Final Assembly – Dean’s Address

When we first met, five years ago:

  • #1 film in NZ was Django Unchained;
  • #1 Song on the charts was ‘Same Love’ by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis feat. Mary Lambert;
  • Marmite was not still not stocked in any supermarkets because of Marmageddon;
  • National was in government, with a confidence and supply agreement with Act, United Future, and the Maori Party.

Back then, I was a skinny, scared young adult with lots of colourful socks. Today I speak to you five years later as a skinny scared young adult with a lot more colourful socks to choose from.

Remember how enormous Newlands College felt the first time you came here? Remember how cavernous the corridors felt and how the quad seemed to stretch on toward the horizon. Today I’m sure you will admit it feels much smaller. In time, your chosen professions will feel the same way.

Today I want to share some reflections of the time we have spent together. To share some stuff about me, and to share some stuff I think about you.

In preparing for this address, I went back I found my application to be your dean. This is an excerpt from my application letter sent to Ms Mills in September 2012:

I am seeking a new challenge. A Dean is a position which uses some of my main strengths…my administration and organisational skills would help me stay on top of the diverse range of responsibilities. I believe I am a teacher who values learners and cares greatly about helping them to achieve their potential. This is what I would bring to the position and why I believe I am ready for the challenge.

I got the job because from what I understand there were no other applicants.

Since then all the usual cliches apply. I’ve never looked back and I’ve never had such a fulfilling role as working beside you. I’ve learnt so much along the way. There are lots of highlights and moments where I felt like I totally nailed it. There are also lots of moments where I look back and wish I had done things differently. But there’s no part of this job that I didn’t give 100+% to, and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved together.

Professionally now I’m off to seek new challenges. I’m ambitious. I may not have been a prefect at school, but I’m damn sure I can still make a big difference. What that means for me is learning from the world, starting with London in 2018. I want to be challenged to think differently and one day come back to New Zealand and work in positions where I can have the biggest impact possible.

To stand here and reflect on our journey together, I have to acknowledge the people that have supported us to be here. I couldn’t have done this role alone. More will be said to these people when you aren’t listening, but I want to acknowledge these people with you now and share this moment.

I want to sincerely thank all the Form Teachers like Mr Bell and Ms Uys; and pay tribute to Mr Wegener, Mr Staples and Ms Coorey having done the whole five years – not to mention Ms Wang and Mr Lander for their four years. The continuity has made a big difference.

I want to also thank SMT – Mr Jones, Ms King and Mr Pegram, the mentors, Mr Mulholland, Ms Featherstone, and every other teacher that has had a hand in making this such a stunning year group.

I also want to acknowledge Ms Mills. We have spent hundreds of hours together talking about you…and occasionally other stuff… I have learnt so much from her infectious enthusiasm and I’m so grateful to have experienced the journey of this year group together. She has been a unfaltering supporter of everything we’ve tried and everyone’s potential. Ms Mills, I would save you from the clutches of Mr Mortensen, John Claude Van Damme and impending explosions – and carry you to safety any day.

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So now you…. In Year 9 you walked in here wide eyed and naive – your bright eager minds and squeaky voices scrounged for acceptance. You experienced tabloids, production, Noscars and the variety show for the first time. You also proved that coordination was no prerequisite for performing in the Year 9 dance off.

In year 10 you all got a little bit older, this time with more confidence as some of you somehow were under the impression that you ran the school. Your social lives got more interesting because I started to hear more about them. You got your Shakespeare day and proved to everyone that you still had a lot of growing up to do by chorusing “eww” when two adult Shakespearean performers kissed on stage.

And so the senior school. Year 11 brought with it business challenge, your first health day, melodramas, the semi formal and some seriously impressive sporting results. You also started hanging out with NCEA and got to find out what it feels like to be assessed every week of the year. And you all loved it. So much.

Then in 2016, the opportunity you’d waited your entire school life for, the chance to hang out in your best get up at Te Papa for five sober hours. In Year 12 we all got a little closer to the world of the grey and the decrepit. You made sensational Noscar films and went skiing to get some credits.

In Year 13, the potential of this year group really started to become realised. Your impact on the school in terms of mature leadership became clear. You started turning 18. I turned 30, which was more than just the worst. And then after another highly successful year, leaving us so proud of all you’ve achieved – you arrived here in this hall – for a chance to say goodbye.

As school leavers you are going to hear a lot of advice. And just like the advice Ms Kersten gets from keyboard warriors about anything she does on court – most of it you probably don’t need. I didn’t think I’d end up giving you advice, in fact I adamantly didn’t want to. But then I was inspired by Jon Lovett, who used to be Obama’s speechwriter. I saw a speech of his that seemed true and I want to echo it to you today.

Here’s my advice: Beware of bad stuff. Bad stuff, which I will hereby refer to as BS.

Today’s world is drowning in BS. In the public world: politics is dominated by oppositional discourse, commercial interests create journalistic bias, fake news and post-truth language are all problems. We hear things that are just true enough not to be a lie and go with them without a second thought, lowering our standards for the truth.

In our private lives: we connect with strangers on social media and call it friendship; people say I love you just because because they have begun dating; we fill spaces with so much empty talk, and we describe any thing as the best thing ever.

You are our young generation inheriting this world – you not only need to be aware of BS, you need to not contribute to BS. You need to be confident in your potential and aware of your inexperience.  You need to know your values, what you stand for.

You need to say what you mean and mean what you say, because the words you use matter. Reject a culture of insincerity by virtue of the example you set. And don’t get cynical. Even when surrounded by BS, believe it can be better. Believe we can always make the world a better place.

You are capable of extraordinary things now and in your futures. I speak from the heart when I say, I cannot wait to be a witness to all those incredible achievements and accomplishments that await you. Because I knew you I have been changed for good. I mean it sincerely when I say I absolutely love your work. To me, you are all winners. Our five years have been an absolute pleasure. And now I can’t wait for you to all join with Chantel and start calling me Jerome.

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