113th Commencement Remarks

May 24, 2024
Good morning and welcome to the 2024 Commencement Exercises at St. Christopher’s School, the 113th Commencement of our storied institution.

It is my pleasure to welcome all of you this morning, especially the parents, grandparents, family, and friends of our outstanding Class of 2024.

As you can imagine, an event such as this involves many hands and hearts, and I am particularly grateful for the outstanding work of our Upper School Chaplain John Ohmer, for Mark Gentry and our entire maintenance team; for Cricket O’Connor and our entire Development and Communications teams; and also for Laura Brown, Drake Dragone, Karen Glasco, Emily Keith, and Beth Wood. Will you please join me in thanking those individuals and the many others who helped make this day possible?

What a gift it is to come together, under spectacular weather conditions, to celebrate these young men and their many accomplishments. Thanks be to God for this day, for the Class of 2024, and for this remarkable community of Saints.

For the faculty of this school, including Extended Day, Lower, Middle, and Upper School, for our staff and administration, thank you for the manner in which you have raised these young men, intellectually, but also morally. The fruits of our labors are known and celebrated in short form, today, but they will become fully manifest in the decades to come.  

For our Board of Governors, and especially for Tim McCoy ’87, who concludes his first year of service as Board Chair this year, thank you for your leadership and stewardship of this community and for the unwavering support you have offered to me and to all of our faculty and staff. 

A special thanks, in addition, to our Alumni Association President Tripp Taliaferro ’97 who today helps us welcome 91 new Saints into our alumni brotherhood, bestowing upon them an official St. Christopher’s necktie immediately following receipt of their diploma. 

I am grateful to our colleagues at St. Catherine’s School, especially to Head of School Cindy Trask and Upper School Head Lara Wulff, who join us in partnership this morning, and to the entire St. Catherine’s faculty for all that they do to enrich the experiences of our boys. After ten years of dedicated service, Dr. Wulff concludes her tenure at St. Catherine’s this year; will you please join me in thanking her for all that she has done for the Saints community?

I also want to thank Mr. Jake Westermann, who successfully concludes his first year of leadership of our Upper School. Well done, Mr. Westermann, and thank you for your excellent service and leadership.
Parents of the Class of 2024: You deserve special recognition this morning. Thank you, first and foremost, for entrusting these young men into our care. It is a sacred trust and one we do not take for granted. 

I want to call special attention this morning to our “lifer” families, those who have been with us for 13 or even 14 years—your commitment and loyalty to this school and community is remarkable, and we thank you for that. Seniors and parents, if you joined this community in either Junior Kindergarten or Kindergarten will you please stand and be recognized at this time?

For our remaining senior families, approximately half of you, thank you for joining this community either later in Lower School or in Middle or Upper School. Thank you for the gifts and perspective that you brought to this class and this community—we are better for being a collection of dynamic and diverse families from all over the Richmond region. Seniors and parents, if you joined St. Christopher’s in First Grade or later, will you please stand and be recognized at this time?

Now, to the Class of 2024. Please allow me a few minutes to offer my sincere thanks to all of you.

In late August of 2020, you experienced high school for the very first time. Unlike the majority of high school students around the country, your high school experience that fall was on campus and in person. However, it was deeply, deeply compromised.

As you will surely recall, we were masked, we were distanced, and we were limited in nearly every aspect of school life, from community and social events to the arts, athletics, Chapel, and more. It was a St. Christopher’s experience, and yet it really wasn’t, at least not fully.

Seniors, to your credit, you worked through a difficult freshmen year, along with a less-difficult-but-still-compromised sophomore year, and you did not disengage, disparage, or give up on St. Christopher’s. One of the attributes I have come to admire about this class is that you deeply and genuinely love St. Christopher’s and what it stands for. I have no doubt that you will become a close and engaged group of Saints alumni in the decades to come, and I look forward to knowing and learning from you in that capacity. 

At a time when some schools across the country are graduating senior classes who “checked out” during COVID and never fully checked back in, that has not been the case for this group. You have showed up, in full force, for each other, for our younger students, and as role models for this entire Saints community. Thank you for that. We will not forget it.

