Graduation 2018 – Valedictorian Address

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by Maximillian George
Valedictorian – Class of 2018

Reverend Fathers, Faculty, Families, and Friends,

Thank you for being here today to witness my classmates and I graduate from Gregory the Great Academy. Now, I’ve been told that it’s a good idea to begin a speech with a joke. I know from experience however that I am not a particularly funny guy. So, looking for humorous inspiration, I turned to some funny people I know: my classmates. When writing this speech, I asked my class for their thoughts on this school, and I unexpectedly found something humorous from Matthew Davidson. Reflecting on life at this school, Matthew told me that life for a student at St. Gregory’s is often weird, impractical, and annoying. That is funny because it’s pretty true. We practice rugby in blizzards. We sing and juggle on street corners. We are used to living without hot water. However, Matthew went on to say this: “But when you leave, if you really attended, your soul is written on these walls and your heart is buried on that field.” That’s true, too. And the funny thing about this place is how important its strangeness turns out to be.

My class was both blessed and challenged to be the first senior class to complete a full year back in this building. Our time here has been hard, but those hardships have instilled in my class a deep love for this place. And though in a few minutes we will cross this stage and become alumni of Gregory the Great Academy, we will never truly leave. The lessons of truth revealed, the good friendships made, and the love of beauty which this school has given us will stay in our hearts and minds forever.

Classmates and friends, you will remember earlier this year that we read “The Song of Roland.” In between distracting Mr. Culley with carefully-calculated off-topic questions, we learned about the companionship of Roland and Oliver. In the old days of chivalry, boys would be brought up together, being educated and sharing hardships, resulting in a bond that is somehow deeper than friendship, a bond that will last a lifetime. I am proud to call all of you my companions. Through our years here, our class has grown from a rabble of unrelated individuals into a tight-knit group of brothers. Together we struggled, together we laughed through all that was weird, impractical, and annoying. You have all proven time and again to be loyal, unwavering friends—to be selfless, hard-working, trustworthy, joyful, spirited, and reverent. I am proud indeed, and humbled, too, to have soldiered with you.

I don’t know where the future will lead us. In just 23 days, we will all part in Rome and begin the next chapter of our lives. Some of us will go to college, others to work, and some to the military. Though I don’t know what the future holds, I am confident that we will all be happy because we have been happy with the responsibilities given to us at St. Gregory’s. We are ready. I thank all of you for the inestimable impact you have made on my life. Through you, I’ve learned to laugh at myself, to think for myself, and to learn how to stand up for myself. You awoke in me a love for good music and conversation, and most importantly, you have taught me the role of friendship in building up a friendship with Christ.

max2018On behalf of my class, I wish to thank and say goodbye to the faculty of Gregory the Great Academy. It has been truly inspiring to learn from all of you. I doubt any other institution can boast such an incredible group of people. With the sparse resources available, it is a legitimate miracle that you are able to keep this school running and provide probably the perfect place for boys to spend their formative years. I did a survey of my class asking them what they most admired about you, the faculty. Almost all of them said that they admired how the faculty seeks to build friendships with the students and genuinely cares for every student. I think that this is really what makes it possible for a somewhat and sometimes wild group of boys to learn to seek goodness, truth, and beauty in life. Your own lives are models of what you have taught us, and because of your friendship with us, we students strive to imitate you. Young guys could not hope to have better mentors.

Before we leave, my class would also like to offer some parting advice and insight to the classes below us—advice that arises out of an understanding we have gained during our time here. Students, no one needs to tell you that life here is often challenging, but the things in life which really matter often are. Remember that. All of you are part of a legacy and a story that began before you were born, and, God willing, will continue long after you are gone. Make your part in this legacy and this story worth remembering. On the rugby team, Coach van Beek is always reminding us to leave the number we borrow for the season in a better place. Think about what that means. Each of you has a duty to maintain and add to the life of Gregory the Great Academy. Don’t spend a single moment passively. Be active. No matter what you are asked to do, no matter how weird, or how impractical, or how annoying, do it in a spirit of humility and joy. You will see what happens if you do when you end up on this stage like we have today.

Something I found really helpful in realizing this for myself was to try and implement the five virtues of the rugby team into my life: high work-rate, discipline, sacrifice, focus, and courage. You will need these in your life, not just on the rugby pitch. The more you deny yourself and give yourself to your brothers and this school, the more you will fall in love with this place and the life it teaches us to lead. Give yourself over. Spend that extra five or ten minutes in the chapel every day. Pray for each other. Give yourself over for the greater glory of God.

