Principal’s Address – Valedictory 2020

BY Mrs K Stear

The 2020 Matrics have a special place in my heart as they were the class that walked with me on my road to healing the first year after my husband passed away. They would wait for me near the prefabs every morning and give me the best hugs and Zhane Meintjies tried daily to touch my calves as she wanted to feel my muscles! It is also the class I shared the trauma of the loss of Jayde Panayiotou with and so we developed a closeness.
This is a very different Valedictory service from normal and it is very tempting to moan about all the things that have not happened. At Valedictory 2019, I spoke of What the Future Holds. I pointed out the way humans interact with each other would change and more people would work remotely and that human connections would be critical.  Little did I know how profound those words would be!
Fortunately, as we entered lockdown some of you were more prepared than others.  Onesimo Sishuta had already had a trial run of lockdown when she got locked in the change room in grade 6 and slipped a note under the door saying “SAVE ME!”
The Class of 2020, instead of moaning about losses, let us look for the silver lining. Many of you had a chance to learn and grow in ways that will transform your lives. We do not want to lose sight of the life lessons and good things that have happened. I would like to focus on #lifehacks #life lessons because lockdown certainly gave you, much to complain about and also so much to take forward and learn from. As former White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, famously said after the 2008 economic recession, “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”  So, without wasting this crisis but still acknowledging the financial and emotional hardships many faced, let us take a few moments to dwell on what we learnt. 
We started off the year with the theme of What a Wonderful World!  Well, two months into your matric year anything wonderful was wiped out by Covid-19!  But there was, in fact, much wonder to be observed and we had time to wonder. You got to experience never-before experiences on both a human and environmental level. 
There have been positive environmental consequences from the pandemic. For example, the air quality across the globe has greatly improved. Wildlife is making a comeback in many areas – even penguins were seen walking down the street in Cape Town. We learnt that the Earth can be rejuvenated.   
On a human level, we have been brought face to face with the most basic questions of life. What are we here for? What have we done with our lives? What do we wish to do? Who is truly important in our lives? What do we truly cherish? The pandemic lead us to some painful insights: If we know who is truly important to us and what we truly cherish, then why have we spent so little of our lives pursuing these things?
In Grade 4 you wrote about your blessings and perhaps you thought about these blessings as you wondered about the meaning of life during lockdown: Andisiwe de Booi, Cameron Jackson and Nangamso Pepetha said that it was a blessing that there no boys at Riebeek. Chevelle Ludeke said she was blessed by her dogs because they guard you and keep you safe.  Anda Mbola said she hopes to be blessed with smart children and a great life. Mihlali Rasimeni was most blessed to know Phillipa Nelson because she was her best friend in the whole world. Onesimo Sishuta was blessed to have parents because her mother makes her food and does the ironing and her Dad buys her clothes and shoes.
Covid-19 forced us to appreciate the true value of many people whose roles in society tend to be undervalued in normal times: the nurses, the hospital orderlies, the people sitting at the checkout counters in supermarkets. We need to treat them with the respect they deserve. A lesson we learnt is that the people most important to us are not the famous celebrities or sports stars. We need more people considering careers in these essential fields.  It is therefore very heartening to know that the Class of 2020, from little, wanted careers that make the world a better place, such as Naomi de Booi who dreamed of being a nurse and Alexandra Dennis, Amber du Plessis, Okuhlewethu Mjuza and Ammaarah Tiry who dreamed of becoming doctors.
People learnt during lockdown to appreciate their loved ones and make deeper connections with them. I hope that we can sustain some of this when the pandemic is over. It stands out for me that in February most of the matric profiles referred to a family member that were valued. As Nichole MacKiedann put it, “My parents are my biggest inspiration because they are prime examples that a person can still be successful in spite of past circumstances.  They always put their family first and always try their utmost best to give their children what they need most.” I wish to salute your parents Grade 12s, as they have had a difficult year supporting you and I hope you have thanked them. 
