JUNE 15, 2018
At the conclusion of this, our centennial year, we are grateful to the people of St. Paul’s Cathedral parish, who have been so generous in welcoming our school this year and every year. They do this for a few reasons: one, they are a warm and welcoming London community; two, they value personal connections to Matthews Hall; and three, they are pleased to honour the memory of one of their own, Kate Matthews, who sat here 100 years ago in this very place. If the old adage, “Where you begin has a lot to do with where you end” is true, then we express our gratitude not only for the life Miss Matthews this evening, but for the legacy of her work with children through the generations.
On this evening of all evenings in the school year, I like to think that Miss Matthews would approve of our effort to come together as a community of students, teachers and families to celebrate the end of a year of growth, discovery – and lessons learned and lessons yet to be learned.
To begin with this evening, it is a pleasure to give my warmest congratulations to the members of our Centennial class – the Class of 2018. We celebrated your graduation on Monday evening with your parents, brothers, sisters, teachers and friends. Of course there was dinner, and ceremony, speeches and you all looked lovely. Your teachers and parents were there to support you and you received your Grade 8 diploma, the first in what is sure to be a long line of academic milestones in your lives.
I hope you actually opened those crisp blue folders with your certificates of achievement inside. Besides the details of who, when and where, there was something else important enclosed within. On the facing page, the words of Miss Matthews herself are found. Does anyone remember what it says? None of us has ever met Miss Matthews. We see her photograph, and learn about her life each February on Founder’s Day, but if we are speaking honestly, the recent generations of her students and school families really not very little about her.
The exception, of course, if that we have something very important by which to remember her. Beside her excellent reputation and example, we have those few simple words that appear on the inside cover of our graduating folders. It is actually an abbreviated version of something Miss Matthews said a long time ago: when she considered education and school, her hope for her students was “that each child would learn to become a separate and distinct person, who learned to live sanely and happily with others, learning to face life bravely and with joy, whatever it may bring.”
Students, and graduates, parents and friends – I want to ask you to consider something for a moment. Let’s all just stop and think about the world in 1918 when Kate Matthews started her school with six children here in this building. The people of Europe and their allies from around the world were at war. This was the context in which Kate Matthews was formulating her opinions about life and human interaction.
The First World War, a war that was entirely avoidable, was based on suspicion, rumour, and a terrible chain of events stemming from the polarization of people – mistrustfulness, half-truths, tribalism, contempt and a distortion of life. And Miss Matthews witnessed that the result of such things was unavoidable conflict. Our grandparents and great-grandparents experienced the effects of these times along with Miss Matthews who struggled against the suspicions, anxieties and human sufferings of the time.
What is the antidote to such conflict and enmity? Living sanely and happily with others, facing life bravely and with joy.
Miss Matthews determined that, in her work with children, her central goal, and those of her teachers, must be at cross purposes with the chaos that was gripping the world in those days. In her work with kids, the greatest project was recognizing that each student was a distinct individual that had to live and learn with others with reason, good judgement and good sense! As we look around today, are not these the same sound goals we should have for the children of the current millennium?
Students, we are now living in the twenty-first century. Isn’t it exciting? Our lives are improved in so many ways, from the conveniences in our homes and schools to the technologies of health care and travel. The twentieth century in which Miss Matthews lived was also a great century, but one of great good and evil. In her own special way, the lady that our school is named after recognized this and tried very hard to help her students understand that in order to live and learn together in mutual respect and understanding, a certain realism and commitment to “goodness” is required.
Do you remember how last year at school, our Student Ambassadors spearheaded an initiative called the “Anti-Gossip Project”? And how it emphasized that speaking ill of others and detracting from their good name was a form of violence committed against the other person? I still remember one of the quotations that hung in the halls of our school for several weeks. This is what it said, “People can live in peace and equality and have a good life. The worst thing you can do is hate. Being good and honouring one another is much better”. It wasn’t Miss Matthews who said that, but there is a connection. These words were said by Mrs. Paula Zaifman, grandmother of Zoë in our graduating class. Like Miss Matthews, Mrs. Zaifman saw the value of lifting people up rather than laying them low through word or deed or detraction.
