I remember so vividly the first IGS Speech Night I attended. First, witnessing the dangerous opulence of these chandeliers, grand hanging lights which perpetually threaten to drop and murder us all. I remember timing Ms Colnan’s speech (back then it was roughly 23 minutes; tonight it was 27)…
But most importantly, I remember the 2017 Head Boy Jamie Heath’s speech. It wasn’t just what he said that was impactful, but also how he said it. He spoke passionately of how IGS only ever asked him to be his authentic self and the empowerment he felt from that freedom. In that moment, in this theatre, something sparked inside the unsure Year 7 that I was. I began to imagine what it might be like to stand where he was. It wasn’t that I wanted to be him, but I wanted to learn to be me. His words assured me that I was at the right place to make that happen.
The world can be very quick to tell us who we ‘should’ be and what we ‘should’ do with our lives. With all that’s going on out in the world, it can even feel dangerous to be yourself, but at IGS it has felt exciting and adventurous.
We have been given space to safely fall so we could learn to get back up. We have been given the security to fail so that we can know the opportunity that gives us room to grow. We have been given assurance to explore our multitudes and become any and all of the many things we might be, free from judgement.
Throughout my life I have been in situations where I was afraid to be myself, but none of those times were at IGS. In essence, we’ve been empowered to be the best WE can be. IGS handed us a mould; not to fit into, but to break.
What is more remarkable though is how this pursuit of self-creation actually results in a stronger and deeper sense of community. How we’re all made better by each others self-defined excellence. As lucky as I am to stand here on stage tonight, proud of who I am, it would be hubris to suggest that I’ve done it on my own. I wouldn’t be wholly me if, for example, my best friend Ned wasn’t Ned. If my co-captain Zahra wasn’t Zahra. If Mr Marchbank wasn’t Mr Marchbank. And if every single one of you weren’t who you are. Even as we go our separate ways I’ll always be grateful for the parts of you which have formed vital parts of me.
A person who has been a constant source of inspiration throughout my life is Nelson Mandela, who I am named after (Madiba being one of his clan names). Now I am not Kanye West, I am not claiming to be the next Nelson Mandela, I’m just saying that I have always admired him and bearing his name has exerted some level of subliminal influence and aspiration for me to embody his integrity and courage.
Mandela is often quoted as saying “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” Whilst It turns out he didn’t actually say that (it was Marianne Williamson), he did quote her and lived by that philosophy. The philosophy which is central to IGS’s belief system. About education, he said: “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”
The education we have received at IGS, that our parents worked hard to afford us and that our teachers worked tirelessly to give us, is something very special. I am beyond grateful for every opportunity I have had to simultaneously explore my place in the world and to discover the world within myself.
Everyone in this theatre here tonight has privilege to some extent. The question each of us must ask ourselves as we stand on this threshold, is what do we do with it?
The world we’re graduating into is riddled with more complex problems than history has ever known. We’re being asked where we will fit in. What gaps we will fill to meet the current demands. It will be hard not to doubt ourselves when we’re outside the comfort of this community because our school hasn’t prepared us to fit into this world.
They’ve done something more magnificent that that; they’ve empowered us to change it. To look at the world with a critical eye, a compassionate heart and to bring unique perspectives to unprecedented circumstances. We have the capacity to adapt, the courage to act and the heart to inspire others. It’s incumbent upon us to use our privilege to be the change we wish to see in the world. When we do that, we create ourselves a future to hope for.
Mandela also said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” And who are any of us not to wield it? To bring less than all that we have to give in service of a world which requires us to be all that we can be? If we can do that, if we can even begin to do that, imagine how spectacular and grand that would be.
Like this chandelier… to quote the big man one more time: “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged (like this theatre) to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” It occurs to me that in this chandelier that once seemed so precarious and daunting, which hasn’t changed in all our Speech Nights, I now see something else.
I see a spectacular and complex structure made up of hundreds of individual crystals, each multi-faceted and beautiful in its own right and equally necessary to make the whole. I see that it can dare to risk its fragility in mid-air because it is so strongly supported. And these crystals don’t face in to conceal the light, they face out to reflect and refract it in every direction and vanquish the darkness in the most glorious way possible.
Simple lights would do the job but a space like this deserves better, and a world like ours deserves our best. It’s not enough to shine when we’re capable of so much more.
This has been the School’s gift to me and a legacy we must all perpetuate and propel into the throes of a future yet to unfurl.
The greatest of all my privileges has been to serve as your Head Boy but I’m going to give the last word to my namesake:
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others.”
Year 12, teachers, family and friends, you have made all the difference to my life. Thank you.