The arts played an important role during lockdown. Musicians created beautiful virtual concerts that have wowed millions. We saw musicians perform concerts on roof tops. We can hopefully look forward to musical contributions from our grade 4 dreamers, Sani Dili who wanted to become a singer and Azraa Rockman who wanted to be a famous singer.  Cooking also became a popular during lockdown. It is reassuring that Jessica Craill in Grade 4 had her heart set on becoming a recipe book writer.
As individuals, we are often ignorant about the realities of other peoples’ lives, but that changed to some extent during the pandemic. Covid-19 did not discriminate, but it did expose discrimination and privilege. There was, and is, a stark contrast between the privileged and under privileged. Suffering through this time has shown us that there is still much that needs correcting. If the pandemic has opened new eyes to these inequalities, then perhaps there is hope that we can face these challenges in a more united way without blame, without denial and with a sincere attempt to right the wrongs. 
A crisis brings out both the best and the worst in people. It is an excellent test of character. Some people rise to the occasion and selflessly give of themselves. It is as Sibusisiwe Ketshengana pointed out, “We make a living through what we get, but we make a life through what we give.”  However, some people’s evil side came out and they tried to use this crisis for personal gain. Corruption is a pandemic in South Africa and one we must collectively fight.
Many have learned new skills needed to hold virtual classes, meetings, and social gatherings online. Many of you quickly adapted to learning independently and online. You learnt that you were solely responsible for your success.  As Uyathandwa Lupondwana wrote, “We should not be so expectant that the world will do us favours if we are not bringing favours to the world. As much as we want to take from any given situation, we must also be willing to give”.  More than anything your matric year has been defined by a recognition that entitlement will not cut it, that you will have to do your share. 
One of the most important lessons from lockdown is the value of resilience.  As Dean Becker, the CEO of Adaptiv Learning Systems said: “More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.” And, I would add, it’s true in a school. Matrics you were called upon to draw on your strength to be self-disciplined to keep up with the work. Your resilience will stand you in good stead. 
Families were forced into homes with each other during the pandemic, which sometimes led to fights and gender based violence. Girls as you go out into the world, you need to establish financial independence so that you can get out of any abusive relationships.  You always need to have money set aside, no matter how much in love you are.  We also need to distance ourselves from cultural norms that keep women in abusive relationships.   
Most of us have relied on social media to stay in touch with people during the pandemic, but it is not the same as seeing people in person. Perhaps you would not have bunked school as much if you had known that your days together were so limited. Perhaps you would have attended more extra murals if you had known there would be no more chances.  So seize the day in the future and make time for the people and events that give you pleasure as they are not guaranteed.   
I hope you realised how very special your school and teachers are.  Your teachers transitioned from standing in front of you in the classroom, to communicating with you via social media and had to become very inventive in how to present the work to you.  May you never forget that in this crisis your teachers were heroes.  From the cold and dark mornings in June when they met you at the entrance in freezing conditions, to trying to teach without the shield falling off, to presenting speed lessons so that the syllabus could be completed; your teachers served you.  You have much to be thankful for.
This lockdown has been a learning phase for everyone. The most important thing that I have learnt is that I cannot take anything for granted. Things like early morning walks, chatting with my daughters, meeting friends, nothing is trivial.  
There are some burning questions that the Coronavirus has raised. Once this threat has passed, these are the questions that the next generation will ask us. History will judge us harshly if we were to proceed, post-Covid-19, like before, as if we have learnt nothing from this historic experience.
So, it seems that we learnt a lot from lockdown besides how to make pineapple beer.  We learnt that to truly live is to adapt, grow and love. I think we all had a chance to truly see how very human and vulnerable we all are.  I hope that we found that there really is more that unites us than divides us.
We have learnt that every person we meet has three things in common with us:  we have all loved, we have all lost and we have all hoped.  May you all love and be loved, may you grieve, but accept your losses and may you all have hope.  Hope heals us.  Hope drives away fear. Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future. We have great hopes for you, Class of 2020.

 November 03, 2020
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Mrs K Stear

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