Three years ago, I began my adventure at this school at Carpathian Village, crammed into a bunkhouse in the middle of nowhere with 60 guys, and it was weird, impractical, and annoying. That day, as my classmates and I ate undercooked potatoes and bread, I joined my friends in the epic of Gregory the Great Academy’s traveling school; because some things are worth doing for their own sake; and for our sakes as well, as it turns out. Using Mr. Fitzpatrick’s favorite “ship analogy,” the class of 2017 docked the ship, but this class re-established civilization here at our beloved school, where I have spent the most joyful time of my life. This place has not simply educated me, but has fostered in me a love of learning, taught me the value of hard work, given me the opportunity to develop deep friendships with my classmates, and provided me with an environment that supports and nourishes a relationship with Christ.

All too quickly, the adventure has come to an end, and now, my classmates and I must part ways from our school. Though at the end of our own journey, proud as we are to be alumni of St. Gregory’s, the memories and friendships we have made, together with the lessons we have learned, will remain with us always.

We have signed our souls on these walls. We have buried our hearts on that field.

Thank you.

Graduation 2018 – Headmaster’s Address

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Reverend Fathers, Faculty and Staff, Ladies and Gentlemen, Students and Alumni,

So. Graduation. Today, these fine fellows graduate from high school. Now what? What has it all been for? What does it all mean? These are big questions. What are all of you looking at me for? You don’t expect me to answer them, I hope. I’m sorry, it’s just the way you’re all watching me like that. I don’t have the answers. If I had answers to big questions like that, let me tell you, life would not be very interesting.

But here’s an interesting story for you. Last week we were honored to welcome Bishop Nicholas Samra here for a visit. For those of you who do not know him, he is the bishop of the Melkite Diocese of Newton, which encompasses the entire United States—and Mexico, too, for the time being—and Venezuela. His Excellency is not fooling around, but he did tell us a funny story that struck me and, though our boys have heard it, I will retell it for you.

A man died and went to heaven. St. Joseph met him at the door and, as the man had never been there before, St. Joseph gave him a tour of the Father’s House with its many rooms. On and on they went, passing wonder after wonder, until St. Joseph admitted him into a room that was full of ears. “What is the meaning of this?” the man asked. “These ears,” St. Joseph said, “belong to those who heard the Gospel but did nothing with it. Their ears are saved. The rest of them, well…”

That’s a good story, a strange story. And one that I believe has something to do with what this graduation is all about—and this is not your typical graduation.

Seniors, my captains: the time has come for you to depart. And depart you will, but do not leave your hearts here. Take them with you. They have been pierced with a love that must pour itself out beyond this haven. Take your hearts with you and let them beat and burn wherever you go, because if you leave your heart here at St. Gregory’s, your hearts may be all of you that get to heaven—which is better than just your ears, but it’s still not enough.

We have given you an earful and a heartful, so that your heart can do something with what your ears have heard. Here at Gregory the Great Academy you have received a singular education. You have been immersed in a rich and joyful culture. You have learned to read good books and to love them, to sing hearty songs with your brothers. You have gone to battle on the rugby field, and of course, you have prayed and given all to God. Here you have heard the Gospel, and—we hope—you have laid a foundation for the rest of your life.

So, here’s another round of big questions—how do you take all that you have gained here and then share it? How does one hear the Gospel and then live it? How can you be sure that more than just your ears will make it to heaven? At most graduation ceremonies, the speeches are often laden with fist-pumping encouragements to go seek greatness, duc in altum, and set the world on fire, pomp and circumstance. While these are good and worthy things to strive for, most will fall short, and find that they are not meant for greatness. They will find that they are ordinary folks with ordinary capabilities, called to live an ordinary life.

And so today, I set before you graduates a challenge; one that might surprise you with how seemingly unambitious it is; it is a challenge, however, and if rightly received will help you to hear the gospel and live it. I challenge you graduates not to seek greatness, not to strive to set the world aflame, but to embrace the ordinary. Some of you may very well leave here and achieve great things, but most of you will leave here and go on to live very ordinary lives. There are precious few who are called to greatness. Do not hesitate to find your holiness in the ordinary. God Himself became the most ordinary thing in the world, a little child.

One of my children once told me, in tears, that he was afraid he wouldn’t go to heaven because he didn’t want to die a martyr’s death. I told him, son, go big or go home. No, I didn’t. He was happy to learn that there are other ways of getting the job done. It takes a tremendous gift of grace for a martyr to say “yes” to dying a painful and violent death for Christ. The thought of it is daunting, even terrifying. But seeking sainthood in the ordinary realm of life is, in some ways, much more difficult. Only those who have attained sainthood this way can really attest to how much it costs.

sfitz_grad2018_2The martyr must respond in a heroic moment to the call of the Holy Spirit and die in glory for Christ. The ordinary saint must respond to the call of the Holy Spirit and die to himself for Christ many times every single day. To live your life in whatever vocation you are called, you must die a martyr’s death continually. And when you fail to respond to the call, you must have the fortitude to face the everyday crosses the next day brings and try again. There is no outward show of greatness in this. It is not what you would call an impressive sainthood. My kid can tell you the stories of those saints aren’t in his books. Theirs is a hidden triumph. It is between you and God. It is the sainthood of most good men: to be ordinary and saintly—and it is no less glorious.

