Bishop Jo’s Speech. Championing the Golden Rule

It is a privilege indeed, that I give a speech at this year’s prize giving day, and for that I thank you, Canon Paterson and the Governors of the school. You have made me realize that there are benefits in leaving what you love most (such giving a speech). I also wish to express my appreciation to all of you present. I know your time is valuable but you chose to be here with your daughters. I have no doubt they will remember this at some stage in their lives. Thank you.

Meister Eckhardt once said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.” This is what I stand here to say to all of you today – not to make a philosophical speech trying to impress you for praises, but what I wish to remember for-gratitude. I stand to express my gratitude to God that, through our life together, I have come to recognise his graciousness in each and every one of you, whom God has blessed me with. As I look back on my relationship with you, I cannot fail to count my blessings of which I am grateful to have received during our time together. I am truly grateful for what I have received and learnt from you, young and old and for that I thank God for you. To be part of this school has given me hope for the future of our children, and for this I commit myself to be your Ambassador and St Mary’s DSG.

So my dear friends, I appeal to you to treasure this God given gift to you (DSG) because it is the well from which our children’s children shall drink wisdom and acquire knowledge. Riches and pleasures that we have and give to our children will perish with time, but wisdom and knowledge will last forever. This is the best investment we can make for the future generations because education is a tool which is usable in everything in this world, of which Nelson Mandela says, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” If we believe in these words then education must be foremost in our minds and something we commit to invest in for our children’s children sake. So, please allow me to preface the word “education” with the word “value” in Mandela’s statement – value education.

This is critical to me because just education is limited to intellectual capacity whereas value education, at least to me, means preparing our young learners to be selflessly concerned about the well-being of others, particularly the less privileged. I will explain what I mean by value education later.

I believe we are a lucky nation and our children are most fortunate to have been born and brought up in our country’s new dispensation, which most of us did not even dream of. We have achieved, as we are always reminded, what most new nations did not. A bloodless negotiated transition and agreed upon Constitution that is supported by the Bill of Rights for which we have been widely praised as the best and most progressive one in the world. We have made strides in developing systems that serve the people, of which Mandela said, “We South Africans have succeeded quite admirably in putting in place policies, structures, processes and implementation procedures for transformation and development of our country” (Mandela 2004).

Initially, through collaborative hard work, we were able to create a sustainable economic system which helped with job creation and service delivery. Notwithstanding, today our economy is questioned if it has the capacity “to overcome poverty, inequality and unemployment.” The truth is that it has not failed but it has been made to fail by those who have undermined the values passed on to us by our founding fathers. As a result we have compromised our Constitutional democracy by failing to protect the Rule of Law, and respect the Bill of Rights and challenging our judiciary system, instead greed which has manifested itself in corruption is on the rise – it has become a norm. Unfortunately, it is the very struggle people who are looting the country’s resources because they think it is for their benefit thus their belief that they, “…did not join the struggle to be poor” (Ngonyama).

This kind of attitude and behaviour by our leaders give an impression that tomorrow does not matter, sending a wrong message that we must live for today and for ourselves, when, in fact as a nation, we have a future on which we should be focussing and work towards for a common and shared destiny. Considering where we are and what is happening, I am persuaded to believe that we need champions of the kingdom values to help us, as a nation, to be united in purpose in order to work for the common good, otherwise our children are disempowered from shaping their destiny.

The primary function of the proposed champions, I believe, will be to protect the Rule of Law, defend the Constitution, uphold the Bill of Rights, respect the judiciary system, repair damage done to democratic institutions, and build a strong economic system with a capacity to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor through value education which promotes both social cohesion and social justice. Of course, this cannot be done without value-based education and quality teaching – which must define our core business here at St Mary’s DSG.

And here I want to pause and challenge the Governing Board to put together resources to promote value-based education beyond these premises. By value education, if I may explain, I mean education that is rooted in the Golden Rule – “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” which will prepare our young learners to be selfless leaders who are committed to making this world a better place for all, leaders who are concerned about the well-being of others, particularly the less privileged, holistic and inclusive in nature, of all human aspects such as physical, emotional, intellectual; including spirituality, and promotes social cohesion and social justice. Such a resource can be used to support employee voluntarism and student engagement to under resourced schools in our neighbourhoods.

Working together, I believe we can actually create a better world for all if the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” is to be our moral compass.

There is no question that the government has failed us and the onus is now on us to redeem ourselves so that we may all enjoy the abundance of life Jesus came to bless us with. Redeeming ourselves will require replacing the negative energy we have right now with a positive one. I believe that if we are to make a difference and bring about change for the better, our starting point must be informed by biblical values taught by Christ in the Beatitudes – in the Sermon on the Mount.

I intentionally focus my discourse with you on these teachings of Jesus because I believe that our most critical challenge today is extending the benefits of the biblical values to our neighbours – one another, and I see this as a problem for generations to come after we are long gone. This approach, I think will make us appreciate the past and guide us to the future – answering the question, ‘what must be done to create a better world for all?’

In the beatitudes, Jesus invites us to live our lives on earth in accordance with his teachings which are based on the kingdom values. An important lesson here is how to live life on earth in relation to others – because, as we all know, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” None lives for oneself. Here, Jesus gives his audience a simple, yet profound principle which is enriching to both the giver and the receiver. This is the Golden Rule, priceless God given gift that must be treasured. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” and not as they have done to you but as you would have them do.

