Finding your fire

What a joy it was to end the term today with our annual celebration of the performing arts in the High School, ArtsFest! This year the theme was "the way we were"!

And in more cultural news, with help from Bankstown Poetry Slam founder Sara Mansour and our Head of Literary Projects Derek Patulny, we’ve just launched the IGS High School Poetry Slam to begin next term.

This week I received some uplifting feedback from a member of the public about one of our students. She wrote:
“Today my mum who is not well and walking on a walker was trying to cross Avoca Road in Randwick when one of your students – a young man with shaved hair along the sides and slightly long on top – crossed the road especially to come and ask if he could assist her across the road. I had just finished at the pharmacy and caught up to them as they were walking across the road! An amazing example of a well-mannered young man who only wanted to help her! Really touching and well done. We had just received not so good news as well so this was a wonderful welcome. Thank you.”

The decisions that our students make and the actions they take, big and small, can make a difference to the lives of others and to our planet. I spoke with our students in assembly this week about finding their purpose, or as I described it, finding their fire.

I shared with them the powerful true story of a young woman, Julia Butterfly Hill, who fell in love with a giant sequoia, a Californian redwood, that would live for thousands of years were it not to be felled.

To save the tree from being logged, she climbed it and gave her word that her feet would not touch the ground until its life had been saved.

She climbed 60 metres up the tree and lived there for two years, cooking her food on a small stove, and braving storms, loneliness and the demands of officials in helicopters who wanted her to give up her fight.

She adapted and learned to survive in this difficult environment.

She had a phone and journalists started to call and interview her and in no time at all, this girl had gathered huge support from all around the world. And finally, after talking to lots of people from the government, the police, the woodcutters, she persuaded them all to preserve the tree.

And then… she came down. Not only had she saved one tree. She had saved the whole forest.

For Julia Butterfly Hill, an ancient tree was the spark that helped her find her life’s purpose. As it turned out, she went on to become a prominent American environmental activist.

I want our students to think about their own purpose, a word stemming from the Greek word for fire.

I want them to think about what kind of a person they want to be, and to understand that it is up to each of them to choose whether or not to be kind, to work hard, to help and support others, to act with goodness and integrity, to be honest and trustworthy, to be curious, openhearted, warm and friendly.

“Your purpose will be that special fire that helps you to be your best self and we can’t wait to see it shining brightly as you continue through school here at IGS,” I told our students.

I am proud that hundreds of our students took part in the recent climate strike.

It is their generation that will be tasked with making progress on some of the most intractable adaptive challenges that humankind has faced. They will also have tremendous resources at their fingertips and their education will hold the key.

I want all our students to be able to think flexibly, creatively and deeply. Their ability to work with others and to speak plainly and persuasively will also be key.

I touched on the work of climate activist Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish woman who recently criss-crossed Europe speaking at rallies in four countries in just eight days in a bid to spur politicians into action. She has just been nominated for this year’s Nobel peace prize. She’s 16.

I pointed out to our students that these two young women, Julia and Greta, have a purpose greater than themselves and are driven by the idea that there is not a moment to waste.

And then I shared with them Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw’s words about purpose:

“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy…

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.

“I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

As we move to the end of the term, I thank every member of our community for the care and consideration they have shown for each other, and for their many contributions.

I hope your children enjoy a wonderful, well-earned holiday and I look forward to seeing you all next term.

Shauna Colnan
IGS Principal