And what kind of men have you become? Back to big questions. Let’s keep our answers small. You have become normal, well-rounded men. Good men. And that is enough. A good man is getting harder to find, and as ordinary, good men, that does make you somewhat extraordinary in society, but remember that you are of humble stock. You didn’t come to this school to become high-voltage Ivy-League messiahs, and neither was that our hope for you. You just need to be a man who is determined to do good, and you have become such men. In the words of the little saint, Teresa of Calcutta, “In this life we cannot always do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Be good men, then, in your corners of the vineyard and make them better.

What is it all for? You came here to learn how to become saints. And so you must. Become saints—ordinary saints. Make the little way your way. If you wish to become saints, put aside any desire for greatness. It is Christ in us that accomplishes all good things. It is when we put aside all worldly ambition, and allow ourselves to become very small indeed, that Christ has room to dwell in us. Then we are able to go into the world with our littleness, and let Christ do good things with us. Consider how small our Lord consented to be in order to save mankind. If he is bold enough to become so little, so ordinary, to accomplish great things, we must dare to do the same. That is the way of good men like you. You have no powers save those that every ordinary man has at his disposal. They are enough. Use them and them alone to touch the lives of those you meet. We have taught you to live a life that reflects the sturdy and hidden life of Christ the laborer and Christ the lover. Live it. Get up in the morning. Make your bed. Go to work and to class. Sing Compline. Pray the Rosary. Wear your tie. Be merry, but not flashy. Be joyful, but not wild. Be polite, but not prudish. Enjoy your gifts, but not all alone. Put your lamps on lampstands. And lights out at 10:15.

What does it all mean? The heart of your education that must inflame the hearts you take with you today is that people should look after one another—should love their neighbors as themselves—and that each person should shoulder this responsibility willingly and resolutely. Though hardship will inevitably try your patience and even your resolve, let it become the foundation of your humility, your home, your heart, and your heavenly reward. Mr. George made mention of the hardships your class endured here which made this school beloved to you. By these hardships, you learned how to be men—good, solid, ordinary men.

Today is the feast of St. Philip Neri—a man, I think, who would get along pretty well in our company—and I would like to offer you these words of his:

“We are not saints yet, but we, too, should beware. Uprightness and virtue do have their rewards, in self-respect and in respect from others, and it is easy to find ourselves aiming for the result rather than the cause. Let us aim for joy, rather than respectability. Let us make fools of ourselves from time to time, and thus see ourselves, for a moment, as the all-wise God sees us.”

You are not saints yet. Lift up your hearts. Work hard and work well. Enjoy the journey. And know that your everyday efforts to be good in a wicked world, to go to college, to make friends, to fall in love, to find a job, to get married, to raise a family, to be the head of a Christian household, to do any such ordinary things, may make you another St. Benedict, or St. Gregory, or St. Francis, or St. John Bosco, because they require striking out into the wilderness and wasteland to build in the chaff and ruin of the times, daring to be normal when all is abnormal, unafraid to be good when it is dangerous to be so, and proud to be and do what God intended us to be and do. And that is what it is all about. Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary. Let anyone with ears to hear, listen.

Thank you.

Valedictorian’s Address – Graduation 2017

by David Hahn

Dear families, faculty, and friends,

davidhahn17speechIt is my honor to address you all today. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is David Hahn, and I am the son of the renowned writer and speaker, Kimberly Hahn.

My three years at Gregory the Great Academy will always be among my fondest. The warm times spent in song after banquets, the frigid times spent on the rugby pitch, or the cool moments of silence with my brothers in prayer. From Sophomore Nights up on the fourth floor at Pine Hill, to our Junior trip to Fontgombault, or our many Senior Nights in the Culley Cabin, these are the times that will be enshrined in my memory forever. They will linger like old friends for the rest of my life and remain a link forever to my brothers here with me on this stage. I have been blessed by Our Lord these past three years with nineteen of the closest friends I will ever have. I count myself privileged to have gone upon this journey with these companions, these comrades—and though it is to be seen if we will take what we have been given to become heroes, we have certainly shared the epic journey that heroes often undergo.

It is often said that in an epic quest, the most important thing that the wanderer finds is actually not his initial goal—be it a lost treasure, or a forgotten kingdom—but rather, the most important thing he discovers is himself. As Telemachus searched for Odysseus, the boy learned what kind of a man lay dormant in his blood and what his destiny as the man he was called to become directed. Today, we have reached the end of our odyssey, and we look ahead with a new knowledge of ourselves and what we are called to do as men.