Students, as you move through life, if you’re at all thoughtful, you’re constantly developing your own personal code of conduct. It’s a process that happens consciously or unconsciously.
You see a cruel or destructive act and think I’d never do that. Or you hear of an act of kindness and store it away, thinking I want to be like that. And over time, these individual elements fuse together into the principles you live by.
If you have found your stride in life and you consider that your code’s more or less in place, that’s great. I hope you have also learned some important lessons from your teachers along the way because, in the midst of the messiness of a typical school year, I hope you and your parents know they have always had your best interests at heart.
As we prepare to bring the 2017-2018 school year to a close this evening, we can’t help but feel gratitude for the chain of events that was started by Miss Matthews one hundred years ago. 1918 and 2018 are so very different. Classrooms function differently, curriculum has changed and the context of our Canadian society has evolved. However, if we scratch the surface, bore down and really examine the things that matter, we should see that our school still values and celebrates the things that matter.
Speaking of celebration and as we celebrate the end of our centennial year together and prepare to send off our graduates and students, it is appropriate to take a moment for some heartfelt goodbyes. It is with mixed emotions that we say farewell to a veteran faculty member, Mrs. Chris Shoesmith, who will embark upon a well-earned retirement at the conclusion of the school year. Chris has served the students and families of Matthews Hall with care, common sense, commitment and affection since 2000.
As our resident Middle School scientist, Mrs. Shoesmith has helped prepare our students for success in the high school laboratory and beyond. However, as we all know, Mrs. Shoesmith is an example of the quintessential “renaissance” lady. While she would plainly state that she “does NOT” sing, her artistic and athletic talents have benefitted generations of students on the stage and on the rhythmic gymnastics floor and who will forget Mrs. Shoesmith’s masterful back stage management of dozens of memorable productions. She is quite simply a “Chris-of-all-trades” and our school has been better for her “good English common sense” and intrepid “can-do” attitude. After close to 50 years in the classroom in the United Kingdom, Ottawa, Manitoba and London, Ontario, Mrs. Shoesmith will be shifting gears as she prepares for a well-earned retirement of increased involvement in community theatre, hiking, traveling, time in her garden. Perhaps she will consider returning to help us from time to time?
We also bid a fond farewell to Mme Judith Salem after one year with us. Alas! even Matthews Hall cannot stand in the way of true love and we congratulate Judith and her fiancé who became engaged this spring. Mme Salem will celebrate her wedding this summer before re-locating to the GTA where she will continue to teach French. We thank Judith for her commitment and talents and wish her the very best as she embarks on the next chapter of her life and career.
And now, Class of 2018, if you’re still mastering the things you want to accomplish (and you like all of us are “works in progress”), I want to leave you with some suggestions as you prepare for your next four exciting years of high school.
If you listen carefully, you will hear your parents who love you, you will hear your teachers who want your highest good, and, in this place, you may even hear Miss Matthews herself:
- Be your authentic self, because you have to live with yourself every day.
- Forget those who did you wrong, because they’ve definitely forgotten you.
- Remember those who helped you, because they haven’t forgotten.
- Find the silver lining—unless there’s a golden one.
- Always take the high road. No matter what others say.
- Treat others as you’d want to be treated.
- Change what you can and let go of the rest.
- Trust takes a lifetime to earn, but only a second to lose
- Never ask anyone to do something you would never do yourself.
- Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
- Always keep your word.
- Be consistent in all you say and do.
- Always play fair, no matter what.
- Always be kind. Everyone has a hard fight ahead of them.
- Give more; expect less.
- Make your word your bond.
- Do what is right, even if no one is watching.
And when you get to high school in September, no matter what your friends tell you about what matters or what you may read on social media that makes you second guess yourself or others, don’t believe everything you hear or read.
Home is where you were loved first and where you will always be loved best.
Tell your parents you love them, don’t mess with your siblings (because believe it or not, they love you, too!) and call or text when you get where you’re going. It’s a little thing, but hey! They’re your parents and it just helps them to know you’re safe.
Enjoy your summer, work some, play some, rest some and read some. We wish you the very best!