This year, as with every year, a teacher is selected who began to teach at my school in the same year as the graduating class began. In 2012, it was my turn. Below is (most of) the text of the speech I delivered today, which people seemed to think was a bit of alright. I thought I’d share it with you in lieu of my usual educationally related posts. Some of the references will be incredibly parochial, but that’s the nature of a speech like this. I hope some of it will provoke thoughts for those of you who say goodbye to senior students at this time of year.
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, students and staff.
Good afternoon, Year 12.
It is a pleasure and an honour to be dubbed Teacher-In-Tandem for the graduating class of 2012.
“Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
That’s a quote from Socrates, a Greek philosopher who lived in the 5th Century before the birth of Christ. Today’s speech is essentially a test of whether he is still right.
As a History and English teacher, I’m tempted to put on my historian’s hat and give you a History of Brigidine from 2007-2012. However, today isn’t about the College as such. It’s not about the bitumen or the buildings or the Board of Studies. It’s about our graduating class and their experience at the College.
So Year 12, if I may, today I’d like to offer a History of… You. Well, not just you in fact.
The words ‘journey’ or ‘belonging’ may be teetering on the edge of cliché for you by now, but I have been on a journey here at Brigidine that is parallel to yours. And I have certainly felt a sense of belonging that has grown and strengthened from year to year.
So indulge me as I tell a little history of…Us.
Let’s start with me. Brigidine was my first permanent appointment to a teaching position after gallivanting around for a year once I had finished my studies at uni.
As a Northern Beaches boy myself, I knew of Brigidine and had visited a few times for various things. My personal ties to Brigidine actually go back before I was born to when two of my aunties on my father’s side came here as students. It was when Brigidine was on the outskirts of the suburbs: there were no massive apartment blocks up the road and there was definitely no Max Brenner. This was the 1970s.
This is a nice reminder Year 12, that you are now part of a history beyond your own memory and experience, and even beyond your own lifetime. That is a significant feature of school a like this that can embrace its past and look to the future at the same time.
However, this speech is not about the 1970s. And, disappointingly, this speech is not all about me.
Today is my chance to explore some moments I have shared with Year 12 and those that have been experienced by others. I thank my colleagues and those students (who didn’t harass me to the point of insanity) for sharing any moments I did not experience myself.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the group of young women sitting before you today have collectively experienced over 1000 school days at Brigidine since 2007.
They have completed over 180 assessment tasks for each subject area.
They have participated in over 30 whole school masses.
They have spent about a month at camp or retreat.
Twelve carnivals, six Founders’ Days.
The number of sausage sizzles, mufti days and cake stalls is extraordinary. In particular when we consider that over $13000 was raised this year for the Fred Hollows foundation.
In the midst of all this, you actually did some learning too.
Ladies, in our first year at Brigidine, I had the pleasure of teaching some of you History for the first time and English in second semester. I remember teaching girls who seemed settled into their new school, some incredibly shy and others already coming out of their shells, if indeed they ever had shells.
You were the smallest, the youngest and had the longest kilts of all others. But through it all you survived, and grew and became more familiar with your surroundings.
Sadly I missed out on teaching anyone from today’s graduating class in either Year 8 or 9. Clearly I had done such a spectacular job in my first year the College felt the need to keep you away from me for the two years following. However, I have managed to collect some thoughts from others about those missing years.
Some highlights include:
An English class foregoing the traditional Brigidine welcome and replacing it with a series of Mexican waves.
A teacher awarding merits to girls who were in full school uniform on a Friday evening at West Pymble village shops.
9S Science sitting through a rather graphic student PowerPoint presentation on disease, the student having taken the idea of visual imagery a little too literally.
Sophie deliberately capsizing her canoe several times at camp. The staff wasn’t sure if she didn’t know what she was doing or just if she was just very thirsty.
And a few girls who, ill-met by moonlight, ran into the Year Coordinator during a midnight forest frolic.
And then came Year 10.
Some of you were back in my custody for Australian History and English. [Shout out to 10W]. You excelled in both your engagement with vigorous verbal jousts and your ability to avoid as much written work as possible.
This was the year 2010. The year started on a very high note, as I was blessed to marry my beautiful wife.
It was also the year I had the honour of being mentor to 10-7.
I remember our slightly-crazy-hat day, but I don’t remember why we did it. I remember occasionally bringing in food for you just because I knew some days you turned up for an excursion more hungry than a Knox boy after a Rugby Gala day but forgetting to bring any lunch.
We had some very fun times in that Mentor.
I appreciated your enthusiasm and mostly frequent attendance, your jokes and your ability to step up when I needed you to do something for the group.
We made it through Year 10 camp with only drop toilets and that really long hike uphill. And, OMG, no phone reception at all.
From this experience floats a memory of my being capsized in the shallows of a river, because I was holding myself up with one arm while I heard my group chanting ‘Capsize! Capsize!’ Not very supportive!
