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


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.

2015 Valedictorian Address


Reverend Father, Guests, Teachers and Dorm Fathers, Alumni and Students:

Thank you for being here for the graduation of the class of 2015 from Gregory the Great Academy. I have never given a speech before, so I am a little uncomfortable. Actually, I would probably be more comfortable if someone threw me a rugby ball and I had to charge through all of you, score a try, and call it a day. But since that would probably make you uncomfortable. So I think I’ll just stick to the plan and do my best with the speech. I would like to begin with a poem, one of the first poems I learned at St. Gregory’s. It is called “The Rainbow”:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky.
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man,
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

I think it is fitting that this poem I just recited should be the last poem I recite as a student of Gregory the Great Academy. When I walked up this aisle a few moments ago, I came up as a student with my class. In a few moments more, I will walk back down with my class, but I won’t be a student of this school anymore. I am moving on, together with my friends, to different days, to a different life; and this poem resonates with the passing of time—and I refer both to the passing of the days and the maturing of the mind. Good poetry, I am told, only gets better with time, and I know it is true with this poem. It has always been a guide to me through my times at St. Gregory’s. It has taught me what this school is about, and helped me learn from this school not only how to become a man, but also—and more importantly—what kind of man I should become. “The Rainbow” is a poem about the journey from childhood to manhood, and so has it kept me on course as I undertook the journey of St. Gregory’s.

Gregory the Great Academy is a journey—a journey that in many ways embodies the epic tales we love to read and that inform the way we look at our lives and the world around us. This pilgrimage is not always as grand or elaborate as the wonders chronicled in Homer’s Odyssey; however, it shares in similarly life-changing experiences and adventures. Just as Odysseus’ goal was to reach his home, so too is it our goal as students to finish the course and return home. But we learn from Odysseus that he cannot reach home until he has been changed in some significant way. He must return to Ithaca as a new man, having put aside his profession as a sacker of cities on the windy plains of Troy. Similarly, as students, we cannot leave until we have been affected in some way by this school—until we have become stronger by bearing up under challenge; until we have learned to live and to love no longer as boys, but as men. Every student’s experience of Gregory the Great is different. To some, the journey may seem as long and treacherous as the trials of Odysseus. Rugby practice may seem as daunting as fighting the stallion-breaking Trojans; and studying as terrible as having your brains dashed out by the Cyclops. I don’t think anyone thinks of our school as Calypso’s island, at least—which is probably a good thing. Others might relate more to the journeys of Telemachus who had a short, simple voyage to learn more about himself, the world around him, and the man he was called to become until he returned home, like his father, Odysseus, a changed man—no longer a boy. Whether someone has the experience of Odysseus or Telemachus, the person—the Child—is changed for the better for embarking on this journey. The whole point is that St. Gregory’s provides a mold for manhood by giving the young the experience of hardship—both its rigors and its rewards.

This is the essence of the education we receive here, and it is also the essence of a true faith—to come home to ourselves both physically and spiritually.

Philip Gay, 2015 Valedictorian

My journey began, as most journeys do, at the beginning. But, like a true epic, it also began in medias res, “in the middle of things,” for I found myself suddenly on board with a hardy crew that was already underway on a great adventure, and I was fortunate enough to be given a space on the bench and an oar to pull with. I came to St. Gregory’s as a freshman in 2011. At that time, I knew nothing about St. Gregory’s except the legends that my brothers had told me. It wasn’t till about a month into the school year that I began to see what St. Gregory’s was about. In my freshman literature class, I learned a poem called “The Rainbow” by William Wordsworth. After I learned this poem by heart, and Mr. Fitzpatrick shared some of its secrets with me, I began to see what kind of adventure I was getting into. I learned from this poem that the “Child is father of the Man:” that what we do in our youth affects the men we will become, the men who will be born out of our childhood. My quest at St. Gregory’s was not one for a golden fleece or a golden city, but for manhood. St. Gregory’s fathers men from boys. What kind of men I didn’t know when I first set out, but I knew I would find out at the end of my journey—when I would myself become a man.

There were, of course, some dark stretches in my journey—a descent into the underworld, you might say, after the good ship went down in 2012. But the crew of St. Gregory’s survived Scylla and Charybdis and mustered again at a new port. St. Gregory’s rose again to new life, reborn to carry on its quest. The spirit of St. Gregory’s is not confined to a building, as we have seen. The spirit of the wanderer is hard to drown beneath the gulfs. Our school is much more than a building, just as a voyage is much more than a ship. Other vessels can be fashioned so long as the crew’s purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset and the baths of all the Western stars. We have not yielded. The rainbow returned after the storm. The adventure goes on.

I could tell you all the beautiful poems we have studied and memorized, and all the incredible books we have read. I could tell you about all the escapades we have gone on singing and juggling in New york, all the strange and interesting people we have met, on our Scranton adventures, and all the things that have affected me in little and large ways that helped to form me. But that would take four years to tell. I will, however, tell you the end result; what I have found after striving and seeking over these four years: the men of St. Gregory’s are men with a sense of duty, a sense of responsibility—young men who are able to give the right response at the right time—whose hearts leap up when they behold the miracles of our God; men who know when to rejoice, and when to be serious; men who know when it is good to act like boys and when it is good to act like men; young men who know what is sweet in life and what is terrible; men who are ready to go out into the world unafraid, confirmed and well armed by their experience of the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Although many of my classmates joined me mid-journey, as I, and all of us for that matter, joined the school in the middle of its journey, we have all undertaken the same course together, and together we have listened to and followed the truth of the poem, “The Rainbow.” The children we were at the beginning have become men at last. We set out on a journey, and have been changed by the experience, by the adventure. May we keep the lessons and the loves instilled in us by St. Gregory’s when we shall grow old, or let us die. I thank God for this school, for this class of friends, and for our parents and teachers who sacrificed so much to give us these gifts. Now we depart on our own journeys, having been strengthened by this journey together, which is now coming to a close for us. We will never forget these adventures, and our hearts will always leap up when we recall these days of our youth and the birth of our manhood, and may it ever fill us with a natural piety, that love for things essentially lovable, that will push us ever onwards to whatever adventures lie in wait.

This speech was given on May 23rd, 2015 by Philip Gay, Valedictorian of Gregory the Great Academy’s Class of 2015.