become. “The Rainbow” is a poem about the journey from childhood to manhood, and so has it kept me on course as I undertook the journey of St. Gregory’s.
Gregory the Great Academy is a journey—a journey that in many ways embodies the epic tales we love to read and that inform the way we look at our lives and the world around us. This pilgrimage is not always as grand or elaborate as the wonders chronicled in Homer’s Odyssey; however, it shares in similarly life-changing experiences and adventures. Just as Odysseus’ goal was to reach his home, so too is it our goal as students to finish the course and return home. But we learn from Odysseus that he cannot reach home until he has been changed in some significant way. He must return to Ithaca as a new man, having put aside his profession as a sacker of cities on the windy plains of Troy. Similarly, as students, we cannot leave until we have been affected in some way by this school—until we have become stronger by bearing up under challenge; until we have learned to live and to love no longer as boys, but as men. Every student’s experience of Gregory the Great is different. To some, the journey may seem as long and treacherous as the trials of Odysseus. Rugby practice may seem as daunting as fighting the stallion-breaking Trojans; and studying as terrible as having your brains dashed out by the Cyclops. I don’t think anyone thinks of our school as Calypso’s island, at least—which is probably a good thing. Others might relate more to the journeys of Telemachus who had a short, simple voyage to learn more about himself, the world around him, and the man he was called to become until he returned home, like his father, Odysseus, a changed man—no longer a boy. Whether someone has the experience of Odysseus or Telemachus, the person—the Child—is changed for the better for embarking on this journey. The whole point is that St. Gregory’s provides a mold for manhood by giving the young the experience of hardship—both its rigors and its rewards.
This is the essence of the education we receive here, and it is also the essence of a true faith—to come home to ourselves both physically and spiritually.
My journey began, as most journeys do, at the beginning. But, like a true epic, it also began in medias res, “in the middle of things,” for I found myself suddenly on board with a hardy crew that was already underway on a great adventure, and I was fortunate enough to be given a space on the bench and an oar to pull with. I came to St. Gregory’s as a freshman in 2011. At that time, I knew nothing about St. Gregory’s except the legends that my brothers had told me. It wasn’t till about a month into the school year that I began to see what St. Gregory’s was about. In my freshman literature class, I learned a poem called “The Rainbow” by William Wordsworth. After I learned this poem by heart, and Mr. Fitzpatrick shared some of its secrets with me, I began to see what kind of adventure I was getting into. I learned from this poem that the “Child is father of the Man:” that what we do in our youth affects the men we will become, the men who will be born out of our childhood. My quest at St. Gregory’s was not one for a golden fleece or a golden city, but for manhood. St. Gregory’s fathers men from boys. What kind of men I didn’t know when I first set out, but I knew I would find out at the end of my journey—when I would myself become a man.
There were, of course, some dark stretches in my journey—a descent into the underworld, you might say, after the good ship went down in 2012. But the crew of St. Gregory’s survived Scylla and Charybdis and mustered again at a new port. St. Gregory’s rose again to new life, reborn to carry on its quest. The spirit of St. Gregory’s is not confined to a building, as we have seen. The spirit of the wanderer is hard to drown beneath the gulfs. Our school is much more than a building, just as a voyage is much more than a ship. Other vessels can be fashioned so long as the crew’s purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset and the baths of all the Western stars. We have not yielded. The rainbow returned after the storm. The adventure goes on.
I could tell you all the beautiful poems we have studied and memorized, and all the incredible books we have read. I could tell you about all the escapades we have gone on singing and juggling in New york, all the strange and interesting people we have met, on our Scranton adventures, and all the things that have affected me in little and large ways that helped to form me. But that would take four years to tell. I will, however, tell you the end result; what I have found after striving and seeking over these four years: the men of St. Gregory’s are men with a sense of duty, a sense of responsibility—young men who are able to give the right response at the right time—whose hearts leap up when they behold the miracles of our God; men who know when to rejoice, and when to be serious; men who know when it is good to act like boys and when it is good to act like men; young men who know what is sweet in life and what is terrible; men who are ready to go out into the world unafraid, confirmed and well armed by their experience of the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Although many of my classmates joined me mid-journey, as I, and all of us for that matter, joined the school in the middle of its journey, we have all undertaken the same course together, and together we have listened to and followed the truth of the poem, “The Rainbow.” The children we were at the beginning have become men at last. We set out on a journey, and have been changed by the experience, by the adventure. May we keep the lessons and the loves instilled in us by St. Gregory’s when we shall grow old, or let us die. I thank God for this school, for this class of friends, and for our parents and teachers who sacrificed so much to give us these gifts. Now we depart on our own journeys, having been strengthened by this journey together, which is now coming to a close for us. We will never forget these adventures, and our hearts will always leap up when we recall these days of our youth and the birth of our manhood, and may it ever fill us with a natural piety, that love for things essentially lovable, that will push us ever onwards to whatever adventures lie in wait.
This speech was given on May 23rd, 2015 by Philip Gay, Valedictorian of Gregory the Great Academy’s Class of 2015.