It is amazing how quickly a year passes. It seems like only yesterday we commissioned our Year 12s into the leadership of the College, yet last week we farewelled and thanked another cohort of students who have completed their CHAC education. The Annual Awards Evening, Year 12 Final Assembly and Valedictory Service provide the opportunity to celebrate all we value here at CHAC. The theme of our Annual Awards Evening – A Joyful Celebration – provided an opportunity to reflect on how much we have to be thankful for.
This year – lived out under our theme of Creative, Collaborative, Committed – has again provided our community with countless opportunities to celebrate success in many facets of College life. One of the highlights of this week is the outpouring of gratitude and thanks expressed to the staff of the College by students. It is touching to see individual students seek out teachers who have had significant impact on them and take the time to express their thanks in very personal ways. The College is extremely proud of our graduating Class of 2018 and know they will move on to be responsible, engaged members of the broader communities. We wish them well and hope that they take the lessons learned through a CHAC education into their life beyond school.
The Valedictory Dinner provides an opportunity for a member of staff to deliver some departing words to our graduating class. Ms Karen Bonini, our retiring Head of Faculty Life and Faith, provided an inspirational address that touched all present on that night. With her permission, I have reproduced this for the whole community to consider.
Recently, I saw First Man, the film about Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon on 20 July 1969, when I was in Year 10. We were sent home from school that day to watch it as it happened, such was the monumental significance of that event. I sat glued to the black and white tv, and was awestruck as I watched the very grainy vision of the first lunar landing. The world watched in amazement, unified by our global sense of achievement brought about by the technological marvel that was the moon touchdown. I remember people making comments over the ensuing weeks about how astonishing all this newfangled technology was. And yes it was, but people seemed to forget that it was a human brain that created that technology way back then, just as it is the human brain that creates today’s technology.
While our brains have a staggering ability for creativity and an admirable propensity to intellectualise our world, I believe there is something far more astounding, far more capable of unifying and changing the world and it is the human heart. Of course, I don’t mean that vital beating muscle that keeps us physically alive. I’m referring to that mystical part of the human spirit or psyche, or whatever it is, that is the impetus for the most heroic deeds, the most magnificent gestures, the deepest of emotional responses. It’s our spirit heart and I want to focus on two aspects that I believe are the hallmarks of the very best of any society and, as CHACIANS, you’ll be very familiar with them and they both emanate from our spirit hearts.
Each one of us in this room is possessed of a spirit heart, it’s just a matter of how we choose to use it. One of the most formidable ways to live by our spirit hearts is through compassion, a word derived from a mixture of the medieval French term for sympathy and pity, and from the ancient Latin term that means “I suffer”. So my take on this word is that compassion means “I feel for you, I suffer with you”. To show compassion is one of the greatest heartbeats humans can demonstrate to each other. If we allow ourselves to feel for others, and participate in their suffering, we cannot but help to be our noblest selves, not for our own glorification, but because we selflessly enter into relationship with another person when they most need it. We put aside our own selves and we share their pain, bear their grief, we suffer their lack of esteem, we say to them, either by word and or action that we embrace them, that they are not alone. There is no technology that can act from a spirit heart. Our compassion elevates humanity beyond the robotic to the sublime.
The word ‘courage’ has such strong implications. Like compassion, it’s derived from an ancient French word that means ‘heart or innermost feelings’. So, courage is tied to the heart – how extraordinary. Too often in modernity, courage has assumed the characteristics of the superhero, leaving us mere mortals to simply aspire to acts of daring. How very wrong this is. Courage is another of the great hallmarks of society because it comes from the spirit heart, the very core of our being human. It gives action of our innermost feelings of righteous indignation against injustice. It speaks of a willingness to speak up, to take action, to defend, to challenge. There is often a price for courage. Those who’ve had the courage to identify wrong doers often risk exclusion and ridicule, but failure to act is worse, because in failing to call people to account, we risk our integrity, our self-honesty, we risk damaging our spirit hearts because we allow injustice to flourish, all the while discounting the need for justice for our fellow citizens.
So ladies and gentlemen of our 2018 graduating class, here is what I ask of you. Be people of courage who are not afraid to show compassion, who transcend the barriers of exclusion, who can take it on the chin if you’re ridiculed for courageous action. Be the person who lives with integrity. Be dignified people who give dignity to others because, as the great poet John Donne said, “No person is an island unto themselves, but is rather a part of a continent”. Many of you will go on to achieve great things, while others will achieve quietly; either way, your greatest achievement will be as spirit-hearted individuals who seek to consistently bring a better world order.
So back to Neil Armstrong. As he landed on the moon on the cold winter’s day in 1969 he said, “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” It won’t matter if you take small steps, or giant leaps, just as long as you keep your spirit heart pumping little or large moments of compassion, small or monumental deeds of courage. If they contribute to renewing the grandeur of God’s world and ennoble its people, then you will have achieved far more than any lunar landing or technological marvel.
Be women and men of courage, be women and men of compassion, be men and women with spirit hearts, and may you be lifted up on eagles’ wings, just as you lift up others.
God’s blessings to each and every one of you.