Farewell, IGS Class of 2021

Valedictory Address for the Class of 2021, by IGS Principal Shauna Colnan

Congratulations to the members of the IGS graduating Class of 2021 as you take your place at the head of that long winding train of IGS graduates, now numbering in their thousands, reaching back 38 years to our School’s humble and audacious beginnings.

Your place in that story will be unique. The Class of 2021, who graduated in one of the most consequential years in modern history, weathering the storm of a global pandemic, the likes of which the world had not seen in a century. During extended lockdowns, they learned from home.

In fact, they were the first year group ever to complete their Trial examinations at home.

But through it all these special individuals rose in fortitude, grew in self-knowledge, and demonstrated wisdom beyond their years, showing courage and grace, achieving so much, and ultimately, coming through it all. Year 12, your experiences of the last two years have been forged in the fires of history, and what’s forged in fire is pure, strong and true.

We will remember you for this and so much more.

Because 19 months of pandemic cannot overshadow the remarkable contribution you have made to our School. As a year group, you are renowned for your determination. Each of you set your sights on the goal ahead.

You found rivers of creativity and drew on new reserves of grit that perhaps you didn’t know you had.

I have watched the dignified way in which you have carried yourselves and I have seen your quiet determination at close quarters, reminding me of the words of American writer Mary Anne Radmacher who wrote “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”

Year 12, you paused, you slowed down, you adapted, you kept each other safe, you changed course, you coped with uncertainty and you kept going. The knowledge you have gained is that you can do difficult things. The triumph you share in a year like no other, is that you kept moving forward, and you supported each other. For that you have my deep respect and admiration.

Year 12, we all know that the future, though bright especially for you, is also profoundly uncertain, but you have demonstrated that you have within you everything you need to continue blazing your splendid trail on your path in this world.

Today I honour every messy, triumphant, inspiring, maddening, joyous moment that brought each of you to this momentous day. And if you don’t feel the momentousness of this day yet, that’s okay.

I remember in our last Zoom lesson of English Extension 2, as the class, and Mr Marchbank, Ms Bolt and I were all reluctantly saying our goodbyes, David Thom commented that Year 12s last day of school was on some random day in June. We laughed and shook our heads as we often did in those lovely Zoom classes.

2021 and your last year at school was never meant to be that way, to be sure, so if today feels a little surreal, that’s okay. Life’s important moments can be like that sometimes.

Year 12, you have been a source of inspiration to us all.

I asked Therese Briganti, 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:

“It’s the moments of connection that I will treasure the most. Conversations with teachers. Chatting with friends in the Study Space. Being absorbed in class discussions. I have been so privileged to be surrounded by so many extraordinary people.

“I will always cherish my memories of this sense of community and the unwavering support and encouragement I have received from my teachers and peers. Although I am looking forward to life after school, my excitement is undercut by overwhelming melancholy at the thought of leaving IGS.

“A part of me would like to stay here with all the people who have become such big parts of my life. It feels like I will be leaving so much behind. But I know that when I leave, I will take pieces of IGS with me. In the knowledge I have gained, the values that have been instilled in me, and the confidence in myself that has grown throughout my time here.”

Beautifully said. Thank you, Therese.

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 needs people who are willing to work very hard for others. You are those people. Use your powers and the gifts that have been 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 be 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 with you from that great American poet Wendell Berry. The poem is called The Peace of Wild Things:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

For me these sentiments capture the sweetness of life that awaits you all, the replenishing power of nature, the importance of following the sun, 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, 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.

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. 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 your ATAR.

Going forward, what will matter more than marks, and ranks and scores, is kindness, tenacity, an open heart, curiosity about others and the world, and above all else, love.

Year 12, it’s time to head off into life beyond Kelly Street. May you and those you love travel safely through this time. And you go with our love and our very best wishes.
Thank you.

Shauna Colnan
IGS Principal