This evening we have the privilege to travel back to the future as we spend a few moments in the cradle of Matthews Hall at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Thanks to the generosity of the Diocese of Huron and the Dean of the Cathedral, Reverend Paul Millward, we are able to come together here where it all started. It is not our right to do so. We are guests here and on behalf of our School, I would like to publicly thank Reverend Millward for his help in keeping this important tradition alive for our school. I would also like to thank the parents of our students for making the effort to be part of this evening, which we could not enjoy together without your effort and commitment on a beautiful Friday evening in June.
While the traditional purpose of Closing Exercises is for the Head of School to declare the academic year officially complete, it is also an opportunity for all of us to recognize and say farewell to our graduates, the Class of 2019. We enjoyed Monday night’s graduation ceremonies, but tonight is the real goodbye as we send off each one of them to four years of high school in September.
I want to share a few thoughts with them tonight, but I hope they are thoughts that each of us can consider as we work to support, motivate and inspire all of our students during each of their school years. The elementary school years pass quickly. The high school years even more so. And as my own mother was fond of reminding my twin brother and me, “It’s not a dress rehearsal, boys.” That was her way of reminding us that the “Power of Moments” and our responsibility to make the most of those moments were not to be underestimated or wasted.
It seems to be a universal trait that the reality of how quickly time passes is uniquely understood by our mothers and grandmothers.
In thinking about what thoughts I might share this evening, I considered our school year, along with my own experiences as a student, a teacher and a father. While I still have much to learn, some of my most memorable learning has been as a “gleaner of school years”. After almost 30 years working in schools, I have gleaned a great deal from the students, teachers and parents I have encountered.
A gleaner is a farm worker who gathers the leftover grain or produce after the harvest is over. You might think of the “gleanings of education” as that which remains once you forget the distracting details of your studies.
Students, one of the most important things I have gleaned during my years as “a learner” – and it is a concerning thing – is that, amid a huge growth in learning driven by technology and “pressurized” by an arms race for higher and higher marks, people are learning like crazy, but, in many cases, becoming no wiser. Our information age has allowed us to be filled with facts and knowledge which are only a keystroke away, but very few of these facts will ever lead us to become truly wise in or of themselves. We can have all the specialized knowledge in the world, but if this knowledge does not lead us to appreciate what really matters, then we may become very smart but very unwise.
If wisdom is defined as the quality of having “experience, knowledge and good judgment”, I am afraid that it is the quality of good judgment or “right thinking” that is becoming increasingly less valued and scarce in the world around us.
Do you hear people belittling one another? Putting one another down? Do you hear adults, some of whom hold high political office, speaking in angry voices and using disrespectful language? Do you hear people putting themselves first to the exclusion of others and thinking they are always right? Do you even participate in such things yourselves and criticize others for the very behaviour of which you yourself are sometimes guilty?
Years ago when I was a child, report cards were a lot less wordy and they got straight to the point. “Johnny needs to put forth more effort in class and complete his work on time (full stop)”. “If Susan stops fooling around during math and remembers her homework, her mark will improve (full stop)”. “Billy needs to recognize that the rules exist for the Common Good (full stop)”.
The Common Good. It is an old-fashioned concept to some and certainly becoming less common. Nevertheless, the Common Good, while in hiding, is there in front of us and it is important.
It refers to the benefit and interests of all and it is a very important concept in a civilized society. The Common Good has many friends: respect, responsibility, thoughtfulness, humility, understanding, modesty, charity, accountability, integrity, dignity, and honesty. But perhaps the greatest friend of all to The Common Good is wisdom. And hence my concern.
Sometimes it seems that the more a person learns, the less wise they can become.
What can we do as individuals to help The Common Good? How can we make our classrooms, playgrounds, schools, families, towns, and country better and wiser?
Well, first of all, we can begin by putting our best effort into the most important factor in all of this – ourselves.
Our mothers and fathers have sent us to school over the generations for a variety of reasons. They want us to learn, grow in knowledge, skills and responsibility. They want us to become the people we were meant to be, the best versions of ourselves, someone they and we can be proud of. In short, they send us to school to learn how to be successful.
Our School’s mission refers to preparing kids for a successful future. What does this look like? What do successful people look like? And be careful with this one – for success is more than high marks, or comparing your achievements to another, or getting into the future university of your choice, or having the prestigious dream job.
Let’s do a little comparison to help us out. What are some of the things that successful people do that unsuccessful people do not?
Successful people read every day. Unsuccessful people watch TV or spend too much time gaming or noodling around online. Successful people appreciate and are considerate of others. Unsuccessful people criticize, gossip about and vilify others. Successful people embrace change. Unsuccessful people fear and undermine change. And the list goes on – forgive or hold a grudge? Talk about ideas or talk about people? Continually learn or think they know it all? Accept responsibility for their failures or blame others for their failures? Have a sense of gratitude or have a sense of entitlement? Set goals and dreams or never set goals and languish in bitterness?