And I should add that you are a kind and benevolent class. As one example, after winning a school and likely state record three state championships in one season this winter, you thoughtfully shared the glory by allowing the Upper School faculty to defeat you in the annual seniors vs. faculty basketball game. We appreciate your generous spirit, which was notably aided by the disproportionate contributions of one stellar faculty member, in particular.

Seniors, I will leave you this morning with three wishes, three lessons, really, that I hope you take with you from St. Christopher’s and hold close on your life journey.

The first lesson is love and the power of it. I know that many of you have gotten to know our first-rate Director of Campus Security Hal Moser. Mr. Moser was kind enough to speak to my senior leadership course this spring, in a talk that was dubbed “liquid gold” by Seth Aschheim. Mr. Moser told us that when he screens for potential new security members to join the St. Christopher’s team, he seeks one attribute above any discernable skill or tactical proficiency. Mr. Moser looks for love in the hearts of those who seek to join our community. He wants to hire individuals who would do whatever is necessary to protect the people who inhabit this campus. And that willingness to do whatever is necessary stems from one source, and that is love. 

Gentlemen, as you prepare to leave the safety of St. Christopher’s Road, love each other, through both good times and hard ones, love your family, love your community, your country, and love humankind. Remember Jesus’ one new commandment to his disciples the day before his crucifixion, his one mandate—to love.

Second, I urge you to give. One way that you can demonstrate your love for each other and for all of humanity is to give of yourself—your time, your talent, and sometimes simply your presence. Richard Reeves, acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller "Of Boys and Men," visited St. Christopher’s this March and told a group of students, including several seniors, that his definition of masculinity, of positive masculinity, is when we as men reach a state of being net producers over net consumers. Gentlemen, it is natural that in your late teens and early 20s, you will look at the world and wonder what it can provide to and for you, but as you come of age in the years and decades to come, remember that true manhood comes from giving more than we take, of being a gentle man who gives more to the world and his community than he consumes from it. You are all on your way to becoming deep and generous givers to this world.

And, finally, I wish for each of you to care—to actively care for each other in the months and years to come. Today will most certainly be the last day in which all 91 of you are gathered in one place at the same time. You will spread out to colleges around the country and the world, and while you will certainly reconnect with each other over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer breaks, it will be different, and it will never have the complete and perfect integrity that you enjoy now and have enjoyed for so many years. That is a natural and normal progression from high school. 

But please do not ever discount the power of a simple call, text, or message to one of your classmates, even if it’s to someone with whom you are not close. Just let them know you are thinking about them and that you care.

For every day this school year, I have worn two bracelets around my wrist—one for Luke Fergusson '21 and one for Harrison Coble '21. After Ray Paul’s visit in February to talk about mental health and suicide prevention, I added a third bracelet, encouraging us to be a lifesaver by checking in on others. Gentlemen, life is precious, and it can change in an instant. We never know exactly how much time we have with each other and with those who are most dear to us. 

The Swiss philosopher Amiel states it eloquently, saying, “Life is short. We don't have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk this way with us. So, be swift to love and make haste to be kind.”

During our short time together in the mountains of Camp River’s Bend, gentlemen, I noticed an uncommon bond among all of you—it transcended disparate social groups or other superficial forms of difference. You extended kindness, hospitality, and genuine respect to each other, and I pray that your care and compassion for one another lives on through your college years and into adulthood. Remember that we all present facades to one another, often belying our authentic selves just beneath the service. Take the time to ask someone how he is doing, how he is really doing, and check up on each other from time to time.

That’s it, gentlemen, my wishes and lessons for you—to love freely, to give generously, and to care deeply about each other and your communities in the years ahead. And know that you have done each of those three things, in splendid abundance, right here under the pines, to our great delight and pride. Now it’s time for you to share it with the rest of the world. God bless you all.  

It is my honor now to introduce the Class of 2024 Salutatorian, Oliver Smith.