As our Year 12 students begin their HSC this week and we welcome our Year 11 student leaders into their new roles, I’d like to share two stories with you that I shared at the Leadership Induction Assembly in the last week of Term 3.
The first is a story about courage.
As Principal of IGS what inspires me most are the acts of courage from students that I see every day. Leadership and courage are like two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. A few months back I was copied into a late night email. It was an email from a student to a teacher. The student felt compelled to write to that teacher on behalf of her friend. You see, something had happened that day that disturbed her. This thoughtful, intelligent student had watched the teacher speak to her friend in a way that she thought was unfair. And rather than thinking it was unfair and doing nothing, she decided to do something. And so she wrote to the teacher and copied me in. Her email jumped off the screen at me for its integrity, its strength, the respectful tone she adopted, her maturity, and her courage. She took complete responsibility for sending it. In fact her friend knew nothing about the email.
As I read, I imagined being this student. Her heart must have been pounding as she hit the send key. I was very grateful that she wanted me to know about this. It allowed me to speak with the teacher the next morning to understand what had happened. To my relief, the situation was not what the student thought it was. Things aren’t always as they appear. After meeting with the teacher, I met with the student. I told her that she had inspired me and the teacher. I told her some of the background, to set her mind at ease and to reassure her that IGS is not an unfair place where unfair things happen.
I also told her that what she had done was leadership! Pure and simple, selfless and bold. She led because she had a voice within her that would not be still. If all students at IGS spoke up and acted against injustice, perceived or otherwise, we would be the first and only school, ever, completely free from bullying and discrimination. Our School would be even safer and better than it is now.
After this student left my office, my thoughts took me back, way back, many years earlier, to another office, the office of Miss Cooper, the very formidable Principal of my primary school.
And this is where my second story begins. It’s a story about overcoming fear and stepping up.
Miss Cooper frightened us. She was a tall, imposing figure. Black hair, black dress, white pearls. Her stiletto heels could be heard loudly clicking along the timber corridors that led from her office past the classrooms. Being summoned to Miss Cooper’s office was about as terrifying an experience as you could have at our little primary school in Green Valley.
It was a blisteringly hot day and the last week of primary school. I was in Year 6 and I remember looking out across the playing field, imagining life in high school with excitement and trepidation in equal measure. Click, click, click. Miss Cooper was making the rounds and then she stopped. The door swung open and there she stood. “Miss Emery, see me in my office at 3pm. Don’t be late.”
All eyes turned to me in horror. What had I done? Why was I in trouble?
After an agonising hour, the bell rang and I made my way to Miss Cooper’s office where she was standing at her door. “Miss Emery, she said, please come in.”
And so I did.
Miss Cooper invited me to sit. Looking over the rim of her glasses she said, “I would like you to read a poem at the farewell to Year 6 assembly tomorrow morning.”
What a relief. I wasn’t in trouble after all.
But now a new terror emerged. I was very shy back then and the thought of reading a poem at such short notice to hundreds of students absolutely terrified me.
But Miss Cooper had chosen me. She told me that she thought I would do a good job, that it was a special poem, a poem about leadership, a poem for the ages, full of wisdom about how to carry yourself in this world. It was a poem that meant everything to her. She told me that she believed in me, that I could do it. She gave me the poem which she had written out for me in her own hand.
I left Miss Cooper’s office, poem in hand and ran home, euphoric and scared. That night I must have read that poem 50 times.
The next day I stepped up to the microphone. My knees were knocking together. But I delivered that poem to the whole assembly and Miss Cooper smiled approvingly.
Over the years, that special poem has become the measure of how I try to live my life, and so, as we wish our new student leaders the very best, I have passed it on to them and want to share it with you as we begin our final term of the year.
It’s called “If” and it’s written by Britain’s first poet laureate Rudyard Kipling. Kipling wrote it as advice to his young son, and so I’ve adapted it ever so slightly so that it has equal application to all of our students and especially to our student leaders who we have encouraged to go forward in their roles with integrity, courage and grace.
In Kipling’s words:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all others doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph AND Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to…broken,…..
And stoop and build them up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so,.. hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all others count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—life’s race you will have won.
All the best for a wonderful Term 4.