93 Graduate from Portsmouth Abbey at 94th Commencement

The clouds cleared and the sun shone brightly as faculty, staff and members of the Portsmouth Abbey Class of 2024 walked across the Holy Lawn at the onset of the school’s 94th Commencement Sunday, May 26.

The Right Reverend Michael G. Brunner O.S.B. offered the Invocation and Head of School Matt Walter delivered the welcome address, recognizing retiring faculty members Olen Kalkus, Kimberly Kalkus and Joseph DiBiase, who account for a combined 115 years of dedicated services, 21 of which have been spent at Portsmouth Abbey. Chairman of the Board Christopher Abbate ’88 of Newport, Rhode Island, acknowledged the unique journey of the Class of 2024, who entered the school during the challenging times of the fall of 2020. “Certainly, you win the award for “most time in a mask,” he said. Abbate went on to remark on the extraordinary bonds that formed due to their circumstance. “As the fog of COVID lifted, your class became a community and I think many of you believe that you have all made friends here that you will treasure for the rest of your life. You’re right!” 

Class of 2024 graduates Sean Brennan of Newburyport, Massachusetts, and Niamh Whelan of Bristol, Rhode Island, were selected by their classmates to speak during the ceremony.

A captain of the cross country and track teams and the recipient of the Coach’s Award for that sport, Brennan is also well-known for his work in Portsmouth Abbey theatrical productions. His uplifting speech was peppered with lines from the theatrical productions he starred in. He told his classmates that “A life worth living is a life that doesn’t go according to plan,” and that he was only able to discover his true passion for performing because the Abbey community “always provided me with the most loving and supportive audience.” He also advised that the most beautiful things in life are often those that are unplanned and that they should not despair when the path attempted veers in the opposite direction. “Find reassurance in the fact that God’s plan for you will never fail, and He will never lead you in the wrong direction,” Brennan said. He also advised that classmates should always watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Dance, or find a friend to teach them how, and live life adventurously “If you see an opportunity for adventure, don’t let that opportunity slip through your fingers,” he said.

Whelan is a day student and the daughter of Dr. Catherine A. Whelan and Joseph Whelan of Bristol. In addition to leadership roles on campus, she was a three-sport athlete in soccer, squash and track, captain of both the soccer and track teams, and a member of the school’s Model United Nations program. She spoke to her classmates about the value of learning to fail, citing a fall in a hurdles race as a lesson-builder. Several days after her fall, and embarrassed over her public reaction, Whelan sought advice from her coach, who told her something she did not really want to hear. She learned that she may, in fact, fall again because “the more I committed to running fast and winning that race, the higher the chance I had of falling,” she said. “It was hard for me to view failure, the root of so many of our insecurities and fears, as a necessary quality to success, but it is.”

Echoing the words of her classmate, Brennan, Whelan also commented on the support she received from the Portsmouth Abbey community, especially her twin sister Maggie, who also graduated on Sunday. She ended her address by telling classmates that she hoped they would take their diplomas knowing that life beyond high school will have many hurdles. “And sorry to tell you, we all will fall a couple of times. But, thanks to Portsmouth Abbey, we know how to get back up, take another leap and be better for it.” 

The Commencement Address was given by the Honorable Ronald K. Machtley, who retired in 2020 after serving as the President of Bryant University for 24 years. A United States Naval Academy graduate and former United States Congressman, Machtley remarked that as graduates of a school “where intellect and heart grow together,” the Class of 2024 was needed in the world. He asked them to always remember two simple words as a reinforcement of the Abbey educational experience: What and Who. 

Machtley went on to say that what students will be may change as they continue past the first chapter of their lives. Who they will be will also change, but the foundation has been laid through their experiences at Portsmouth Abbey. Still, he advised, it needs to be nurtured every day. “You will find in life that there is often a conflicting struggle for developing both what you want to be and who you want to be – but it is often in that crucible of conflict when great leaders are made and great success and happiness are found,” he said. “If you continue to read, reflect, and work on this odyssey of life which God has given you...you can succeed. I, your parents, Abbey teachers, and the world look forward to discovering what you become and who you become.” 

The Portsmouth Abbey Class of 2024 secured acceptances from 213 different colleges and universities representing 34 states and six countries. One student will matriculate into the United States Naval Academy, and two students earned ROTC scholarships. Twenty-one student-athletes were recruited to play collegiate athletics.

Class of 2024 Commencement Facts: 

  • 94th Commencement 
  • 93 graduates representing 16 states and nine nations.  
  • 23 students are Rhode Island residents.  
  • 21 student-athletes have signed to play at the college level 
  • Two students were awarded ROTC Scholarships.  
  • One student attending a service academy (Naval Academy) 
  • Two sets of twins will be graduating 
  • 10 Legacy graduates (parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent) 
  • Two graduates are the 21st and 22nd in their family line to graduate from Portsmouth Abbey