Jacob Landry, Valedictorian Address, 2021

Reverend Father, Faculty, Dormfathers, Families, Alumni, Students, and Classmates,

Here we are at graduation. It is hard to know what I can say on behalf of my class to signal this moment. Looking to Our Lord for inspiration, as we’ve been taught to do when in doubt, the only thing I can think of is, “It is finished.”

Now, I know that’s a little on the heavy side, and this isn’t quite the same thing as the Passion, but overstatements are often what you get when you borrow phrases from Jesus. It is finished, though. And it was very hard, and very important, and a labor of love (sometimes). And now, it really is finished. Our time here is over–and that is a very striking and strange thing to say. Sometimes, it seems like I’ve lived here my whole life. Other times, I feel like I showed up a month ago, and today, I feel like a child who asks regretfully, “Is it already time to go?”

When I look back at my four years here, I can honestly say without any reservation that I have come to love this school deeply. Gregory the Great Academy has made me the man I am today, and I hope that man will prove worthy of all that he has been given. But whatever doubts or even fears I may have regarding the future, I am at least confident that the formation I have received here will guide my steps for many years to come. And for that I am very grateful.

Since I have already dared to take Christ’s words for my own, I will venture to continue speaking in large terms, and tell you that I firmly believe this school provides the best education offered at any high school in the world.

How’s that for school pride? I do sincerely believe it, though, and I say it with humility. I would go so far as to say that this school provides one of the truest educations to be found anywhere, an education that focuses on who we are: creatures of minds, bodies, and souls in need of saving. Our reason, of course, makes us human, and our bodies make us healthy, but to forget our souls, as many ordinary schools do, is to forget that we are eternal things dwelling in the physical world,

But beyond this, and perhaps even more importantly, I have learned what friendship is, and I have experienced the joy of it. Both of these things are rendered almost inaccessible to teenage boys these days, for the world is ever more opposed to the real, preferring shallow and superficial things. But the real is really here, at this school, and I have felt its impact and its influence–largely in those who sit behind me. In their company I have encountered so many experiences; good times, hard times, work, play, songs, jokes, fights, adventures, and real camaraderie.

On behalf of all of us, I would like to give a real and heartfelt thank you to all the teachers who taught us and most especially to Mr. Fitzpatrick, who made the simple stories we read as freshmen meaningful and brought “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” to life for us. And to Dr. Sladky who managed to both relay enormous amounts of material concerning History and Physics and make it interesting and relevant. You formed our minds and enabled us to not only receive a great intellectual education, but also to enjoy it.

Music and poetry are essential parts of our formation and education. Our music ranges from energetic rousers, to the beautiful polyphony you just heard in the chapel. We also juggle, learn and recite poetry, and take our music and singing and poetry out on the roving road. We thank Mr Culley for his active and lively spirit as our headmaster and for first bringing juggling and all the joy that comes with it to our school; and also Mr. Williams, for all his efforts in training us to be good musicians and good men.

While all these things given to us by these men are essential to our school, and are truly excellent things, a key component that makes Gregory the Great unique is the spirit in which it educates us through our physical bodies. There is nothing quite like our athletic program, and most of my best memories are of playing rugby in blizzards or freezing rain, even though there was nothing quite so difficult, painful, tiring, or trying. But, at the same time, there was nothing quite so enjoyable or rewarding. And though struggling through the frozen wet of February may seem terrible (and it was), it makes the coming of Spring  and the winning of a State Title that much better. Our thanks to Coach van Beek who can train a group of 60 boys to be a state winning team. Thank you for all the practices, especially the hard ones.

But as every school forms the mind and the body in some manner, as I mentioned before, Gregory the Great forms the soul with particular care. This is primarily through Lauds, Mass, Rosary, and Compline, with plenty of extra devotionals thrown in there, too, like Vespers and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and so much more. I would like to give a sincere thank you to Father Christopher, for his tireless and constant care for us in administering the sacraments as our chaplain.

I would also like to thank Mr. Burger for his dedication to our farm program. Although I certainly didn’t like it at the time, the experience of killing and eviscerating a chicken is definitely something every boy should claim. I can say that now that I’ve done it. Mr. Burger does an enormous amount of work to almost single-handedly sustain our farm. Thanks for bringing good food from our fields to our refectory. Good luck next year with the cows.

It may seem that this speech is only one long list of thank you’s, but that’s because my heart is truly overflowing with gratitude. I have been happy here, and that is no small gift. To all those who assisted in the running of this school, teachers, faculty, dormfathers, thank you.

Younger students, I have this to say to all of you. By the beginning of next year, you’ll only probably only vaguely remember this speech, I know that’s how it was for me. But if you remember anything, remember this. One of our core virtues as Highlanders is “focused on the present.” This is a lesson which has taken me too long to learn, so I encourage you, stay focused on the present moment. Don’t live your day just waiting till practice is over. Don’t live your week waiting for the weekend, and don’t live the months waiting for break. Each moment at this school should be treasured. Don’t sell your time here short. Enjoy every second.

Standing here, I have only recently learned this lesson, but it is something I will take into the rest of my life.

And now, it is finished for us. We leave all this and all these people behind. What lies beyond this education? Well, one thing we will certainly bring with us from this school is our friendships with one another. To tell you the truth, and it’s strange to think about now, but I almost left the school my sophomore year because of the intensity of the changes that coming to this school entailed. I remember when I decided to stay though, and my mom asked me what changed my mind. I answered, “My friends.” Coming to this school and meeting the guys on this stage has changed my understanding of what it means to be friends and how much friendship means. I hope to make more someday now that I know how, now that I know something of what friendship is, having found it in those conversations after a  hard practice, the comfortable lights-out chats, and the silences between songs.

Our trials together as friends at this school of friendship make the good things poignant–which is perhaps the largest life lesson that we stand to learn here at the end of this leg of our educational journey. Our happiness and joy in good things and good people is great because it is hard earned. Our time rejoicing together is rendered more valuable and precious because it is brief after long endurance of difficulty. Life is good but it is short, I am told, and we are blessed to have been given what I pray will be a lasting taste of what is good, true, and beautiful, so that our life, though short, can be well lived.

And so my friends and classmates, I would like to thank you last of all. We have had an incredible adventure, and though our four years together are finished, I’m glad it’s not quite over–though it will be very soon. Thank you for being my friends, and for keeping me here at this school. Thank you for your time, your help, your hearts, and for all the memories that we now share. I wish you all well wherever life may take you.

It is finished, but I leave confident in facing life, and being able to find joy in it.

Thank you.