This is about putting oneself in another person’s shoes, which can either be small or big, or just “too ugly” as President Mbeki jokingly said of his predecessor’s boots. Of course, what is being suggested is not easy but do-able with the help of God – with whom there is nothing impossible.

This injunction spells out one thing which Jesus was teaching his followers – righteousness. This is what it means to desire good for the other person that one desires for oneself. In this teaching, “Jesus seeks to channel this primal desire into the recognition that we can only truly satisfy ourselves when we recognize that the same desire in others can and must be satisfied as well” (Tod Lindberg 2007).
Therefore, to achieve this, one must get along with others. “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you…” (Mt 7:12). In other words, respect every other person- which is one of the great virtues.

I think the constant question that we must ask ourselves is, “what can I do to contribute towards another person’s righteousness?” – Something we all desire in life. This is the purpose which brings happiness and justice not only to ourselves but those who benefit from our contribution. This is the essence of the Golden Rule, given as a gift by Jesus to his devotees to enjoy in fellowship with others.

Given the discourse above, the challenge is that you and I – collectively and individually must do something to change lives for the better. Just as we would love to have it done to and for us. We must begin to translate our theories into positive actions such as doing something about the things that undermine our Constitutional democracy, challenge our Bill of Rights and overlook our judiciary system.

Things such as corruption which erodes our moral fibre, destroys our infra-structure and disintegrates our socio-economic development and service delivery. All this widens the gap between the rich and the poor. This is the result of lack of job opportunities resulting in unemployment which manifests itself in inequality and places the people in a situation of abject poverty. Surely, this is not what we desire and/or wish for ourselves.

The good thing about the Golden Rule is that it talks to all people without exception. And this means that we can apply it in our daily lives by treating others the “same way we want them to treat us.” This is the challenge of education offered to our children.

An alternative, of course, is to provide value based education with the capacity to transform us as a nation so that we all enjoy a dignified life in everything God has blessed us with. God has created us equal and therefore we should treat each other as such. The saying that “all men are created equal but some are more equal than others” is misleading. All it tells us is that there are people out there who are not prepared to contribute towards the improvement of other people’s quality of life and close the gap between the rich and the poor. This belief and practice to treat others as inferior simply means that it’s okay for one to have more so that the other has less. This is greed and it is wrong and has no justification. This is why we must commit ourselves collectively and individually to do the right thing without expecting gains – what is there for me attitude, which is influenced by political culture of entitlement, must not feature in our vocabulary. The Golden Rule is not about satisfying ones material wants but for the common good.

I hope by now most of you agree with me that the Golden Rule, Do to others as you would have them do to you,” is the preferred way of life and a means by which we can attain what we wish for ourselves; that value based education is a tool by which human beings are capacitated to achieve the full potential life that contributes towards establishing God’s kingdom where his will is done. So, if we accept and embrace the Golden Rule and commit to act on it, “the leap we take is not simply one of faith, but of expectation that people knowing themselves how they want to be treated, will come to understand that the only plausible way to guarantee such treatment for themselves is to treat others the same way” (Ted Lindberg, 2007).

I conclude this discourse by challenging you to stop talking but start applying the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” in your daily life and see if this world will not be a different and better world in which you are a blessing to others as they are to you. I thank you for listening and I pray that God blesses you with charitable hearts. Thank you.

jts13/10/15

Valedictory Speech

I have vivid memories of some of you in the Junior School. I remember what Mrs Craig told me before you came through to the Senior School. Your parents will be sitting here remembering you when you were cute…a long, long time ago. “Where has the time gone?” we are all thinking!

Speak to the aged and they will speak of 30 years ago as a blink of the eye, while the next week may seem like a decade to be endured. A teacher may find a class of reluctant pupils doing the graveyard shift in 30 degree heat is a lifetime, whereas a pupil may find that four hours gazing dreamingly into a young man’s eyes goes by in a blink of the eye. Time is so funny.

We speak of chronos time, the ticking away of precious seconds while you hope that I will finish this speech soon, and there is kairos time which can expand and contract depending on the way it is used. Kairos time is about God appointed opportunities.

One of the main things St Mary’s DSG has tried to do, is to train you to live Kairos life in a chronos world. To fill the ticking seconds with God’s purpose.

Deadlines and punctuality, which some of you are shocking at, is chronos time. The banned word “stress” is related to chronos time. We speak of time management when we cannot actually manage chronos time at all. When we talk of time management we are actually talking of how miraculous it is when we discover purpose and find how much we can do with chronos time. A busy motivated person can almost always do more. A despondent person whose glass is always half empty will find any additional task a burden. You can never escape chronos time, but you can discover purpose and you can decide to seek God’s purpose. You can be enveloped by Kairos moments.

We are all “works in progress.” Such is the magnificence of God’s gifts to us that we can remain works in progress till our final hour. All of you have been honed by pressures and challenges, and continue to be honed by pressures and challenges. This is how diamonds are formed to quote from one House Dinner.

You as a group have an astonishing array of talent. As I looked through the list to prepare this speech, I realised how many of you have crossed my path and have needed tough love, funny love, listening love, just a smile love or just love. Even though you may not have always felt it, every offering from your teachers has been offered with this at its core. You have been loved. There are a few of you who I know very much less than I ought. I am sorry about this. I am the poorer for it.

Your minds are rightfully focused on exams. But in actual fact it is the other things you have had the opportunity to learn that are much more important.