Back at school however, you were committed to supporting others as shown by Addie’s incredible effort of producing a teeming mass of origami flowers for the Year 10 Charity day.
I also appreciated the happy memories we shared when, late in the year, my mothers’ sister became quite ill and I had to leave just before the Christmas holidays. This was in order to travel to the USA to help my grandfather see his daughter for what became the final time. It’s always so much easier to go through difficult times when you have positive memories to use as armour against despair.
Returning in 2011 with the news that I would be taking on the same year group but a different mentor naturally caused wailing and gnashing of teeth but 10-7 will always occupy a place in my mentor heart.
I was to take on the most notorious mentor group of all time: 11-8.
I have to say, this year group made it easy for me to be a mentor. It has been a non-alcoholic cocktail of good humour, grace, beauty and enthusiasm. And the girls have been great too.
11-8, who was lucky enough to remain under my command in 2012, are an inspiring, dedicated, engaging group of girls who make a solid contribution to all aspects of College life.
Year 11 retreat was a particularly important memory on my part as the girls at Elanora helped to organise one of the most special masses I have ever attended. It was also when I realized how lethal Sarah could be with a volleyball. Lucky we had a teacher leading his own special brand of tai chi each morning to calm our nerves.
Again, I felt incredibly lucky to have had such an amazing group of young women to interact with daily as, at the end of last year, again my family was faced with tragedy when my stepfather began to lose his battle with cancer. I could rely on my mentor group to maintain their levels of enthusiasm and interest despite their mentor having some very dark days indeed.
It’s a truly beautiful and precious thing that we can look forward to going to work every day, even when dark shadows are cast across our lives. For me, these women on stage – and my mentor girls in particular – were and are a major source of light in my life.
Year 12 is full of trial and tribulation. Some seemed to sail through with very little hardship (although of course this can always be just on the outside) whilst others require more obvious attention and support. And that’s just the teachers.
Luckily we had your Year Coordinator to keep us on the right path. You also have friends to lean on, family who go through the HSC with you and Dommi’s exquisite singing voice at assemblies.
My Modern History and History Extension classes kept me fired up for the study of the past, not offering me blind obedience but instead critical and insightful challenges in almost every lesson. The best part of this for me was that we constructed knowledge together. We built understandings and deconstructed theories rather than merely accepting a truth at face value. This, I believe, is the key purpose of senior schooling.
I will remember from this year the usually appropriate jokes, the almost consistent punctuality, and the frequent requests to watch films that have – at best – a remote connection to the topic. Other teachers will remember your dedication to subjects, such as Hannah’s regular attendance at Food Tech classes despite not being enrolled in the course.
I will miss the guilty smiles of those who left the essential resources for the lesson in their locker. I will miss getting my coughing fits when I see a mobile phone before they disappear back to where they should be. I will miss the constant assurances that every single text and every single call seemed to be for, or from, your mothers. I will miss our constant puns and jokes that helps us get through the pressure of the HSC.
I have spoken now at length about the past. I’d like for just a few moments to talk about what comes next. To offer some thoughts that I hope you carry with you as you run, pigtailed and liberated from this hall and out into the future.
Noone has a crystal ball for you. Like weathermen, and weatherwomen, we can only predict what happens based on trends and educated guesses. We cannot be certain. So be flexible and adaptive. It may seem like the world is always trying to change you, but there will be moments when you can change the world in all kinds of ways. Be aware and ready to affect that change.
Life will not always be easy. You will face challenges. You may face tragedy. This is part of the human condition and it does have a purpose. It makes us cherish every moment we have even more. I hope that despite challenge and tragedy, you will find happiness. True, deep happiness that reaches into the core of your soul. The kind of happiness that comes from hearing an inspiring piece of music, standing in awe at a painted masterpiece, or a powerful novel.
You are who you choose to be. School is a microcosm of the world: despite what you may think, in the real world it is other people who are telling you what to wear and how to act. I challenge you to seek out opportunities to grow and be the best that you can be, but don’t lose yourself in the process. You don’t have to become someone else to become a better you.
Finally, we all know that the last thing you may seem to take from Brigo is your ATAR. However, I want you to take something else with you instead.
You are much more than your ATAR. The ATAR is just a number you need for a brief sliver of time. Get it if you need it, use it as you need to, then move on to do great things with all the experience, intelligence, ability, creativity and love you can muster. To those who don’t get the ATAR they hoped for, you have succeeded this long without one, so find your path and make it happen.
Year 12 you are the sum of every “Good Morning” you said to me in the corridor, every friendly smile, every act of kindness you offer to those around you. You are the culmination of every argument you win during a class discussion, every drop of paint you put into a major work, every tear you shed during moments of despondency. You are the embodiment of every experience you have had so far and the potential of what is to come.
Year 12, we will miss you. I will miss you. But know that we have absolute confidence in you and your futures. Thank you.