So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, goodbye
Conall Fitzgerald, outgoing School Captain in Belvedere, looks back on his six “unforgettable years” of secondary school, his veritable “home from home”.
Reverend Fathers, Headmaster, Esteemed Members of the teaching staff, ladies and gentlemen, fellow students of Rhetoric 2006:
We have come to the end of our time as students of Belvedere. It is time for us to move on. The next phase of our lives and education is beckoning. We are saying goodbye to our school this evening. But, we will never truly say goodbye to the place, which has in a very real sense been our home from home for six crucial, formative years.
Some of our hopes and dreams for the future were born in these familiar surroundings. We have made friends here whom we will cherish for the rest of our lives. We have had unforgettable experiences and shared many happy moments together. We are sad to leave our school, but we also look forward with eagerness to taking on the challenges, which we will meet, in the next stage of our lives.
Great memories compete on an occasion like this and each one of us has unforgettable memories, which define our schooldays in Belvedere. It is inevitable that we will think of many of them on a day like today. For me personally, and I’m sure for many of us, few memories will compare with that of the joy we experienced when Belvedere won the Senior Cup last year. We will never forget storming up O’Connell Street and North Great George’s Street in a sea of Black and White to celebrate that heroic triumph: delighted for our friends on the team, proud of their achievements and proud of our school. We went on to experience victory once again a few days later when the juniors helped pull off the College’s first double by taking the Junior Cup.
Some of my fondest memories are of the camaraderie of our days at matches in Donnybrook and Lansdowne, bellowing out the chants with the cheerleaders and filling the stands with the sounds of ‘Only in God’. We had the same feelings of pride this year as we watched the lads’ valiant efforts in their Senior Cup campaign.
The talent and ability of this year-group has been amply demonstrated in various fields. Some of those players who took part in the historic double and many others have gone on to be selected for Leinster and some are already established in the Ireland squad and have a great future ahead of them in the green jersey. We must also salute the amazing achievements of our classmates in sports ranging from tennis to cycling, to life-saving to all forms of athletics and many more. This is a year group, which is not only remarkable for its breadth of sporting achievements but also for the versatility of individual abilities.
Ours is a year group, which is characterised by its diversity. Seated in this theatre are athletes who have represented Ireland, world class debaters, the young entrepreneurs of I-pod Solutions, gifted academics, and individuals who will go on to experience great success in the future. All of us are bonded together by our time here in Belvedere.
When we entered Belvedere in the millennium year 2000 we all became aware very quickly of the range of opportunities that are made available to students here, be they academic, sporting, cultural or otherwise. So many of the very important lessons that we have learned during our time here were taught to us outside the classroom, in the various activities of the College. Here we forged strong friendships that will last well after our time in the school and nurtured and developed a range of talents and abilities.
During our time in Belvedere we have been brought outside of the country to places like India, South Africa, Austria, Spain, France, Italy and Greece. I will never forget how lucky I felt to be part of the group that spent two incredible weeks with the inspiring people of Calcutta. Though some of us returned home a few kilograms lighter than when we left, what we gained in those few weeks, as well as memories of the hope and good humour of the people of Calcutta, will remain with us forever. Our experiences were humbling and left a lasting impression on us all. The people of Calcutta were inspiring and were always positive despite being faced with incredible difficulties.
Who could forget cycling half way across Spain along the pilgrimage route of St. James, the Camino de Santiago, in aid of the Belvedere Youth Club? I will never forget cycling up a mountain through a blizzard, watching my fingers turning blue, spurred on by the fact that our teachers were making it all look so easy.
Once again this year we slept out and fasted on O’Connell St. to raise money for the homeless and to raise public awareness of their plight. It was very strange to wake up on Christmas Eve in the middle of O’Connell Street. It was stranger still to see a line of snoring, unshaven pupils, past and present, and teachers, including our Headmaster, tucked up in their sleeping bags. We will never forget the experience of shaking buckets for 48 hours almost non-stop, or the homeless people we met, some of whom were not much older than ourselves.
We have had many an enjoyable night honing our debating skills here in the school. In competition our debaters have distinguished themselves against all opposition winning the National Competition for the first time ever last year.
Tá traidisiún na díospoireachta Gaeilge ag fás agus ag forbairt chomh maith. D’éirigh thar barr i mbliana le foirne na scoile.
I was also lucky enough to be part of the French debating team and although we were pipped at the post in the final I think my team mates Larry, Peter and Shane would agree that we had some really good fun preparing for the debates.