• Love, joy, sorrow and pain are inevitable human conditions. If you expect only love and joy you are deluded. Sorrow and pain are signs of being alive as the flip side of love and joy.
• If you are spiritually dead you are dead. We are not biological specimens with a spiritual part but spiritual beings with a biological existence. With all her heart seek God.
• Sacrificial service to others is the without question the greatest joy. It is not only more blessed to give than to receive, it actually feels better to give than to receive. Learn to give.
• Concentrate on others for fulfilment. Concentrate on yourself and you will be disappointed.
• Above all else seek wisdom, which may be defined as what to do with knowledge.
Thank you for an incredible year. Thank you for your acceptance of each other and support of each other. Thank you for the manner in which you started and have concluded the year. Thank you for the laughs and tears. Thank you for leading the school forward.

At the beginning of the year these words were spoken to you.

“Members of the matriculation class of 2015, you are the senior class of the school and as such are the leaders of the school, setting the standards for others. You, therefore, having a strong responsibility to undertake that leadership with commitment and faith, ensuring that in all you do, you earn respect from all members of the St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls community, and set the example for younger pupils. Do you, seniors, continue your commitment to work with all members of St Mary’s D.S.G. community to ensure that the mission of our school is effected in the lives of all?”

Thank you for responding to this.

Take the Mission of the school out into the world. Tell the world about the “child of Bethlehem.” Keep him in your “worship, your work and your play.” Continue to pray for “those who teach and those who learn, those who rule and those who obey.” And remember that the only response to the unlimited love of God “is perfect service.” Strive for this. This is Kairos time.

So from your teachers, the school, from me, farewell my special ladies, Daughters of the King!

Speech Day 2015

Bishop Jo and Mrs Seoka, Mrs Foot, Governors, esteemed Patrons, St Mary’s DSG Parents, honoured Guests, Daughters of the King

I acknowledge the presence of good friends Mark Whitelaw and Tom Hamilton here today. Gentlemen we see far too little of each other! Madelein Gorst Allman who keeps an eye on her St Paulus brood with loving eyes is such a good friend of the school. I also acknowledge Paul Pretorius, the Diocesan Administrator. Thank you to the PA Committee members and Old Girls Committee members who have put the evening aside.

To the girls who have just switched off as I started speaking, a listening comprehension test is being held in every English class tomorrow.

I read the other day of a terrifying clear glass bridge just built in a Chinese Geological Park which dares visitors to walk on clear glass with 180 meters beneath them.

As I began the preparation of this, my sixth Speech Day report at St Mary’s DSG and 17th overall, I feel that I am about to take my first tentative step onto this bridge, for we certainly stand at a pivotal point in our school history right now.

Firstly, we bid an official farewell to our Bishop, our Chairman, and our Visitor today. (The Visitor is a term used for the person who has both the right and the duty to inspect and approve institutions at any time.) For 17 years Bishop Jo has been a presence in this school, even when not present! His abiding love and prayer for this school has never wavered. He has led the school through some difficult periods and is the consummate chairman. It is difficult to imagine not having the guiding presence of Bishop Jo on my shoulder for he has truly been the presence of the Church in our school, our anchor and our guide. Bishop Jo is a man of courage, prayer, duty and principle. We honour him today, not just for his guidance at school but for his selfless offering of himself as our Diocesan Bishop for a ridiculously long period of time. We also honour his wife Dr Timeya Seoka, for I know he could not have been who he is without her. Having received “The Freedom of the School” from Tarryn, I know wish to give Bishop and Timeya a more tangible gift from the school.

Secondly, we say thank you to possibly the most selfless, dutiful, serious, funny, brilliant, straight talking, annoyingly detailed, honest, humble, hard-working, loving, caring parent I have had the privilege of working with. Judith Foot has been a serving parent for the 18 years her girls have been at St Mary’s DSG. She has been on the Governing Body since 2007. When I first met her she said, “I love my girls, and St Mary’s DSG with all my heart, in that order.” She has truly served, eventually as PA chair, then as Chair of the Executive.

With the last of the “Feet” leaving the school this year, Judith will step down as Chair of the Executive next year, but in true fashion will remain on the finance team and Governing Body for a further year to ensure dovetailing of responsibilities. I am personally very grateful for all she has done and for her leadership but we all need to acknowledge an extra ordinary woman who believes in extra ordinary women.

We also say thank you and farewell to Mr James du Preez who has served on the Governing Body, since 2004. It has been a great comfort to hear James say “Ja, that’s fine,” and a call to action when he says otherwise, for he is a wise and good man. I thank him on behalf of us all.

Then I must say farewell to a group of teachers, whose selfless service, example and talents have blessed this school in so many ways.

Two have only been here one year. Miss Tollig, almost unbelievably, only in her first year of teaching, (Drama and Geography) has simply been astonishing. We wish her every blessing as she marries and moves to PE, where I hope the EP Kings will become a rugby force to be reckoned with! Mrs Dames, our lead Hockey coach, is moving to Kimberley. All one needs in a school is a few Miss Browns and Mrs Dameses who really know how to laugh, and perspective is easily found. We wish her and her family well.

Two teachers have been here eight years, both having started their teaching here. Mrs Dewar, Head of House of St Patrick, Biology teacher, Christian witness, must move closer to home where she can spend more time with her family. We thank her for the endless kilometres covered and her mentoring of so many. Mrs Gibbison is moving into Business as she and her husband plan a move to the Cape. The ultimate “no problem” team player, DEBS organiser, “excellent” colleague, she has been an outstanding mentor and role model. I hope our girls realise how blessed they have been.

