School speeches provide inspiration for our next generation of leaders

A significant privilege, and joy, of being the member for Armadale in the WA Parliament is that so many local schools invite me to attend their school graduations, award book presentation assemblies, and end-of-year school concerts.

A significant privilege, and joy, of being the member for Armadale in the WA Parliament is that so many local schools invite me to attend their school graduations, award book presentation assemblies, and end-of-year school concerts.

It’s a privilege because I am welcome to mix with students, staff and families when they gather to celebrate school achievements and to thank school staff to whom they have entrusted the educational and pastoral care of their children.

School principals and leaders have a lot of wise messages to offer students.

It is a joy because so often these events reveal surprising talent amongst students that might have gone unheralded had it not been for the inspirational leadership and guidance of principals, teachers, and support staff.

Each contributes their own special mentoring skills, which often might also go unheralded were it not for the revelations of their efforts in the school principals’ graduation addresses.

In this short space, I cannot relay the contents of all the speeches I have heard over more than 20 school ceremonies this year. But, in one way or another, each has carried uplifting, wise, and sometimes emotional messages of support and encouragement to those who are graduating.

For example, the principal of Dale Christian College, Karin Cowie, presented a most uplifting address to her year 7 to 10 students.

One particular sentence stuck out for me: “You have so much potential and don’t hold yourself back. Aim for the stars.”

I love hearing inspiring messages to young people that implore them not to place barriers in front of themselves — whether from internal or external voices.

I love to encourage young people to follow their personal dreams and passions, because the personal dreams are the ones they are will try hardest to achieve.

But I do like to add that they must also build resilience because in pursuing those dreams they will sometimes have to endure failures and disappointment.

That is okay, what is critical is how they respond to disappointments.

Each year John Revitt, the head of the primary school at John Wollaston Anglican Community School, always seems to find a new way to present his highly motivational and thought-provoking speech.

His speech at the primary school graduation and prize giving ceremony this year again captivated us.

It was different, and no less stimulating. First, he set the scene, extolling the need to embrace diversity in the student population.

Then, he invited a year five student up to the stage to present a short speech on throwing off the shackles of stereotyping and pressure to conform. Stand up, this young student said, and champion acceptance of diversity and being true to one’s own self-worth.

A lesson from a young student for our policy-makers and community opinion leaders.

The role of the teacher has changed from the traditional teacher model to facilitator of learning.

Stephen Soames

Principal Stephen Soames, from Westfield Primary School, a near neighbour of John Wollaston School, took a different tack. He spoke especially to his year six graduates, who he described as belonging to Generation Z.

But what he had to say was important for parents, community opinion leaders, and education policy makers.

Generation Z, he said, is a highly connected group, with access to online content through smartphones and tablet devices.

They watch less TV than their parents and grandparents did, instead, using multiple platforms to access online content.

Moreover, they do not necessarily feel safe. They are growing-up in a world where the media and politicians regularly discuss terrorism, extremism, and conflict as well as financial and economic uncertainty. This presents opportunities and some threats for teachers.

“Effective engagement in learning with this generation has shifted from verbal to visual, from sit-and-listen to try-and-see, from curriculum-centred to learner-centric,” Mr Soames said.

“The role of the teacher has changed from the traditional teacher model to facilitator of learning.”

Particularly noteworthy for policy-makers is news predicting Gen Z are each likely to have 17 jobs, five careers and move home 15 times in their life. There are about 2 billion of them on the planet and one in two in the Western world will end up with a university degree.

Mr Soames summed this Gen Z in five words: “Social, mobile, global, digital, and visual.”

The principal also spoke about the “dark side to their generational nature”.

“Some would say that this generation has been over-praised and over-rewarded,” he said. “They have been told repeatedly that they are special. We have given them a ‘sense of entitlement’ and a tendency to narcissism … the ‘selfie’ was after all named in Australia!

“The adults in this room will be all too aware that we are passing on to them a world which is far from perfect … and there will be many difficult challenges for those who follow us to overcome.

“Not least, climate change and resource depletion. In such uncertain times humanity will need exceptional leaders and resolute citizens who are able to face these uncertainties without fear and in a spirit of love and compassion for their fellow humans.”

Much food for thought not only for Gen Z, but also for all generations, including my own, which is currently in power.

And there is more food for thought in a concluding speech to a year six graduation at Grovelands Primary School by Emma-Mae Kapuscik, the deputy principal.

She delivered her address standing in front of a large screen, which displayed a famous quote from John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist religion, who in the 1700s said:

Do all the good you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,
to all the people you can,
as long as ever you can.

 
The iconic photo of Peter Norman, left, with Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
The iconic photo of Peter Norman, left, with Tommie Smith and John Carlos.CREDIT:AAP

Then, as Ms Kapuscik continued, a new image appeared on the screen. It was the famous photograph of Australian sprinter Peter Norman standing on the medal ceremony dais at the 1968 Mexico Olympics with Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

Norman had finished second in the 200 metres, with Smith taking gold and Carlos bronze.

The photograph captured the three athletes on the dais with the black Americans raising one hand, which was covered by a black glove, and Norman wearing a badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights in support of his Black American competitors’ fights for civil rights back in the US.

As Ms Kapuscik said: “For doing what he thought was right, was good.”

“Norman was ostracised by the Australian Athletics establishment on his arrival back home and was never to compete in another Olympics for Australia,” she said.

An example of doing what one thinks is right no matter the personal cost.

This is just a small sample of what dedicated school principals had to say in their end-of-year speeches.

School graduations and award presentations serve many purposes.

They are a time for celebrating achievement, and recognition of the efforts of many who make it happen.

They are also a time to reflect, take stock, and listen to the wise and inspiring messages from the school leaders.

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