There are all kinds of “successful” people who are very smart but not very wise. We see them every day on the news and on media feeds. People who seem to have everything, yet they cannot be happy. What is up with that?! Could it be that for all of their “success” and accomplishments, they have failed in one key area: they forgot to learn how to live a happy life. They forgot to remember what matters most. They made a priority of comparing themselves to others and, in the process, became miserable.
Parents, Teachers, we have a big responsibility to ensure that we do not unwittingly send the message to our children and students that their goals, efforts and achievements are based on anything other than striving to be better versions of themselves, better than they were yesterday.
As soon as the “comparing to others” begins – and it can begin very early – we risk introducing our kids to the “thief of joy” and “his work” can result a lifetime of unhappiness.
I am grateful for the many parents and teachers that support us in our efforts to help our students learn from their mistakes, take responsibility for their actions and lead by example in ways that are lasting. At school, we have a great team and one that cares about and labours over the best interests of our students each day. A school is a “superorganism” with many moving parts and perspectives; it is both an extension of home and a complex community with a diversity of opinion, experiences and backgrounds; however, when our work and goals are defined by a set of common values and a sense of purpose, we can inspire academic excellence and wisdom while upholding and preserving The Common Good.
It goes without saying that, as a living thing, a school breathes with both lungs and, in addition to supporting its students, it has the welcome task of supporting its staff members along each of their journeys, which are diverse and wonderful. They are important people with families, too, and we respect, support and celebrate that.
For example, we welcomed Mrs. Boyd’s first baby this fall and Ms. MacKinnon’s second child in March (…and on Mr. A’s birthday!) and we are so happy for them. Mrs. Boyd will be returning to our Middle School in the fall at the completion of her maternity leave.
We thank MH alumnus, Mr. Tanner Morrison, Class of 2006, for all of his hard work and commitment in covering Mrs. Boyd’s leave and wish him well as he completes the last phase of his doctoral studies at Wilfred Laurier University.
Schools are places of change and growth as children graduate and teachers live their lives. We will say goodbye to Ms. Brooke MacKinnon next year. She and her husband, who has recently completed his PhD, will be returning home to the shores of Lake Ontario near Kingston in the fall, where they will be closer to a large extended family and opportunities for Mr. Hawes. We have grown very fond of them all and will miss them. But we wish them well on this next chapter!
After a few short years on our team, Mrs. Isabella Brown will be relocating to her home turf in the GTA, accompanying her husband, Dr. Lukas Brown, who has accepted a position in his specialized medical field. And, if that were not enough excitement, we are very happy to share the news that the Browns are expecting their first child in December. We wish them both the best and look forward to the news of Baby Brown in time for next Christmas!
This evening we thank Mrs. Emily Usher-Speedie for her work in our extended day program and for her work with our Grade 4s and throughout the school. We wish Mrs. Speedie well next year, as she and her little boy, James, keep the home fires burning for Mr. Speedie when he sets off for a year of graduate studies in Scotland.
With these goodbyes complete, we now turn to the final farewells to our Grade 8s, the Class of 2019, who are all such different people.
On Founder’s Day, your teachers recognized the unique talents and personalities you bring to the world. At graduation, your parents smiled proudly as you reached the final destination in your elementary adventure. We celebrated with you on Awards Day as recognized the distinctions and achievements of our students during the year.
And now, the whole school community sends you off with every best wish for the next four years and beyond, trusting that wisdom will continue to grow within you as you learn to manage the competing opportunities and priorities of high school.
How can you ensure that wisdom takes root and The Common Good is respected and preserved? Well, there are no guarantees because wisdom is not an innate quality and can only be gained through experience.
However, if you need a checklist, I would recommend something like this:
- Think before you speak.
- Realize there is never a “right time”. Remember, life is not a dress rehearsal and the time is now.
- Learn to balance self-interest with the interests of others. This will be important at key moments in high school and paying it forward will pay big dividends.
- Put things in perspective before jumping to conclusions. If in doubt, ask Mom or Dad.
- Never blindly follow the “crowd”. Think for yourself and always avoid a “bandwagon”. Bandwagons are notorious for going over cliffs!
- Keep your power – and don’t let others make you negative. Wise people know that they are always in charge of their thoughts, feelings and actions. Keep your peace by not allowing negative people change you for the worse.
- Being spontaneous can be fun, but wise people use logic and intuition to make the best decisions possible. If in doubt, ask Mom or Dad.
- Accept people for who they are, including yourself!
- The cover may be pretty, but the book might not be. Don’t be deceived by charm or external things. Take the time to get to know people and you just never know, you might end up making the best friend you’ll ever have!
On behalf of the teachers and all the staff at Matthews Hall, I wish each of you a safe and happy summer, and every good thing in Grade 9.
And to our returning student body, after a restful summer of adventures, I look forward to an exciting September as, together, we see the first phase of our campus renewal begin to take shape!
We are in for an exciting next school year!
Ric Anderson, Head of School