At this time each year, I love poring over photographs and videos that come in from Year 12 students, parents and teachers. Hundreds of photographs – funny heartwarming moments that we show at the graduation dinner. They capture our Year 12s and their journey through IGS, for some, over 15 years.
As I looked through them this week, I was struck by the moments: all of the joyful moments you’ve had, Year 12, and all that you’ve given us. You’ve been present, absorbing all that campus life has to offer.
One video is very special to me. Let me set the scene. I arrived eight years ago in September 2014 as the new Principal. You were in Year 4. I was immediately struck by how friendly and welcoming IGS students were towards me. In fact, I had a regular procession of students visiting my office to tell me about their School.
But back to my first day, when Venice, Phoebe and Sofia brought me a cupcake and I happened to mention to the girls that I needed to learn the School song, quick smart. So, next thing I knew, there was a delegation of Year 4 students at my door with a serious mission to teach me the school song, Unity Diversity.
Enjoy these familiar little faces from almost half a lifetime ago in their carefree primary school days.
So many memories. Such a sweet, kind and thoughtful gesture which I will never forget. It also showed me something about the true nature of IGS. It was a generous act of hospitality by children who truly loved their school. And by the way, whenever we sing the school song, I always think of that moment. Thank you for this gift.
Every year group has a kind of collective personality. My perception of you has always been that you’re sweet, joyous, open hearted, funny, very creative, and you have a certain collaborative determination about all that you do, including ArtsFest which you brought back this year with such a joyful and powerful spark.
We’re often in such a hurry, racing with great anticipation towards the destination, and then comes a day like today and we just want it all to slow down a bit so that we can savour where we’ve been for all those years for just that little bit longer. But time won’t stand still especially on days like today.
As Shakespeare wrote in Henry VI, “see the minutes how they run”. The march of time, steady and unstoppable.
So Year 12, today when you can hardly believe that it’s now your turn to leave school, you can be forgiven for being blindsided by a wave of emotion, washing you around and around and upside down, knocking you sideways with feelings that you just didn’t see coming.
I asked Grace Mercer, who I had the privilege of teaching this year, about the special moments she’ll treasure and how she’s feeling about leaving school today. This is what she told me:
“I think back,” said Grace. “I’ve spent so many moments waiting for time to pass, only to then suddenly realise that it already has. Five minutes seems like hours when the bus is late, and you’ve left your headphones on the kitchen table. It feels like eternity when it’s the last class of the last term, and you’re 14, desperately waiting to flee the gates into the steaming heat of summer.
“My Grandfather always told me, ‘Don’t waste your life living for the weekends, sweetheart’. He was right. Blink, and Sunday night will hit you like a steam train.
“That advice is likely the reason that as we tear towards the unprecedented, I am not afraid, not regretful. I think back, and although things haven’t always been easy, I’m grateful for all the good I’ve encountered, the challenges, the growing pains.
“To every person sitting in this room I say thank you. Because IGS is not any one person, any one thing. It’s a collective, the culmination of the work and efforts of every single person who sits under its banner on any given day. And, as I leave my final assembly, I wish you all well. Be present in every moment leading up to yours.”
We thank Grace for sharing her wisdom.
Year 12, I’m sure you’re very conscious today that you did not get to this moment on your own. Your families saw this day for you and sacrificed so you could be here. To all the parents, grandparents and family members, on behalf of all of us at IGS, thank you for entrusting your children to us. It’s been our privilege to teach them and to learn from them. Like you, we are very proud of them too.
Year 12, today is about you. Celebrate your achievements, savour your successes, rest on your laurels, just for a day, but only for a day, because tomorrow is about everyone else.
How will you use your gifts and your education to make the world a better place for others? The world, especially now, needs people who are willing to work very hard for others. You are those people. Use your powers and the gifts bestowed upon you for good.
As you enter this beautiful season of your life, you will hear words of advice from many people. Listen deeply. There will be gems aplenty. While much of the advice will be action oriented, urging you to lead and pursue, there is also the other side.
My advice to you is to stay curious and open to what the world has to offer you, pay attention and take time to be still. These more gentle ways of being have their own immense power that I highly recommend.
In that spirit, I’d like to share some words of wisdom about life and how to be, from writer Nadine Stair who was 85 years old when she was asked “How would you have lived your life differently if you had the chance?” This is what she said:
If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take more chances,
I would eat more ice cream.
I would, perhaps, have more actual troubles but fewer imaginary ones.
You see, I’m one of those people who was sensible and sane,
hour after hour,
day after day.
Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over again,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else – just moments,
one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.
I’ve been one of those people who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances,
I would ride more merry-go-rounds,
I would pick more daisies.
For me these sentiments about being truly in the moment capture the sweetness of life that awaits you all, the replenishing power of nature, the serendipitous moments and the astonishing directions life can take us, if we’re curious and open enough to receive its many and varied gifts.
And when in doubt, about how to be in this world, just be kind.
Nothing beats kindness. It sits quietly beyond all things.
For all of us, today is not just graduation. It’s commencement. It’s freedom. The freedom to let your lives be shaped by your deepest questions and your most cherished dreams.
In some ways, your parents’ work is now done. Our work is done. For better or for worse. And hard as it is, the more we let go now, the stronger you become.
Today we usher you into adulthood and we say farewell. And we couldn’t be more proud of you than we are right now.
Year 12, my fierce hope for you is that you use your leaving to advance the pursuit of truth and understanding, to improve the lives of others and to rise to the challenges of our troubled world.
There’s no going back to the way things were. There’s only going forward and this is exactly what you have done over your years at IGS and especially over the last three years of disruption and pandemic where your resilience and perseverance have been a triumph.
The world needs what you have.
Year 12, on behalf of the entire IGS community, thank you for all you’ve done to enrich our school. Well done on all you have achieved.
I want to say a special word to those of you who have pushed courageously through very difficult times. I have watched you and admired you, your stoicism and your immense courage, your good humour and your gentle spirit.
You have especially inspired us all.
Year 12, go well into this next chapter, and the very best of luck for the HSC and beyond. And remember, while we want you to do your best and to do brilliantly in the upcoming exams, and we know that you will write more and better than you ever have, know also that you are not an ATAR. Going forward, what will matter more than marks, and ranks and scores, is tenacity, an open heart, curiosity about others and the world, your humanity, and above all else, love.
Year 12, it’s time to move on, to head off into life beyond Kelly Street. May you and those you love travel safely through this time. Go with our love and our very best wishes.