It is lovely to see Professor van Wyk here. We thank him for his presence at the valedictory last evening. He left earlier this year to take up a senior position at TUKS after 10 years at St Mary’s DSG.

Finally, Mma Makgabo moves to TUKS after 12 years. A humble, strong and principled lady, she has led the Sepedi charge and taken St George House to new heights. Her contribution is built in the very bricks that make up the school.

So we say farewell to some extra-ordinary educators, reluctantly, but proud of the role we have played in enabling them to fly to the next stage in their lives. They do not belong to us, but will forever be one of us. Their replacements will be announced as soon as all are filled.

I also say farewell to an extra ordinary group of matrics.

Our Hindu brethren have the lovely greeting “Namaste” much like the Tibetan greeting “Tashi Dely” which basically translates into “I bow to you, I honour the divine or the greatness in you.” We have much to learn from our Eastern religions, and in our Christian language, we would use “made in the image of God” but truthfully we often forget to honour the Christ in the other.

The matric secret has been this attitude amongst each other and to the rest of the school. “We are limitless” speaks of an attitude and understanding of what it means to be human. Superbly led by the quiet yet immeasurably strong, dignified and lovely Mellisa, supported by the multi-talented, creative, organised and energetic Tarryn, I believe that as a pair they have been on a par with the very best I have ever worked with. My lovely ladies, I made my tribute to you last evening. You have done yourselves, your parents and your school proud and we acknowledge your greatness within you. I think I am looking forward to receiving your results!

I do not have to remind parents of the difficult times in which we find ourselves. This is also part of the chasm to be faced. The global economy mixed with the growing decline in confidence in our own economy, the scourge of corruption and a seemingly leaderless lawless society and country, exists in a world beset with greed, violence and war. These are not easy times!

The glass bridge leading to 2016 truly reveals its precipitous view and the step into the future is not for the fearful. How do we move ahead?

Of course this bridge is perfectly safe. We must remind ourselves that the problem lies with us and not with the bridge. We take our eyes off the supporting frame and it is no surprise that fear then strikes.

We first remind ourselves that the God for whose purpose this school was founded has not changed. We must continue to seek His wisdom, find His purpose, dwell in His love, and rely on His strength.

It was a lesson learned early in my adult years, and often reinforced since then, that the abundance of God’s provision is astonishing but we do need to open our eyes. Every time I have been part of a team trying to do a “needs analysis” of “what is needed and what we have” the team has found the person, the skill, the gift, right there waiting for discovery, to be unwrapped. Both in terms of governance and staffing we do God a disservice to stand helpless, feeling sorry for ourselves, and do those around us a disservice by not seeing the divine gift in them. Soon, as the statutory processes have taken place, we will have a new Bishop, a new Chair of the Executive, new Governor’s, new teachers and God will say to me “O ye of little faith!”

And the Grade 11s will be in matric, leading the school. A grade of rare unity and diversity, spirit and passion, I say to them as I do each year, “What you are now is nothing compared to what you will be in a year’s time. You will grow in the fire of leadership more than you can imagine. Of course, some of the Grade have been selected by their peers with input from the staff, many hours of thought and discussion, and have been given special responsibilities. I will announce the new leaders at the end of my Speech.

So, that first step onto and across the bridge into the next period of the school can be made with much confidence, and why should we be surprised? This attitude of standing at the end of the bending branch is exactly what I called the school to this year.

On the academic side last year’s matrics all gained university endorsement the first time for many, many years. We moved into our new building. The number of sports offered and the level of participation by our girls is higher than ever. I commend Vossie vos du Toit on her first year as Director of sport. Our competiveness continues to improve. Basketball had Under 16 League winners, Hockey Under 15 league winners, Netball Under 19 league winners. Swimmers have worked incredibly hard and continue to do so, Tennis have played more, have more players and are improving in leaps and bounds, and Squash have worked hard and relentlessly now fielding 8 teams. Our orchestras and choirs are flourishing throughout the school. The recently held Matric Art exhibition boasted incredible work, the House Plays were again outstanding. We have spread the reputation of the school globally through our overseas trips to Malaysia and Nepal, and exchanges to Germany and Australia. Our staff have learned, and discussed, travelled and grown, as indicated in the Staff Development on the brochure. Social awareness has been impressive. This is also in the brochure. The Boarders have had a fantastic year! The behaviour and manners of our girls continues to impress. Old Girls make their mark and are recognised by these traits.
We have stood on the end of the branch and enjoyed it, most of the time.

And what then of 2016, across the gorge, when we are safe on the other side?

Even though the calendar is a bit different, our macro planning of the statutory meeting and events is done. Prize giving next year is on 13 October! Matric Dance is 28 May. Does anything else matter?

My goal for the school in 2016 is to mix some Socratic humility and wisdom through the fabric of the school.

Despite the fact that Socrates left no written work, his thinking and philosophy are deeply imbedded in our civilization. Three of his saying, reported by Plato, also a reasonably bright fellow are:

“I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.”

Another way of saying this is “The more I learn the less I know.” Imagine being a school known for knowing nothing because we learn so much! This is quite the opposite of the parent poster which reads “For all teenagers tired of being harassed by parents? Act now! Move out, get a job, pay your own way, while you still know everything!” The more we learn the less we know….the more we learn the less we know……..

