In a series of assemblies across the School this week, IGS Principal Shauna Colnan has invited all students to “go deep and produce something great”, which is our whole school goal for 2022.
In a special High School assembly, Ms Colnan greeted students with “a heavy heart”. This is what she said:
This is the saddest time in a school community. We’re deeply sad. We’re shocked, we’re angry and we’re bewildered. We’ve lost one of our own. A beautiful young man, Jai Wright.
I will always remember Jai as the little Year 3 boy I met when I first arrived in 2014. We immediately bonded over our mutual love of the Rabbitohs, who went on to win the grand final that year against the Bulldogs. I remember Jai running up to me on Level 2 on the Monday after the game and giving me a big high five. He was joyful.
Jai was kind, warm, sweet, open-hearted. A proud Dunghutti boy. A family person, fiercely protective and loyal to his brothers, Kaidyn and Marli. He was cut out of the same cloth as his inspirational dad, Lachlan, and his kind and gentle mum, Kylie.
Jai left IGS last year full of the promise of the future. He had won a coveted apprenticeship and was heading in to the career he had set his sights on as an electrician. On his final day at IGS, we passed each other at the crossing on Kelly Street. He smiled that smile and said, “see ya miss”. I was so proud of him. So very happy for him.
I will always remember that moment and Jai’s smile. It was infectious, and his warmth. It made him just a great person to be around.
The loss of Jai is unfathomable.
When the world goes dark, how do we find the light?
We’re all different. For me, I find consolation and comfort in words, poems, books, paintings. I read a book in January called The Harbour by journalist Scott Bevan. I love the idea of the book. Bevan takes us around Sydney Harbour from the vantage point of his kayak. He stops at the places that he thinks are most interesting and tells the reader about them and about their fascinating history.
At one point he stops near Lane Cove, at a bushy stretch of foreshore called Woodford Bay. At this glorious spot, the eucalyptus trees grip the sandstone ledges and hang over the water’s edge and the boats bob in the bay, all washed with water and light, a scene that has the beauty and loveliness of a work of art.
In fact, Woodford Bay inspired one of our greatest Australian landscape artists, Lloyd Rees. For more than fifty years, the Bay was Rees’ home, and it was often the subject of his art. He was absolutely besotted by Sydney and saw it as heaven on earth.
In his studio, he painted some of his most iconic works just above the Bay. Down the road from his studio is a park named in his honour, and today on a small rock above the bay is a plaque honouring Lloyd Rees. Etched on it is a quotation of his that reads, “If you look for light you find it.”
Rees painted Three Boats, Lane Cove River from the very spot where the plaque stands today.
If you look for light you find it.
I stopped on this sentence and thought deeply about it over the holidays and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It brought me back to you and to the new school year that we all wanted to have. For the darkness we might be seeing right now, I still agree with Lloyd Rees, and I think this is a simple but powerful way to live our lives. I also believe that lots of people who spend their days together looking for the light can help one another and can lift each other up. In spite of our loss, and maybe even because of it, looking for the light might be the most important quest of our lives.
Go deep and produce something great.
Today and in that context, I want to introduce you to our whole school goal for this year which is to go deep and produce something great. Last year, our goal was to build beautiful work across the campus and we did it. The School became a rolling gallery of your beautiful work, achieved in so many different ways. But what if this year, we all aim to go deep inside ourselves, in our own way, and produce something great, something that we’re proud of, something new that changes things for the better. Some of you already have and as we go through these days, we are certainly digging deep to be there for each other.
I want you to think about what going deep and producing something great might mean for you.
It might be some small private victory, a little moment, or something writ large across your life. It doesn’t matter. It’s your thing and I want you to know that we are here to support you every step of the way.
Kindness at IGS
We also want to wrap kindness around everything we do this year. Tamara Kezelman, who was one of our counsellors for many years, was leaving at the end of last year and she told me that in her last week, she was overwhelmed by the kindness of the IGS community. Students, teachers and parents whose lives she had touched told her what she meant to them, the difference she had made in their lives, what they valued and loved about her. It was moving to her but also bittersweet because she only knew all this when she was leaving. She told me that she made a decision from that moment on to exercise radical kindness.
In other words, if you feel a sense of gratitude or admiration for somebody, tell them. Tell them straight away. This is what Tamara was going to do.
Let’s all try this and see the impact it has when we tell somebody how we feel about them, the good stuff.
I encourage you to be that source of light in the lives of those around you. Can you imagine if we all exercised radical kindness in 2022 here at IGS and in our lives, by telling people how we feel about them? Perhaps that could even be our collective expression of going deep and producing something great.
IGS is a kind place to be and we wrap that kindness around our school values of diversity, personal achievement, connectedness, authenticity and vibrancy. And in that spirit, we have new students and teachers who have joined us this year and this is their first assembly. Let’s give them a big warm welcome to IGS.
Let me end where I began. In perhaps the cruellest blow for an artist, Lloyd Rees gradually lost his sight over his long life. And yet, as he became known as the grand old master of Australian landscape painting, he kept finding the light. The details disappeared from his paintings and shapes softened and liquefied. But there was still the light. In his 90s, almost blind, he kept painting, and visions of light became the actual subject of his later works.
His painting The Sunlit Tower, which he painted when he was 91, is ethereal, transcendent and visionary. It exemplifies his belief that if you look for light, you find it.
Everyone, my hope for you this year is that you stay well, exercise kindness above all things, kindness to others, kindness to yourselves. When you feel sad, look for opportunities to do something for someone else. Be present and deeply engaged in the classroom and in your own learning. Really listen in class. There’s so much to learn. Try hard, and in your own way in your own time, go deep and produce something great.
Take care, support each other, and all the very best for the year ahead.