PORTSMOUTH — The sun was shining over Portsmouth Abbey last Sunday while a esteemed British lord spoke inside an expansive white tent on the sacred grounds of the Benedictine preparatory school.
To view more photos, please click here.General Lord Charles Gunthrie of Craigiebank, a member of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom’s Parliament, and former leader of Britain’s armed forces, delivered the abbey’s 82nd commencement address, as 101 graduates bade farewell to their alma mater.
Gunthrie sought to remind the Abbey grads how blessed they were for their religious freedoms.
“I was in North Korea the other day, and asked to go to Sunday Mass. I was told it would be arranged. The next morning, I was picked up in a large, grand, dodgy-sounding car, and brought to a huge building that had been painted the night before, with 75 seats filled with 75 people. It was not a church; it was a theater. Three actors attempted to play the role of priests and say a ‘Mass’... consider yourselves blessed,” Gunthrie said.
Pleased to see that many of the graduates represented foreign countries, he spoke of the importance of traveling the world.
“We need to get a dialogue going so we can make a difference,” he said.
Gunthrie was preceded to the podium by the opening prayer and greeting of Abbot and Chancellor Right Reverend Dom Caedmon Holmes, and by the remarks of Headmaster Dr. James DeVecchi, who announced the retirement this year of Benedictine Father Ambrose Wolverton, who has been teaching performing arts at the Abbey since 1959.
“Happiness is not found in money, but starts in how you treat yourself,” reflected John M. Regan, III, chairman of the Board of Regents in his send-off to the departing class: “You must know yourself in order to be yourself. Meld your passion with your career. I wish you great success and occasional failure. You will be successful. You are prepared.”
Fergus John O’Farrell, of Jamestown, selected by his classmates as this year’s valedictorian, delivered a lively speech full of inside jokes to the delight of his fellow graduates.
“The lessons I have received here go far beyond the classes,” said O’Farrell, who proceeded to list colorful examples of the things his classmates had taught him, such as the advice he had received from a turquoise suit-wearing friend who advised, “It doesn’t matter what people think of you.”
O’Farrell closed by referencing the film “Joe Dirt: Life’s a Garden. Dig it!”
“My fellow classmates, never stop digging. We’ve been prepared and we have the tools.”
Among the graduates headed out to their next challenge was Yidan Cong of Dalian, China, who will attend Carnegie Mellon University in the fall.
“The most important thing I learned at the Abbey was how to make my studies both more interesting and more practical,” she said.
Sean Buckley, of Bristol, is the last in a line of siblings to attend Portsmouth Abbey.
“I’m really going to miss the community here the most,” said Buckley, who is headed to Boston College.
Andrew Godfrey, of Aspen, Colo., will attend Santa Clara University, where he plans to study finance or accounting.
“My favorite courses here were in the humanities. I loved reading the great books, like Dante’s ‘Inferno’,” said Godfrey, a third-generation Abbey student; his grandfather and father are both alumni.
“I’m going to make sure we send granddad in Aspen an Abbey tie,” promised the headmaster, referring to the school’s bright red ties — worn by all male graduates with suits — with the lions and “Veritas” emblem of the preparatory school.
In lieu of cap and gown, the female graduates wear white dresses.
Gunthrie, who for 44 years served in the British Army, rising through the ranks from his entry as a Welsh Guard, spoke of the difference between wealth and success, noting that the pursuit of wealth without balance in one’s life may lead to unhappiness.
“Being successful is not the same as having money,” said Gunthrie, who is also a Knight of Malta.
“There are many other ways to be successful, contented, and recognized,” he said.
“All of you aspire to be leaders of some kind. Leaders are all different, and achieve their results in different ways.”