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel”

It is sometimes said, “Education is wasted on the young” and it is not their fault! We the educationalists, have set the world of assessment so firmly in place that we send the message: learn this, tick it off, get matric. Get a degree, get a job. How I would love to study art and music history, architecture and geology! How I love reading all the time new stuff, about new stuff, any stuff, new parts of the world missing from my education. Imagine being a school known not for its matric results but for the passion for learning that takes place within its walls! There is a difference.

“Wisdom begins in wonder.”

The equation of a sine wave, colour changes in titrations, aha moments of Euclidian Geometry, the marvels of red blood cells, the rule of thirds in art, the place of emotion in world economics, the clarity of financial ratios, the beauty of Keats, the movement of Sophiatown, the colour of Sepedi, the El Nino in Geography, the orchestration of Mahler…what a wonderful world we live in, and it is ours to learn in wonder. Wisdom begins in the desire to know something; it ends in the amazement or awe of the beauty that is. Imagine being a school that speaks about the teaching of wonder and wisdom!

2016 is to be a year of the celebration of true learning based on these three statements.

Being the leader of a Christian School, especially an Anglican one of our heritage and traditions provides a life of huge paradox. How does one remain humble and market the school? If we are called to humility, surely the school is also! How does a school acknowledge the giftedness of each at a Prize Giving where we recognise the more tangible excellence of our community, but seemingly ignore those with less measurable but perhaps more important attributes of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, humility and self-control (to list Paul’s fruits from his letter to the Galatians.) To all those who have not got prizes today, please be aware that it is only your participation in the fabric of the school, with all the giftedness you bring, that makes it possible for prizes to be awarded at all.

Another of the paradoxes of being a Christian leader is that the closer one tries to get to God the more ones inadequacies stand out to oneself. As my Christian life progresses, rather than find that experience is making things more easy, I find it more and more difficult to see myself as anything but completely dependent on “grace” to do anything, for anything in my own strength is doomed. In short the confidence needed to stand here is not matched by my own feelings of competence, but by my gratitude for the mercy of the Almighty. I must thank everyone for their kindness, tolerance and acceptance of my offering of the past year.

It is particularly important as I end that I thank my colleagues on stage for their loving dedication to the Daughters of the King, and especially to the Senior Executive team of Mrs Shields, Mrs Miller, Mrs Neser and Mrs Johnstone who are each remarkable leaders in their own right. I also thank Fr Leonard for allowing me to share his priestly ministry in the school.

Our support team and administration are fantastically led by Mrs van der Westhuizen who makes sure the business side of the school operates well. Gosh, how they have worked this year.

I am protected, guided, supported and prodded ever so gently by Mrs Marais, who is so much more than my PA. She is the hub around which the school operates. She even keeps the English department on their toes.

The Governing Body has put in more hours than ever in the last while as the complexities of governance increase and I thank them for their offering. What a team they are!

The greatest thanks as always go to my wife, Sharon. She is the wind beneath my wings, the fire when things get cold, the presence when things get lonely, the wisdom when things get tough. Our lives are not for the faint hearted.

In her first interview as the CEO of Infiniti Insurance Company, Sharon was at the time the only female CEO of an Insurance Company in the country. She was asked “If your husband is a headmaster, you are a CEO, who is in charge in the house?” She replied “He says it’s me. I say it’s him, but actually it’s the cat.”

So thank you also, to Kimbo, the Boss!!!

God bless you all.

St Mary’s Matters May 2015

This Sunday (Pentecost Sunday) I celebrate 25 years in the ordained ministry of the Anglican Church. Asked once whether I was a priest or principal, I replied, “Always both…always both.”

It is the privilege of my position, and indeed my responsibility, to see this vibrant community of St Mary’s DSG from every angle, in its detail and in its big picture. I must be able to reflect on the past, analyse the present and predict and plan for the future. I must be the recipient of a constant stream of information from colleagues, parents, pupils and alumni, and be perceptive to any changes which may point to areas which do not belong at our school. I must be constantly driving the entire body towards a new and better school based on the vision we have.

This is a school primarily of academic endeavour and rigour. We require the girls to work hard, and they do. To walk among the classrooms during the lessons is to experience an exhilarating buzz of “almost quiet” punctuated by the occasional peal of laughter. Having just received the good news of the 100% University Entrance results of the matric class of 2014, following supplementary exams, there can be no questioning the academic product, the deeply entrenched tradition of academic excellence, and the acknowledgement of the quality St Mary’s DSG product in the tertiary institutions.

Yet this does not define our purpose. The purpose of the school is superbly represented in the colours of our uniform, the brown -red of the African soil and the sky blue of the African skies. It is no coincidence that these are also the iconic colours of our patron saint, St Mary, the Mother of our Lord. In its biggest picture this school must send out leaders who derive their strength and inspiration from the “heavens” for the glorification of God in their work on his “soil” where ever they may be, starting in Africa.

Between this primary activity and greater purpose lies the richness of what it is to be at St Mary’s DSG.
As I write this I am basking in the warm glow of “Friends in Concert”, where not only was the talent of our three associated schools WHPS, St Alban’s and St Mary’s DSG so evident, but the mutual support, co-operation, and inter connectedness of our schools was palpable. Our name in this community was certainly elevated through the event, not least by the incredible standard of our ensembles performing.