When I came to St. Gregory’s my Sophomore year, I was not familiar with the ancient forms of the Mass. The traditions of the Catholic Church were as familiar to me as they are for any boy, I suppose. And so, when I arrived, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. As it turns out, my experience of the liturgy here at the Academy has been central to my time here, and it is the one experience that reflects my entire education. I was raised attending our local parish in a family with a Presbyterian background. What I found at St. Gregory’s was not the liturgy or the praise-and-worship that I was used to. I was exposed here to a liturgical diversity, especially in the Byzantine rite.

Though it was strange at first, I quickly came to fall in love with the structure and the poetry of the Mass, and most of all, by the musical traditions that bind East and West into a chorus of divine praise. I came to know anew what I had always known, but never understood: the tradition of my Faith. Much in the same way as I was converted to appreciate the many beauties of the Divine Liturgy, I was drawn into a new understanding of the Roman rite, seeing in its structure a common purpose which is the purpose of salvation and the depth of the sacred traditions. Through these traditions and the experience of the liturgy, I was brought into a new experience of my place in the divine family and my spiritual heritage.

I never knew how hesitant I was to encounter real experiences until I came to Gregory the Great, and I was thrown headlong into a new world of tremendous meaning and mystery. And I was introduced to this vast vision through small instances. I remember arriving there on my first day at Carpathian Village. It was slightly rainy and I had just received news that we were going for a hike. I remember shuffling up to Headmaster Fitzpatrick and saying, “Sir, it’s raining… but we’re going for a hike?” He looked at me and said, “Yes, David.” I retorted, a little frustrated, “But it’s raining! How is this going to work?” His eyes gave a kind of sparkle and with a smile is his voice he said, “You’ll probably get wet—and that’s all right.” And wet I got—and it was all right. There were many more such little experiences like this in my first weeks and months at school where I was challenged to step outside of myself and see what I was made of—to learn who I was in the context of things like rain, rugby, and religion. Looking back at the time I thought of myself as a pretty adventurous guy, but this notion was quickly shattered once I began to learn what being adventurous really meant and what being a man really was. My time here was not easy, but just as with the liturgy, I was slowly won over, and came to see the truth that anything worth doing comes at cost.

Just as the sacred music of the liturgy brought me into contact with the beauty of the Faith, so the folk tradition brought me to love the beauty of ordinary experiences and with a new family. What this all comes down to is this: I was introduced to the experience of goodness, truth, and beauty at this school and with these men. This is a fact exemplified by a small yet defining moment the night after the hike in the rain. We all gathered around a large bonfire and one of the guys had two tin whistles in his hand. I asked if I could try it out. Soon enough, Thomas Lawless and I were whistling out The Rising of the Moon, and any other tunes we knew. Though it may not sound like much, it is in the little things that the most important things are often found.

As my classmate, Jack Davis, put it, Gregory the Great has given us a love and appreciation of the good things, the little things: books, music, a cup of coffee, a day of hard work. It’s a place where we’ve shared real, physical experiences with one another, whether easy or tough, in a joyful way. We have shared a taste, we twenty, of what is truly good. We have experienced together something of what it means to experience anything at all through our daily prayer life, the sacrifice of teammates toward victory, and our mutual pursuit of the truth by study.

This sharing of experiences, both big and small, has given us a brotherhood that is unique, both in its depth and its breadth that shall fill up our lives, and never cease to be a blessing to us. So often, when we set out with some good in mind, God seems to love to interfere and turn it all towards something better than we could have hoped for. I came to Saint Gregory’s looking for a friend, and I’m leaving it with nineteen brothers. When I became a student, I wasn’t a boy enrolled at a school. I was a son adopted into a family. A family of war heroes and of poets, and their stories were sung by our own voices—a family of faith and of prayer. I remember one night after I had gotten into a fight, I was brought into Mr. Culley’s office. He listened to my rather hysterical side of the story patiently and then simply told me to pray three Memorares for the next twelve days. My life at St. Gregory’s has never ceased to be blessed by that advice, to turn to in times of hardship. I still pray those three Memorares every day to this day. They have helped me to find myself and to learn who I am.

I would like to thank everyone who has made Gregory the Great Academy a place for boys to experience, and for giving me a home for these past three years. I thank all my classmates for your loyalty, your friendship, and your fraternity. I thank my coaches and teachers for gifting us with this experiential education, for the dedication of your lives to deepen ours. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for the sacrifice I know you made sending me to this school. Thank you to all for these years of study, of play, of fellowship, and of grace. Thank you for your prayers and your support, and for believing that a place like this can and should exist for boys like me. Thank you.