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.

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.

Graduation 2016: Valedictorian Address

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by Peter Reilly, Class of 2016

Reverend Father, Faculty, Parents, Guests, Students, and Graduates,

Though now is the time for words, I stand here dumbfounded as I wonder where the time has gone, and what these years that I, that we, have spent at Gregory the Great Academy might mean, both now and for the future. What will we take with us? What memories will guide us over the course of our lives? What are the cords that will bind the hearts of these friends of mine together for years to come? What are the chords?

Whatever the string or strain may be, we know the sound of it. We close our eyes, and are enveloped in a symphony of happy thoughts of times together, and they all come with a tune, a song. They are memories that will stay with us with the mysterious strength that songs stay with us, because they all were formed in the music of this school. Rays of warm light fall upon rows of boys dressed in blue and gray chanting the “Kyrie” of a morning Mass. Students, alumni, and faculty sing “My Comrade” bound shoulder to shoulder in an unbroken circle. There is a friend across the candlelit table at the Robbie Burns Supper smiling and singing along with the crowd. We can hear the thud of hands hitting refectory tables as “Sherramuir” is roared. We hear the virile iambs pulsing through the walls as the class in the next room learns a new song. The dorm hallways are alive with noise as in the distance a lone penny whistle plays the Butterfly Jig. Over the shoulders of boys singing “Haul Away Joe” we see bright colored rings and clubs passed across the backdrop of Scranton’s streets. We taste the tears that run down our faces as we sing “Non Nobis” after a rugby game.

These and a host of other memories fill our souls. We know them all by heart and we know their songs by heart. The ten of us before you are linked in friendship by these memories and by this music. One of the foundations of friendship is the enjoyment of a common thing and when you consider the multitude and caliber of our common experiences and memories, so linked together with a shared song, there is much cause for friendship. The harmony of hand and heart has been given to us, and given to us together with a music that will humanize and haunt us for the rest of our lives.

It is truly a blessing to be able to stand here now and know with un-shaking confidence that every member of this class is my friend. It is a blessing to be able to say that we all stand with the confidence that this camaraderie we have founded and celebrated here will prove lifelong. Ours is a friendship that has been forged in the fires of youth and joy, and hammered into shape on the anvils of the rugby pitch. Ours is a friendship engraved and embellished with laughter and jugglery. It is a friendship that has been tempered in waters: in literature, in logic, and poetry. It has been blessed in the chapel and sanctified by the Liturgy. And music, the right music, has presided over all, serving as a Divine voice, as though conducting a choir, and intoning the proper responses to His Divine mysteries. Music is the language of love, of friendship, of the merry life. Together we have heard it, together we have sung it, and we will carry it with us together even as we part ways.

lyreThere is something ethical about music. I would dare to further this thought of Plato’s by saying that there is something mystical about music. Music has the power to awaken and enliven the spirit. It is spiritual. It is religious. Nations have been bound together by their songs, and the rising and falling dynamics of those nations’ music are intimately connected with the rising and falling of their ethics. The power of song lies in its ability to move the soul. This soul-swaying power of music, that power that persuades and inspires, binds souls; and it is in this forge that our Class’s friendship was wrought. Within the songs of Gregory the Great Academy are linked memories, memories that will be remembered at their sound and with their sound. They are memories that, as alumni, we will hold dear to our hearts because in them is reflected the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

On behalf of the Class of 2016, I thank all of you who have made these friendships possible, and who have refused to let the music of St. Gregory’s fade into silence. Our gratitude is beyond words. Seven of the ten members of this class have older brothers who attended the Academy in former times. When the old school was closed, there was a fear and a sadness that we would never have the chance to experience what our older brothers experienced. They told stories. They sang songs. “I heard of those heroes and wanted the same.” We all wanted to follow in our brothers’ footsteps to the doors of St. Gregory’s. And now, I stand here, grateful for so many things, wearing the same tie my brother wore when he stood at this lectern seven years ago to say farewell for his class. Thank you to all of you whose faith has kept this school alive for us, so that we may learn the songs of friendship as our brothers did, and as our brothers will. You have written us into the song of St. Gregory’s: a ballad of camaraderie. You have metered our names in friendship and rhymed them in the rhythms of the happy life. And although it has taken but a few years to learn these lines, they will not soon be forgotten. They are etched into our very souls—the joys, the sorrows, the victories, the defeats, the battles and banquets, the pains and pleasures. These compose the adventures of life that we all sang at the Academy. We are indebted to you for these memories and their music. We thank all of you who have worked and sacrificed so that the song of St. Gregory’s may resonate in the hearts of students, as they will resound in our hearts for as long as we live.