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

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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.