The faculty, staff and members of the Class of 2023 could not have asked for a more perfect day to process across the Holy Lawn for the granting of diplomas from Portsmouth Abbey School on Sunday, May 28.
Following a welcome from Head of School Matt Walter, the Right Reverend Michael G. Brunner O.S.B. offered the Invocation, and Board Chair Christopher Behnke '81, who is retiring after nine years in that position, gave his congratulations. Walter also addressed Dr. Michael Bonin, who is retiring after completing twenty-one years of service as a faculty member and as the assistant director of college counseling.
Each year graduating students select two class members to speak during Commencement. This year, Portsmouth resident Mary Powell and Ben Bredin of Bay Head, New Jersey were selected. Powell credited the Abbey and a high school “crush” with helping her overcome her shyness and become authentic. “People who accept, people who help us find our way, and people who encourage. That is how the Abbey has shaped us, and that is the reason I am able to speak to you all today. I put my name into the pool of commencement speakers to prove to myself that I have changed and grown and become an improved version of myself. Little did I know I would be voted as the one to address my graduating class. But it happened. Standing here is more than enough to prove to myself, if not everyone around me, how much the Abbey changes and affects every student who spends time here. In fact, without the way Portsmouth Abbey so openly accepted me, I don’t think I would be this confident, goofy, happy person, this version of Mary Powell” she said.
Bredin, known for his hospitality and for always greeting staff in the dining hall before each meal, also described how the Abbey has shaped students’ lives. “You know how you can drop a rock in the ocean, and after a long time, the water molds it into a grain of sand? I like to think The Abbey works in a very similar way; unlike many other places, it doesn’t force us to become great people, but rather it guides us on our own journey down the path of greatness, teaching us how to be independent, and pushing us to do better because we want to be better for ourselves” he said. Both students received standing ovations and many cheers from their classmates. “There was not a dry eye under the tent,” one parent commented.
Sarah S. Matthews, a graduate from the class of 1999 became the first alumna to deliver the Commencement address “I hope I won’t be the last” she said after thanking the class for the honor. Relating to what the student speakers said, Matthews also attributed her years at Portsmouth Abbey School as setting the course for her life. “Everything followed from the decisions I made here.”
Matthews encouraged students to remain true to themselves as they continued their journeys. “So as you embark on this great adventure, remember what you’ve learned here. What you’ve discovered about yourself – your strengths, your interests. Use the skills you have, nurture them, and you might just surprise yourself with how powerful they can be. A big part of life is figuring out who you are and then being true to that person,” she advised.
The Portsmouth Abbey Class of 2023 achieved a 100 percent graduation rate and secured acceptances from 197 different colleges and universities representing 34 states, the District of Columbia, and six countries. One student will matriculate into the Air Force Academy, and one will matriculate to Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Two students earned ROTC scholarships, and 13 were recruited to play collegiate athletics.
(Above: Student Speaker Mary Powell '23 and fellow classmates process into the Commencement tent.)