Friday, June 16, 2017

Head of School's Closing Address - St. Paul's Cathedral, London, Ontario

So, here we gather at the end of another year together and it is my privilege to share a few thoughts with you, your parents and teachers before we say goodbye for the summer.  We have all spent a lot of time together and, after a full year of activities, special events and learning, it can sometimes seem like we’ve all just run a race together – sometimes a sprint, sometimes a marathon and sometimes a light jog just to get by.  As Mr. Whitmill will tell you, running is a sport of the mind and the spirit as much as it is a physical one.  To master it and arrive with energy to spare, it takes training, endurance, grit, honest self-understanding and humility in the face of defeat. Does this remind you of anything? It sounds a lot like school and not just Kindergarten to Grade 8 in London, Ontario, but the School sometimes referred to as “life”.

There is a famous British film from the 1980s called Chariots of Fire.  It was a box office blockbuster in its day and won the Academy Award for Best Picture the year it was released.  It told the story of Scottish runner, Eric Liddell, who electrified the world by winning the 400m race at the 1924 Paris Olympics after declining to run his best and favourite event – the coveted 100m – because it would have required him to participate on a Sunday, which for him went against his personal convictions. And the result? Today Liddell is remembered for one reason. He was willing to make an almost impossible sacrifice: not only declining the greatest prize in sports, but also the chance to bring great honor to his country, along with the fame, fortune and glory for himself! What Eric Liddell did not know until after the gold medal for his best event was won by another athlete, he would be given the opportunity to demonstrate his outstanding athletic ability by refusing to use these gifts at the very moment the world’s eyes were on him.  And why did he make this decision? He made it in order to remain true to himself, his principles and core beliefs. Eric Liddell stood for his convictions even when his own well-being and popularity were bound to suffer. The rewards that flowed through his life because of his commitment to being true to himself would become an example for others.

As we gather this evening to say farewell to our friends in the Class of 2017, there are many things we could be saying to them, but Eric Liddell gives us a clue regarding some of the most important things. It is very important in life to be genuine, honest, unpretentious, trustworthy and principled.  In high school, as in life, these are daily personal challenges that require commitment, effort and humility.

Beginning high school with new friends and new teachers is both exciting and a little bit scary – it’s that way for your parents, too, as they watch from the sidelines. You have heard all the advice before: work hard, apply yourself, write it down in your agenda, don’t procrastinate and leave things to the last minute, ask questions if you don’t understand and, whatever you do – don’t forget to smile and compliment your teacher every once in a while. All of this advice is good and we, your teachers and parents, encourage you to do all these things.

However, the biggest favour you can do for your yourself will be to make a gift of yourself to the world by actually being yourself and not some counterfeit version that you think the world – or your “friends” – want to see!  You are good enough.  In fact, you are a unique individual and your parents have worked hard on you.  You are like an amazing science fair project formed by their love and sacrifice, hopes and dreams, and we all want you to bring your “A- game” to your chosen schools and eventual careers.  You will accomplish this through practice, consistency, faithfulness, and loyalty to who you are meant to be – just like Eric Liddell. 

While we are on the topic of running, a school year and a race actually share some similarities.  They have structure and rules, schedules and lanes to stay in. And they require strategy on the part of runners and coaches.  Successful athletes of long distance races will tell you that winning is not simply a matter of running as hard and as fast as you can for the entirety of the race.  If you begin this way, you are likely to “burn out” by expending important energy reserves too early. Under such circumstances, the results are often predictable and potentially disastrous. Avoiding the “even pace rule” is risky in running, risky in school and risky in life!

Each of you must begin with the end in mind in order to plan effectively for your success.  This applies to camping trips, room make-overs and educational paths.  Vision and planning go hand in hand. At first, our parents make these decisions for us when we are little and then, bit by bit, the plan is transferred and it is up to us to do the necessary work.  If the best way to race to a personal best is to maintain an even pace from start to finish, running too fast early in the race means you will likely pay for it later.  The longer the race, the slower the pace if you want to do your best job.  Similarly in school, by beginning with the end in mind, if you try to do too much, too soon, too fast, you may miss out on many opportunities and lose yourself in the mix.

As we prepare to send our graduates off into high schools across London, we have a lot of hopes for the next four years.  You have had the chance to live and learn in an environment at Miss Matthews’ School that, while it does not always get it perfectly, strives to impart some pretty important values that will serve you well for long into the future. Joy in learning. Run the race of high school with determination and diligence, but for goodness sake, take with you the joy of effort, which entails a willingness to try and fail.  All the most impressive people in history have experienced very real failure!

Never sacrifice manners and respect for the sake of “fitting in”.  You will discover that not everyone shares the same belief when it comes to how we treat one another and your leadership and example will be important mirrors that reflect your values.  Take responsibility for everything you do because, in the end, the reality of things will be revealed.  Be honest, accept responsibility and be accountable.  Your teachers will respect you, your parents will be proud of you and your real friends will admire you.  Be inclusive and watch for people at the margins and don’t be afraid to smile and engage.  A great testimony of your character will be how you treat others – even those who can seem different and seemingly have nothing to offer you.  And, finally, embrace the community of your new schools and bring the best of your Matthews Hall years with you to share in a new place. We hope you will always be as proud of your elementary school as we will be of you!

As we say good bye to our Class of 2017 and one another, I will let you in on a little secret.  I am a lover of a great many genres of music, ranging from classical and jazz to country.  This week I had an enjoyable chat with a group of Grade 8s – in fact it was one of the highlights of my week.  We were discussing high school, movies, music and the kind of great lyrics that are often found in a good 'ole country song.  And one of them, without skipping a beat, replied, “Yup. Always be humble and kind”. This is, of course, a song by country music artist, Tim McGraw, and the group of students who were chatting me up (likely in part to avoid returning to class too early – I wasn’t born yesterday, guys!) seemed to get the message of the song and it’s one I hope we all can appreciate a we end the year and go our separate ways this evening:

“Hold the door say please say thank you
Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
We know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind.
When the dreams you're dreaming come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind”

Among all the rest of this year’s learning, I trust that this important lesson is one you have also learned during your time with us you and your teachers and I hope you take it with you over the summer and into the future.

Thank you.

Ric Anderson, Head of School