Valedictorian Address – 2019

by Francisco Stender, Class of 2019 Valedictorian

Reverend Father, Faculty, Dormfathers, Families, Students, Friends,

My classmates and I are graduating from this Academy today, and even though I am still something of a boy, I hope I will not appear too presumptuous if I propose to tell you a secret about education. Do want to know what it is? It is one of the reasons why this school is a good school and why it raises good boys who, God willing, will be good men. It is something very important that we students do every morning, whether we like it or not. Here at Gregory the Great Academy, we begin every day by making our beds. That’s what I learned here after all these years. That’s it. But that’s not all.

Making your bed in the morning may seem like a simple chore, but if you look closely, you can see how important it really is. If you cannot complete this small task, how can you expect to perform greater ones in the future? The challenge to make your bed every morning means far more than getting your room passed in time to grab some breakfast before class. It is the challenge to perform one small act of discipline at the start of each day. It is about beginning well, and as I sat down to begin writing this speech, I thought a lot about all those times I made my bed in the cold pre-dawn darkness of the dorms. There are plenty of nursery sayings about “well begun is half done,” but what do things well-begun lead to? When all is done, where do they end? We have made our beds. What now must we lie in? There are other wisdoms of old men that say, “Your beginning is only as good as your end.” Now that our time here is over, I wonder how well we made our beds.

Though we are yet to see where our journey has brought us, I can clearly see the paths that have led me to this moment with all of you. My journey at Gregory the Great has been filled with many fond memories. I remember our class going on a weekend trip to Promised Land State Park with Mr. Strong. The trip was filled with fishing, swimming, hiding from the rain, stacking our hammocks on top of another, and so much more. When we left for the trip, none of us thought that it would turn out to be so fun. It changed us and brought us closer together. In a way, I never expected some of the best things that have happened to me and around me at this school. I never thought I would run six miles with Declan O’Reilly just to get hot chocolate mix (which we never found); or see Sebastian Adamowicz run around like a headless chicken and then jump into the water after he sat down on a yellow jacket nest. It is moments like these that I will never forget and will always cherish because they were happy moments that I spent with my friends doing good things in a good place.

What is really surprising, though, is to think that without my time here, I never would have experienced any of these things at all, things that are inseparable to me now. I never would have known these friends of mine who are now such a deep part of my life. In fact, if all of us went to the same school in some other place, I don’t think we would all be the same friends we are now. And I know for sure that we wouldn’t share such memories. In no other place would we be able to find them. This journey that we have all made is full of such surprises, but it is now come to an end. Even that is hard to believe.

We have experienced many unforeseen joys and sorrows. Everybody’s lives suddenly changed when Fr. Christopher got sick, and none of us ever would have expected Peter Key to suffer such a terrible illness. We even had to say goodbye to some alumni who unexpectedly passed away this year. It has been a sad year, in many ways, but even with all these tragedies, our beloved school still thrives! We are about to complete another successful year here at Elmhurst and the school farm is taking off. Many of the old traditions are being revived, thanks to the help of the alumni staff members. This has also been the most successful athletic year in the school’s history. From our tenacious soccer team that dominated their way to the district title, to—as Mr. van Beek called it—the best defense in school history that allowed us to defeat our rival, Cumberland Valley, and win the state title.

As we prepare to part from each other’s company and from this school, I would like to take this opportunity to say a parting word to each of you, my classmates.

Sebastian Adamowicz, I hope you never forget the coffee morning fastbreaks or the number 73. I know you will go on to do great things, just like how you led us to a state title.

Paul Hebert, I know I will miss the random wall and hearing about your 5:30 am workout. I can’t wait to meet up in a couple of years after we have both joined the military.

Paul Reilly, how can I forget all the crazy Scandinavian folk songs you got stuck in my head? Or the time you were enraged because someone cooked bacon on your forge? Good luck at trade school and make some awesome knives.

Declan O’Reilly—oh, where to start? Between swimming across that river in France, or the room we shared this year, we have so many memories. But I know the experience we shared together as kitchen prefects cannot be matched and, for good or ill, will never be forgotten.

Peter Kelly, I will miss the fun we have shared and the mischief we have gotten into. I feel that it was yesterday when we were running from Jack Davis after jokingly telling him the seniors were buns. We showed him.

Nathan Bird, I hope you don’t forget that trip to Boston. I know I won’t. We went everywhere! That was the day I really got to know you and see how hilarious you are. Hopefully, someday I’ll get a chance to go shooting with you.

Joe Bell, you are one of the funniest people I know. I will never forget the time you wrote a very convincing Rhetoric speech on why our class deserved doughnuts—which we did.

Joe Landry, I remember the first time we went camping together and I was thinking, “Who is this crazy guy climbing up trees to set up a lean-to?” What’s funny is, you weren’t just climbing the branches; you actually were pulling yourself up inch by inch with a rope wrapped around the tree. I’ll miss you and thanks for being such a good prefect for my brother.

Michael Kaufman, from the first time I met you, I knew our time together was going to be a blast. I never will forget the time we bought $40 worth of senior food in coins; or when we tried to learn sign language so we could talk in class. I have to say, you are the only person I know who has gotten into trouble for reading too much. I can’t wait to hear about whatever crazy idea you get or contraption you build. You are probably the smartest person I know.

Aidan Hofbauer, we spent a lot of time working out during free time, even though most of it was just us talking. It makes me so happy that our dream to win states came true. We would always talk about winning and how if we could gain ten extra pounds, it might be enough to give us an edge over the other team. I can’t thank you enough for the motivation you gave me.

Aidan Gibbons, I will never forget all the time we spent as roommates. They may be the fondest memories I have. Ever since the first week we spent together in soccer camp, you have been one of my best friends. We have had some good adventures, from almost making our way into Trump Hotel, to camping out in the biggest blizzard in years, to our haunted barn room that we had so many ideas for, but none of them worked.

My classmates, you have made my time at Gregory the Great Academy wonderful. I say these things not as some final farewell that you might hear at a funeral, but rather as a farewell at the completion of a journey. Shakespeare wrote, “Journeys end in lovers meeting, every wise man’s son doth know.” Our journey is ended, and I love you all. In a few moments, when we receive our diplomas, our lives will be forever changed. We will no longer be students, but alumni. Our time at Gregory the Great has come to an end, and I can proudly say that there is no other group of guys that I would have desired to make this journey with. We will always be friends, and a part of us will never leave this school behind.

To my fellow students, especially my brother, Jude, I say, no matter how hard it gets or how unpleasant the moment may seem, always remember the good things you’ve done at Gregory the Great Academy, and the students who went before you. You have been tasked with keeping the tradition and culture of this school alive, so do it with pride. Even when you’re sitting in a freezing cold ice bath or waking up at 7am after a late banquet, never forget the task you have been given. You are on a journey, as we were, and it is up to you not to lose your way and remain true to the course. Make your beds every morning and make them well.

The journey that Gregory the Great Academy is is no easy journey, but it is one that rings with the laughter of friends. It is full of excitement, new people, trials, and triumphs, but what is most important is that Gregory the Great Academy challenges us to live life to its fullest for the greater glory of God. Our life is full of journeys and the journey’s call, but it is up to us to embark on them or not. If we choose to undertake the journey, and choose to do so every morning, willing to rise to the occasion, to give our all, the things we will learn and the things we will remember will be unparalleled. The journey of every St. Gregory’s boy begins with making his bed and it ends with a hard-fought goal reached. Even a little thing like making your bed can be, must be, the start of something great.
Thank you.

Graduation 2018 – Valedictorian Address

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


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.