As I walk around the campus I find myself falling more and more deeply “in love” with this institution. I may be seeing the world by now through blue and brown tinged glasses, but there is an unprecedented range and number of activities being enjoyed by the whole school. What is more, I see happiness and celebration, I hear laughter, I see a school living life in all its fullness.

The eyes of people are often regarded as the indicators of the soul, and I see “shining eyes” in the Daughters of the King. Nothing is more uplifting to me than to be enveloped by the warm hearted and joyful engagement with the wonderful people of this school.

We are experiencing the joy of a Pretoria “winter.” No doubt there will be chilly times ahead, but may we all be filled with the warmth of the relationships that bind this community together.

The Revd Canon Angus Paterson

An analogy to start the year.

Some years ago I was attending a day workshop with the senior staff of my school led by an eminent pedagogue who specialised in educational linguistics.

We had spent the day trying to ascribe words to our school which strongly attached to the senses: colour, taste, fragrance, sounds and touch. Words that attach to the senses linger and are fixed much more readily in the brain and as such are most likely to spur action to retain and enhance those aspects which are released with the association.

There was a profound resonance in the room that day, as we focused on the garden that had become our idiom. The smell of freshly turned soil, richly mixed with compost; the fragrant smell of sweet peas; pink blossoms soon bearing fruit; a cacophony of bird sound, some louder, some more melodious, but all mixed into a symphony of beauty; freshly mown grass still covered with early morning dew with silvery stamens eagerly awaiting pollination; the healthy buzz of bees doing what they do best; the sound of pruning and cutting… .

All of these could be related to an aspect of the school and is in itself an interesting exercise.

We also turned to the less than satisfactory sides of the school, and tried to isolate those areas which were causing the pleasures of the garden to be threatened by invasion and neglect.

It became clear that most pervasive destructive force was gossip, always linked to pride.

Nothing has changed!

Gossip places the person who knows, or who purports to know, in a position of “power” over those who do not know, and this feeds a subliminal inadequacy with a gratuitous feeling of importance.

Heads of schools are faced with this in abundance every day. “So and so is saying this or that.” “I just want you to know that.” “Please don’t do anything but I think you should know that… .” It comes from pupils, from teachers, from parents. Disturbingly, “car park talk” as it has become known, has now been joined by “the whatsapp witch hunt” which is the use of social media to further feed inadequacy and indulge the greedy ego.

I return to the workshop.

Our eminent leader said, “It is all about respect. Unless a person is prepared to show respect by talking to a person face to face, the garden is in the process of invasion by species which can destroy.”

Let us live the fundamental value of respect so deeply enshrined in our Code. When faced with gossip, true or not, let us turn our back on it and address the issue to the right people with respect.

Let us nurture and feed our “garden” this year with everything that will build, grow, develop, and yield fruit, so that when we enter St Mary’s DSG we can relax and smile and enjoy to the full the blossoms, fragrances and seasons of our precious girls.

Speech Day 2014

Mrs Foot and Governors, Professor Kleyn, colleagues, parents and my lovely ladies

Special greetings to Mr Hamilton from St Alban’s, Mrs Gorst-Allman from St Paulus, Mr Pretorius from the Diocese who was fundamental in securing our loan from Standard Bank, and the unofficial matriarch of the school, Mrs Di Gibbs.

I bring profound apologies from Bishop Jo for his absence today…the first Prize giving missed in 16 years.
It gives me very great pleasure to present my 5th address for Speech Day.

Preparation of this speech is quite daunting. I have my colleagues behind me no doubt timing the speech, having laid wagers on the duration, must keep the attention of those on stage lest they publically nod off, enable parents to feel that they have made a worthwhile investment in the time set aside, and keep even Banetsi Nkonyeni alert.

This reminds me of the cleric and taxi driver who arrived at the pearly gates simultaneously, with the taxi driver given clearance by St Peter and the Cleric denied entry. On questioning, the cleric was denied because of his interminable sermons which drove his congregation to boredom while the taxi driver kept his awake and praying fervently to God. You will have to decide on which side of the spectrum this speech lies.

I was listening to one of the former types of sermon once when a woman in the front stood up and walked out rather forcefully. The preacher declared “That is my wife. It is a sign for me to stop!” My wife will not walk out, I hope, but this does give me the opportunity to thank her. We try to set the highest example of what it means to be husband and wife for the community. Given the complexity of our lives I don’t think we do too shabbily. Thanks to her from us all. If the young ladies of this school need a role model of how to be career woman, mother, wife, ….cook, you need look no further.

While in Europe recently, I was reading the Wall Street Journal and met a new saint called St Expeditus.

Apparently while considering his conversion from Roman paganism to Christianity the devil in the guise of a crow flew over calling “Cras, Cras, Cras” Latin for “Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.” He stomped on the bird’s head crying triumphantly, “Today, today, today.” He was later martyred for his faith.

The Governing Body has during the last year been incredibly busy, and I need to thank them all for their offering of time and talent so generously made. I must single out Judith Foot, whose faith and confidence in the school, her dedication and time spent, together with her singular understanding of finance, has epitomized the attitude of the Governing Body of “If it needs to be done, let’s do it! Today rather than tomorrow.”

I also must thank the PA and Mrs Reinecke, especially after the resounding success of Flavours of Spring, and the Old Girls and chair, Mrs Haak for their constant support.