We are here in the O’Reilly Theatre this evening where each year we had a chance to be part of many shows, beginning with Bugsy Malone right up to Les Miserables, West Side Story and this year’s terrific production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
We have seen many changes in our six years in Belvedere. In 2004 the new kid on the block, the Dargan Moloney Building, amazed us all with its facilities and reminded us how dynamic a school this is and how committed it is to continuous development. In 2003 we bade farewell to Fr. Leonard Moloney SJ and welcomed Mr. Gerard Foley as Headmaster.
This evening we recognise and celebrate also the work of three staff members, Mr. Dermot Brophy, Mr. Bernard Fenton and Mr. Terry McMullen who are retiring this year. We wish them a long and happy retirement.
We should also remember today that, sadly, during our six years we have lost members of our school community and our classmates and teachers have lost loved ones. May they rest in peace.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the parents of Rhetoric 2006. It is a fitting day to acknowledge how our parents have helped us through our schooldays, encouraging us when we faltered, supporting us when we dealt with a challenge, and allowing us to reach our full potential. Thank you.
I would like to thank my fellow officers, vice-captains Colin and Fergal, secretaries Rhys and Mark, and indeed all of the prefects this year for their support and hard work on behalf of the school. We would like to thank Mr. Foley, Mr. Finegan and Fr. Culliton SJ for their advice and guidance during the year. I wish the incoming prefect group and next year’s officers, Eoghan, Philip, Steven, Rory and Liam, the very best for next year in their capacity as officers.
Every one of us has benefited from participation in co-curricular activities. But none of these many activities in which we were privileged to take part could have taken place without the phenomenal dedication of the teachers of the school. Every pupil of Rhetoric joins me here in saying to them, a heartfelt thank you for the many hours of coaching, training in sport and debating; for being with us during the hard days and nights of social justice actions, such as the Sleep-out and the Block-pull; for travelling with us in Ireland and overseas, for helping us to become music-makers and entertainers, rather than just listeners and spectators. Above all, thank you for your support and friendship and your dedication in the classroom.
We must thank in particular our form tutors and year heads, especially our Rhetoric year head Mr. Doherty. He has been with us throughout this year, patrolling the Rhetoric corridor with his superhuman intuition for everything that was going on. He has taken a special interest in each student in Rhetoric. Mr. Doherty has not only kept us working hard, but he has also allowed us to enjoy our final year in Belvedere to the full. Thanks, Dots, for your guidance and your care.
Being there for others is one of the core values we have learned in Belvedere. Whether throwing a few euro into the St. Vincent de Paul bag in class on Friday morning, dragging a block from Dublin to Galway, working in Lourdes or Calcutta or testing our DIY skills decorating the flats of the poor and the elderly in the local community, we have all continued the school’s strong tradition of striving for social justice in Ireland and elsewhere. It is these Belvedere experiences which I feel help us to understand the true meaning of the Jesuit message “men for others” which we hear used so often here in Belvedere. Let us remember this message well beyond our school years.
The religious education programmes, the retreats, especially the Kairos retreat and the serenity of the Taizé Community in France, all helped us to develop spiritually, mature somewhat and get an idea of what type of adults we want to be. We have been encouraged to think for ourselves, to be there for our friends and for others. With this comes the obligation to make a positive difference in the world, to demand high standards of ourselves. We have been encouraged to be “doers” and always ask “Why not”?
The influence of the Jesuit teaching has been ever present in our education in Belvedere. The College has taught us to strive for excellence in all that we do, to be men for others, to work towards a socially just world and to show compassion and leadership in all of our actions.
The lessons we have learned during our time in Belvedere were not intended to be forgotten the moment we walk through those gates for our final time. Sir Anthony O’Reilly quoted Fr. Bill O’Connor SJ in the recently published book Belvedere’s Rugby Heroes and said, ‘a Belvederian is a Belvederian – everywhere’. While our classes have ended, what we have learned here and what our time in the school has taught us will have an impact on our lives and our relationships forever. We have learned here, we have grown here, and we have developed here.
Every school day for the last six years we have pulled a navy jumper over our heads, and in doing so have caught sight of the crest with the school motto ‘Per Vias Rectas’, meaning ‘by right ways’. When we leave Belvedere College, let us choose the right road; let us go by right ways. Guided by our experiences here in Belvedere let us go on to continue to work hard, to strive for excellence and a just world in all that we are doing and to live out the values which our six years in Belvedere have given us.
Rhetoric 2006, thank you for six unforgettable years.