PORTSMOUTH - Bright, sunny skies greeted faculty, staff, and members of the Class of 2017 as they walked in step to the bagpiper's notes at the opening of the school’s 87th commencement. Distinguished speakers and graduates reflected on the significance of humility while offering advice for the future. This article features highlights from the day and reflections from commencement speaker Charles Kenahan, alumnus and managing director of a major Wall Street Investment Bank. 

Commencement Ceremony

Commencement exercises included a benediction and welcome remarks recognizing the graduates' perseverance throughout their rite of passage at Portsmouth Abbey. Retiring faculty were acknowledged for their dedicated service, along with salutations to the school community. Recognition of achievements, leadership, and hard work that shape academic experience was weaved throughout the ceremony. Family, friends, and faculty enhanced the palpable emotion under the tent with their proud responses as graduates received diplomas that symbolized their accomplishments.

Distinguished Speakers

Notable speakers representing the School’s leadership included the Abbot, Headmaster, chairman of the Board of Directors, and two students elected by their peers, each offering anecdotes and words of advice. Charles Kenahan, an Abbey graduate and father of three who followed in his footsteps, assured the 92 graduates that although they are leaving behind Portsmouth Abbey as students, they are joining its tight-knit alumni. 

Student Speakers

Two graduates gave speeches on closely related topics. Each student called to attention their class's growth and maturation into adulthood. They spoke of lessons learned from their Abbey career under the care and instruction of faculty. Both speakers agreed that one speech could not sum up the friendship, experience, and excitement of looking into their futures. It was clear that despite the different backgrounds from around the globe, Portsmouth Abbey's shared expertise united them.

Keynote Address: Embracing Humility

Charles Kenahan, who heads one of the country’s largest wealth management teams, delighted the crowd by discarding his prepared speech and speaking off-script. It was immediately clear to the few hundred people in attendance that his statement regarding being selected to give the address was heartfelt, as he emotionally stated it was “the greatest honor I’ve ever had in my life.” 

The address was candid, delivered with passion, and peppered with humor. His connection and dedication to Portsmouth Abbey have remained strong through the decades. He served on the board of regents for six years and as chairman of its most recent capital campaign.

The keynote address focused on humility, emphasizing its importance in achievement and growth. It reminded the audience that humility represents inner strength and understanding rather than weakness. It embraced the concept that learning “follow-ship” is a key step to becoming a strong leader and how humility opens individuals to listening and learning, resulting in empathy and excellence.

While encouraging the graduates, he closed by sharing four pieces of advice: keep your promises, be passionate, forgive yourself, and appreciate the value of a handwritten letter. His captivated audience expressed their appreciation with a rousing, standing ovation.

The commencement address was followed by the conferral of diplomas and concluded with the graduates recessional from the tent.

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