Since accepting the post of Headmaster in April last year, I followed the school’s progress closely on our website and Facebook page for the remainder of 2015. Just those two sources of information exposed a kaleidoscopic school which celebrates a wide array of activities; however, it was refreshingly clear that the children involved in those activities were the focus of the celebratory attitude.
Indeed, one of my early impressions of this wonderful school is the lengths to which we commit to meet, acknowledge, develop and love each child in the context of their uniqueness. It reminds me of the time my father was about to administer communion to Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and others in Pollsmoor prison. Mr Mandela stopped my father, and promptly asked the prison warder on duty, one Christo Brandt, if he was a Christian. “Ja meneer” was Warder Brandt’s response. “Well then,” said Mandela, “take off your hat, put down your rifle, and come and join us here for communion” – which is exactly what Christo Brandt did.
My father was ashamed and humbled in that moment because he, the man of God, just saw Brandt as an oppressor, a puppet of the regime. Mandela saw the man behind the uniform and the political dogma – Mandela saw a father, a husband. He saw a man. My father saw a label. It changed my father’s perception about his ministry, his relationship with God and his relationship with everyone he met irrevocably.
John Maxwell says: “Instead of trying to cast others in your image, learn to appreciate their differences.” It is my fundamental understanding that it is these very differences that add value to our lives. It is like a symphony orchestra; in fact, Thomas More College is the symphony orchestra. If we only had a brass section, we would simply be a brass band. We would lack the haunting tones of the wind instruments, or the emotional gravitas of the string section, or the punctuated grandeur of the timpani drums and the syncopated rhythms of the percussion section. Then, the real trick is to synergise the various sections to make one magnificent sound that stirs the soul.
In order to do so, the different sections come together under a synergised effort to work towards creating a cacophonous harmony – a wonderful harmony that relies on our very differences. The orchestral vision is shared amongst all the individual musicians in the various sections. Yes, the individual musician may feel that their little part may be insignificant, or that there are long spaces when there isn’t a line of music for their instrument, but when the entire movement comes together, every single part is of critical importance.
Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a country in which mediocrity, one of my pet frustrations, is not only accepted, but sometimes even celebrated. Corruption is both justified and giggled away by those whom should be conducting our collective South African orchestra. Finger-pointing continues to proliferate; our young people are despondent; why should they trust leadership when leadership doesn’t earn it; why should our young people celebrate differences when the leadership relies on differences for their thoughtless, divisive politicking? The Black Eyed Peas’ plea of “where is the love?” becomes concerningly more rhetorical.
But I am full of hope. I believe unequivocally in our young people. I believe that if you are open to celebrating your own uniqueness, and then the uniqueness of others, you will transform our current discordant society to one of spectacular harmony. As a new member of the Thomas More symphony orchestra, I wish to share some hopes I have for the time we will share here together:
· I hope we find ourselves in a school in which education and educators are both highly valued and relevant
· I hope we find ourselves in a school which treats its frailest and weakest members with dignity and respect
· I hope we find ourselves in a school that has played and will continue to play a leading role in transforming and healing our fractured society – I’m sure Alan Paton is still Crying, the Beloved Country
· We are in a job that is NEVER complete: we have been lent this school and the people in it for a period of time. Thus, we are all stewards of Thomas More College and the people therein
· I hope we remain a highly professional staff which brings a rich and robust education to our students and each other
· I hope we have distinguished humanitarians in our school alumni
· I hope we are a school in which every parent is trusting of our professional efforts in the interest of their children
· I hope we are a school where the biggest challenge comes from channelling energy and creativity, rather than trying to ignite them
I believe that tonight’s prize giving is indicative that these hopes are indeed being realised here at Thomas More College. But we will always expect more of ourselves to be collaborators, communicators, critical thinkers and creativity experts.
May we be soloists who are humble enough to recognise the magnificent value our individual music adds to the soloists around us. And yes, sometimes we are out of tune – this is perfectly natural. But, when you are a vested member of the TMC orchestra, the musicians around you will help you adjust and re-align so that you celebrate, once more, the orchestral majesty for which we are all destined. Thus, may we be judged by the manner in which we treat the frailest and weakest members of our family. In this way, once you take your daily leave of this orchestra at the end of matric, you will consciously seek out opportunities to share your music with the world in order to be a humanitarian of courage and integrity.
Sometimes, moms and dads, your children will be scratched by difficulty. Let them be – this is a safe environment to face difficulty and grow as a result thereof – it takes resilience to be a committed, focused and disciplined member of a world-class orchestra. Challenges and obstacles abound, and sometimes our children simply don’t know what to do. But if we, the staff, the senior stewards of that which is good here at Thomas More College, empower your children to know what to do when they don’t know what to do, they will be equipped and empowered for life.
Like Nelson Mandela, let your personal Prison Warder bring out the very best of the music you were born to share with your orchestra members, and then the world.
College, play on.