Insights – Presentation Evening

Dear Community,

I would like to share with you an excerpt from my speech from this week’s Presentation Evening.

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Good Evening, Rabbanim, distinguished guests, and our wonderful school community.

As many of our parents walk their kindergarten students into the campus from the carpark on Dandenong Rd they pass a collage in the stairwell which bears the words from the famous Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody song: “From little things big things grow.”

Looking out at our graduates tonight these words ring particularly true. You were all once little things. Some of you started your journeys at our Alma Rd pre-school, some at Kooyong Rd and some at Orrong Rd.

It is within the school gates that you learned to read, to count and to question. You skinned your knees, learned to tie your laces, traded footy cards. You participated in tunnel ball races and performed jokes with no punchlines in Creative Assemblies.

On your celebration day you recounted fond memories of your early years and shared photos of your baby selves. You were so cute!

But now, Class of 2019, you are big. You are all grown up. You are passionate, smart and wise. You are powerful and creative. You have successfully navigated your school years and are ready for the next stage in your journeys.

And your world needs you.

When one reads traditional or social media or many commentaries published in opinion pieces, one could come away with the view that the world is a pretty terrible place. We read of shocking inequality, surging conflict and injustice in many places.

However, there is compelling research which identifies that we are actually enjoying one of the greatest times to be alive in the history of humanity.

In his book, Enlightenment Now, cultural theorist, Steven Pinker, points out that according to many measurable data sources the world is much better than we think it is. We live in an age where health care, nutrition and leisure time have increased significantly and most major diseases are reducing dramatically. Further, the horrors of slavery, racism, misogyny and homophobia that were institutionalised a hundred years ago have each seen great improvement and are being constantly challenged.

Pinker paraphrases Barrack Obama’s 2016 Howard University commencement address when he said that: “If you had to choose a moment in history to be born, and you did not know ahead of time who you would be – you didn’t know whether you were going to be born into a wealthy family or a poor family, what country you’d be born in, whether you were going to be a man or a woman – if you had to choose blindly what moment you’d want to be born, you’d choose now.”

While we really should stop and smell the roses more often, our tradition teaches us that we can and must always strive to make our world better. There will always be causes and issues that rely upon the power and influence of brave people with fine moral integrity to make a positive difference.

Our graduates have achieved so much in their time at our school and have been blessed with outstanding opportunities to thrive in an incredibly diverse range of activities and areas.

This undoubtedly places them in a uniquely privileged position as they face the future.

JK Rowling once said to a group of graduates: “If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

There is a great episode of the sitcom The Wonder Years which is set in 1969 during the Vietnam War. It is called The Walkout.

As newly elected class president, the protagonist, Kevin Arnold, is inspired by his favourite teacher to take a stand against the war by leading a walkout of his Kennedy High School in protest.

Unfortunately for Kevin, after recognising the potential dire employment outcomes of his move, the teacher calls in sick on the relevant day. Kevin is left to his own devices trying to negotiate what to do. As his classmates silently sneak looks at him and his hands grow sweaty he starts feeling the excruciating pressure of expectation.

When it gets too much to handle, he decides to calm down by going to the toilet. Unbeknownst to him, in walking out of the room to do so, he inadvertently inspires his classmates to leave, thus sparking the great Kennedy High walkout. The message I take from this episode is that leadership can take many forms and when we take action, however small, we can create great momentum for change.

From little things big things grow.

Now that you are big things we rely upon you to take what you have learnt to try to make a difference. Whether it is taking action to help combat climate change, whether it is advocating for those less fortunate or taking a brave stand against racism and anti-Semitism we believe that you can and will make a difference.

You have all the blessings of an incredible contemporary education and we trust that you will use it to the best of your abilities to keep growing in ways that ring true for your values.

Kol ha’kavod on a wonderful school journey.

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