Our girls have had a splendid year. Rather like the only programme of “Minute to Win it” that I watched, which was an attempt to role various coins across the floor into a receptacle, the matrics started firmly, wobbled a bit in the middle, but have settled well into the final straight , well on course. Oska has led superbly and has carried the joy and pain that accompany servant leadership with a strength that has seldom wavered. She will long be remembered as one of the most exemplary Head Girls of these times. With her customary grace, charm and common sense, Dulnimit must also be commended on the way in which she has supported and undertaken her difficult task. In the same way with which I started the year, I reflect on the path we have trod together since 2010 when I was a newby with you, and I am proud of what the matrics and I have achieved together.

One of the most incredible discoveries has very recently been made. Indulge me a while…it involves oranges!

At present, at a cost of millions of rands, the export of oranges to Europe is banned all because of a disease called “black spot.” This is caused by a fungus and is an entirely cosmetic problem. It does not affect the edible bit.

Much more serious is a moth that lays its eggs which hatch into the orange and whose caterpillar larvae eat the fruit, the damage of which only becomes noticeable to humans after 20 days when damage is quite severe. Amazingly there is a parasitoid wasp which lays its eggs in these caterpillars when they are only three days old and is attracted only to those oranges which are releasing the infinitely small amounts of volatile gases released in the first few days of infestation, and they only fly to those oranges infected. A simple wasp..a solution to a serious problem.

Lesson number one for us all is to avoid getting distracted by cosmetic problems! Let us concentrate on internal issues – the things hidden until they have caused great damage.

When I heard this my overwhelming thought was that there is so much still to discover and learn. A world of excitement still lies out there.

Let us also recognize that even though we are the smallest, the least significant, the seemingly less talented, we may have the potential solution. After all, if we believe in ourselves…..!

As Mr Hamilton reflected in his St Alban’s Prize Giving Speech, Prize Givings are only made possible by the contribution of every single pupil of the school. I have often told the school how proud I am of all of you. I do so again, and while acknowledging those who have reached particular heights today, all of you have blessed this school and its community this year.

Hidden, camouflaged under the foliage of the “believe in herself…” is the plea for self acceptance. Self acceptance implies self knowledge, acceptance by girls and their parents of their own limitations and strengths. Aspiration must be mixed with reality. Your incredible solution, your own amazing contribution cannot be defined by the expectations of this soulless society in which we live. Globally the requirements for super qualifications are increasing, and those with qualifications which twenty years ago would guarantee employment will now be disappointed. It is a new world of work where character and tenacity, hard work and innovation will win the day.

Early on in the year, in discussion with Oska, Dulnimit, Katie and Tumi, it came to me that it was not just the pressures of today which weighed heavily on the minds of our girls, but the need in the future to be top class students and then professionals, wives, mothers, to ensure that their own children of the future will experience the privileges they have now. There was a hint that the need to look glamorous and fashionable would also be important! Hence the invitation to Professor Kleyn and I thank her for her positive message.

In reflecting on the past year and my theme “with Open Arms” in my speech last year, I explained that “an attitude of open arms” would enable us to embrace trouble, challenges and successes in a spirit of defenselessness. What a wonderful place to be – where there is nothing about you that you need to defend. Having nothing to defend depends entirely on the knowledge that you are unconditionally loved, not on your state of perfection!

Perhaps the most challenging aspect I anticipated was coping with the disruptions around the new construction. I am so proud of the way in which every person has coped, especially those staff displaced and the girls who have had to walk more from Junior and Senior School, the Senior School staff without a staffroom etc. This building will be ready for occupation for next year.

The transformation of our sport over the last years has been well documented and has been utterly remarkable. This has taken place under the inspirational guidance and eye of Mrs de Bruyn who retires at the end of this year after 15 years of devotion to the girls of DSG. A sporting legend in her own right, the passion Susan has for St Mary’s DSG, her insistence on manners and sportsmanship of the highest order, and the manner in which every person is affirmed in her presence sets her apart from a normal Director of Sports. We are often complimented on the manners and sportsmanship of our girls. Unlike the unnamed rugby player who was evicted from a match for punching within 5 minutes, with his explanation to the coach being “that other bloke was irritating me the whole game.” She is always giving credit to the team, and after every event she makes sure that every contributor knows her gratitude. She can look back on a career and job extremely well done. She leaves with all our affection and we know that she will be just around the corner with her camera. The challenge for our Sport to move to the next level will be almost as much of a challenge, but it is time to do so. I wish Mrs vos du Toit every success in her new role.

It is my deep understanding that trust applied, space given, and passion fulfilled, are the prime ingredients for development, growth and innovation. Believing in someone, in the incredible goodness and giftedness of people, (despite sometimes overwhelming evidence to the contrary) is the only sure measure of seeing potential bud and blossom. From this space, growth and innovation continue to quietly envelop our school: the Ecash system with all its hiccoughs, our internally managed tuckshop, new branding of the business faculty stationary, Miss Brown with the Eco schools, Mrs Neser with the CCA, Mrs Miller with academic subcommittees, new timetables and re-arranged school day, Miss Hanley with the President’s Award programme and associated trips to India and Nepal, Mrs Knight with the Cool Capital interventions, Mrs de Bruyn with the Festival of Lights, Mrs Beukes and her beloved Avo trees, the tour to Russia, Mrs Kladis and embryonic involvement with volleyball, The PA Art Attack and Flavours of Spring are all examples of innovations started or still in operation this year. The Counseling department has also flourished with innovation: The Grade 8 reading and spelling assessment together with Study Skills, Peer supporter training, and Neurolink assessment for subject choices in Grade 9 being examples.

