Kia ora tatou, a very warm welcome back to you all. A particular warm welcome to our new students here today who I know the rest of you will support settle into the school. I’ve seen a number of you already through course confirmation and last week’s peer support programme, but it is nice to see you back in your uniform sitting all together in a space we know so well.
Today I would like to tell you a story. The reason why I want to tell you this story is that at the end of last year we had over a hundred people undertake peer support training, and at the beginning of this year we took 68 of those students (a record number) to Peer Support Camp to run a programme for our new Year 9 students. There are 160 students sitting in this hall today. Twelve of you are likely to be on the Student Executive, elected in a couple of weeks. But we would expect a lot more than 12 will nominate yourselves to be considered. So this story…
In 2004 I was part of a year group that had about 250 students in it and in the system I was part of, about 40 students every year are chosen to be prefects. I wanted so badly to be a prefect. I remember as a tiny year 9 how much I hero worshiped the prefects. At the end of year twelve, there was a school wide vote and I wasn’t in the top 40. I wasn’t made a prefect. The system was as flawed as the Electoral College but putting that aside for a moment, this was heartbreaking for me. I remember balling my eyes out. Tears that you can only cry as a child. The ones where your mouth sort of starts gagging for air and you have no control over the noises you are making.
I’m sharing this with you, not just because I passionately endorse the cathartic impact of a good cry, but because these emotions of disappointment are totally valid. Everyone in this room has felt that at some point to various different degrees. And I’d wager most of us in this room have cried to the point where you are dehydrated.
But what did I do about this? I had told a lot of people that I wanted to be a prefect, so I was pretty embarrassed to have missed out. I bounced back pretty well. I stayed strong through that perceived embarrassment and came out the other side. I wanted to prove I could make a difference.
It wasn’t long before I put together my love of cinema and new Audio Visual room built in the library. So I set about creating a film club. Cutting a long story short, this involved getting the library staff on board, a supportive teacher that helped mentor me through the process and a letter to the school leadership requesting a budget for the DVDs etc. I got granted $500, and bought films like Singing in the Rain, Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, the 1933 King Kong and Casablanca.
I started showing a classic film every week over a series of lunchtimes. The room was filled with people experiencing the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick – films that theses students might never have seen without this opportunity. I became well known around the school for coordinating this, with students approaching me with film requests – and making connections with peers who also had a passion for cinema.
I set up the cinema club to be continued for years to come and despite not being officially recognised as a ‘leader’ I had shown that anyone can actually make a difference.
Unfortunately the following year, someone discovered that the film club wasn’t covered by the school’s copyright permissions, and we had actually been illegally showing films and we liable for fines up to $80,000. Film club didn’t continue – but at least we had one year of cinematic magic.
I’m extremely proud of the peer support students. I will be extremely proud of those that make it into the Student Executive. But neither of these things stop anybody in this year group from making a positive difference to Newlands College.
As the great philosopher Emanuel Gorges said to me in last week, who may or may not have been quoting someone else: “’What you do for yourself dies with you when you leave this world, what you do for others lives on forever”. So the challenge we are posing to you today is now that you are Year 13 students, the leaders of the school: what are you going to give back?
I haven’t mentioned yet our results last year. And while it’s true that they are the best Level Two results this school has ever had and we should celebrate and we should be proud – this is only one measure of success. There are other ways of measuring how good you are as a year group – and how well you give back and create opportunities for others, lead the way by creating a positive inclusive environment – that is the measure I’m truly interested in.