We bid farewell to Miss Hanley, our Presidents Award initiator, and we are proud of the teacher she has become and grateful for her contribution and legacy left here.

When one speaks of legacy we are reminded of the immortalized words of Henry Adams “A teacher affects eternity; she can never tell where her influence stops.” Such words must apply to Mrs Alta van Os who leaves the Foundation phase after over 17 years and who will have played a pivotal role in many of our Senior School ladies. I trust that those Senior School ladies who have fallen under her care will remember to thank her personally.

It is important that I recognise the ladies who actually run the school who make it possible for me to have my doors open: to Mrs Miller, Mrs Neser, Mrs Shields, Mrs van der Westhuizen and Mrs Johnstone…and Mrs Marais, I am extremely grateful to you for making me look good.

Ladies and gentlemen, it has been a good year. Our St Mary’s Singers are National Champions, our Chapel Choir have enriched our worship beyond measure, and our Orchestra has reached heights not before achieved. Our Music students are excelling, our Drama of the highest order. Without question if we take the depth and extent and level of competition we face on our sporting front our sport is at its highest level yet. (I must mention the fact that Makgosi Pelakgosi has been approached by Yale University in the USA for her squash!) The Spirit of the school is high. Discipline and manners are of the highest order (but can improve still!)

Our girls generally work exceptionally hard at their academics. Our staff academic involvement with the IEB is extensive ensuring that we are at the cutting edge of education, and my colleagues behind me are not only going far beyond the call of duty but care deeply for their vocation and for their pupils. We educate for life, not only for results. Indeed the great educational thinker John Dewey proclaimed that education is not preparation for life, it is life itself.

A young student walked into a school dining room where a pile of apples were available for lunch. On it was a frustrated note saying “Take one each, God is watching.” The youngster walked to the oranges and told his friend “help yourself God is watching the apples.”

St Mary’s DSG was not nurtured for all these years to be a home for the academic elite but a place where true education flourishes: faith, values, character, integrity, wisdom, – these are the things which set us apart.
Parents, thank you for your daughters. The perfect school does not exist. Schools are the fallible people within the walls, staff, parents and pupils, not the facilities. Yet St Mary’s DSG will continue to set itself apart with rigorous introspection, a daily determination to do better, and an obsession with being a place where every person is loved and knows they are loved and can discover their own giftedness.

And what of 2015? With apologies to Natalie Maritz who used this quote in her St David Speech, the 19 century poet Victor Hugo gives us the picture, entirely congruent with the “born to fly” motto chosen by our matrics of 2014 “We will be like that bird that, pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings knowing that she hath wings.”

In 2015 we will sing while we bend the bough. To progress we must stand on ground that may give, and branches that may break, …….we must forge to unknown destinations and aim for standards not reached before.

In 2014 we opened our arms, in 2015 we must bend the branch to breaking point………….and sing for sheer joy.

RECLAIMING REAL EDUCATION

In Grade 8 I was told I had to enter the School Inter House Declamation Competition, which meant learning a lengthy Shakespearian soliloquy, which I can repeat to this day. I was spectacular, got every word right, but did not know what the word declamation meant. Hence I did not do very well. I came to thinking about the wonders of the brain; how this speech in 1969 still can be retrieved from the grey matter of the brain at will, responsive to summons, lying dormant and unobtrusive for year at a time. Incredible!

I also think of the words of all the church anthems I used to sing as an innocent treble and later as a not so innocent baritone, and how, in every case, I can remember the words, the music and the emotion. The brain is amazing!

I think of the time when I was played a piece of music with which I was not familiar and asked who I thought the composer was, and I replied “It sounds like Rachmaninoff” and was right. It was an intuitive answer, but rested on hours of exposure to music. The brain is amazing!

I remember the lesson by my Biology teacher in 1971 when the mysteries of photosynthesis were being revealed, and the overwhelming wonder I experienced at the knowledge of molecular activity that was being shared with me. That lesson resulted in me becoming a Biology teacher. The relationship between biochemical functioning, cellular structure and purpose deeply affected me as beauty almost beyond belief.

I remember as a 11 year old in Grade 6 being exposed to Julius Caesar for the first time and learning what an anachronism was, as well as enjoying the concept of “lending ears.”

I remember (actually with some self respect) the depth at which I attacked “Murder in the Cathedral” in Grade 11 and the delight with which we were exposed to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tale, especially the saucy bits! We even learned to read the ancient original text.

I remember reading Thomas Hardies “Far from the Maddening crowd” in Grade 10 and slowly being able to recognize style. I was delighted that when writing a test on an unseen Hardy poem, I started “This is typically Hardy” and my teacher gave me full marks. (This did not happen often!)

I remember with absolute delight the History teacher launching the History text book (unashamedly a piece of Nationalist propaganda) through the closed window into the fish pond, and learning that History was not about learning but thinking and analysis. The lesson that a text book is just a medium towards learning has never been lost on me.

Where am I going with all of this?

It is my assertion that our girls are far too anxious about the level of their academic progress, are fixated on what they have to learn, that they are missing the beauty of their learning. Experiencing the beauty of learning needs a freedom away from the pressure of performance. The brain is incredible, but operates most effectively when wonder and delight are present. The WOW! factor will only return away from the spectre of incessant assessment.

Let us all, teachers, parents, pupils take every opportunity to read and study and learn once again the beauty, wonder and delight of learning.