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Principal's address: valedictory 2019

BY Mrs K.Stear

Today I wish to address you all, and especially the Class of 2019 and your parents, on What the Future Holds. Before I take us to the future though I would like to head backwards to your past…to 18 years ago to be exact.
18 years ago today, I was on maternity leave with a beautiful baby girl in my arms. Fast forward, 18 years on and I attended Leigh’s Valedictory and mother-daughter luncheon last week. The 18 years in between have been a whirlwind, and I know that the parents here will agree with me that it goes by too fast. As parents, we looked at the tiny little bundle in our arms and we wished only happiness and success for this child.
So, Class of 2019, when your parents look at you on this stage today, it is with nostalgia about all the beautiful memories and all the hopes we had for you. Please thank your parents for the 18 years of believing in you and nurturing you. I hope parents that you will take a moment to feel immensely proud of your daughter and to tell her that she was and is so worth all the sacrifices you have made for her.
But grow you did girls, and so you come to facing your future head on. There is nothing like ringing the Valedictory bell to signal loud and clear that your future awaits! What kind of future can you expect?
The reality is that you will interact more and more with Artificial Intelligence. I am not talking about your waffling attempts in an exam where you do not know the answer. I am talking about AI. Most of us interact with AI on a daily basis already. Netflix, call centres, and job applications all use AI. AI is creeping into just about everything humans do today—and most importantly, into the way we interact as humans.
If you visit high-tech manufacturing sites today, you are likely to pass intelligent robots carrying parts to line operators. In the past, these interactions would have been human to human. Today, in advanced workplaces, AI and other technology help people in their work. While this is impressive, the introduction of AI in the workplace will dramatically change working relationships. You may no longer be able to go out to lunch with your “co-workers” or boss, as they won’t eat human food.
In the future, more people will work remotely. The advantages of this are greater flexibility, less commuting, lower meal costs, improved productivity and closer family relationships. However, working remotely can present challenges, too. Remote workers have less interaction with colleagues, and thus miss out on the benefits of conversations.
This leads me to the most important aspect of the future – the importance of maintaining Meaningful Human Connections.
The late actor and comedian Robin Williams said: “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.” In the future, much loneliness may come from the lack of good human interaction and people do have a basic need for human contact.
“More people say they feel lonelier than ever before,” writes journalist Johann Hari. His research shows that loneliness leads to depression and that drugs are rarely the solution. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that depression is now the number-one cause of global ill health.
In Hari’s new book, Lost Connections, he says we need to reconnect with our human tribal roots, to avoid anxiety and depression. He stresses that external factors, such as the environment in which people live or work, influence feelings like depression.
Tribal communities look after and care for one another. They support those who are sick, in danger or hungry and groups drew safety from their number. Staying physically close was the only way to survive, and this fact drove people to remain together. Hari argues that we were wired with an evolutionary desire for meaningful connections. “Humans need tribes as much as bees need hives,” he concludes.
As the use of technology becomes the norm, so does working remotely and physically alone. We need to find ways to connect with others for our mental and emotional well-being. To ensure this happens, workers of the future will need to plan for meaningful interactions beyond texts, email and social media.
Scheduling regular lunches with co-workers, friends or family who are close by, visiting your company offices, if they exist, or joining social clubs that meet in person are ways to build and maintain important personal connections.
While work life and technology will continue to evolve at a rapid pace, the key to our mental and emotional well-being in the future will be to embrace and be mindful of what makes us human to begin with, namely, our personal connection to others.
I will like to reflect a little on your personal connections to others as you set out in your grade 4 year. Even as little grade 4s you know that happiness was in meaningful connections.
Sinesipho Gadu wrote that Happiness is when her mother kisses her. Amy Higgins wrote that she is happy when she goes for a swim on a hot, sweaty day and she plays with her best friends. Emihle Mzayiya wrote that true happiness is when her heart is smiley. Nuraan Kasmed wrote that her family are very nice …. once you get to know them. Siphosethu Malinga said her friends make her happy and she likes it when her twin sister tickles and kisses her. Sibabalo Mene, however in Grade 4 had some personal connections she was not interested and she wrote that she doesn’t have a boyfriend and doesn’t want one. Riebeek also played a role in teaching you how to maintain and grow personal and meaningful relationships because Sibabalwe Nogampula knew one of the most important life lessons she has learnt was when Miss Smith told the grade fours that if they have nothing nice to say, they must keep quiet. Lwazi Solomon wrote the happiest person at Riebeek College is Miss Van der Westhuizen, now MRS VILJOEN< when she says :Good morning’ in a nice soft voice, and so through this the Class of 2019 learnt a good way to have meaningful relations.
Class of 2019, I am sure that what you remember most about your school days has not been the scrolling through your phone or watching Netflix or series, it is the meaningful interactions and connections you have had. You have hidden from teachers for fun, given each other nicknames, sung silly songs together, and had wonderful class discussions. It is the people, your tribe, that have given meaning to your life thus far. In the future, you will need to work harder to have human contact as you will not be provided with a team to play in, a class to interact with; and you will have to drive your interaction with others.
I too have special memories of your time at Riebeek. The matric class of 2019 has always held a special place in my heart. I taught them when they were in grade 7 which is the year my husband passed away and they were extremely supportive of me and sent me cards and messages when he was ill. Natheerah Sataar sent a card saying she knows lung cancer is bad but she prays every night before she goes to bed for my husband. Genelleen Govender very kindly wrote that I must not worry about the grade 7s because they can take care of themselves! When my husband passed away, Gabi wrote that she was sorry for my loss but she is not very good at writing sad notes, so if I don’t mind she was gonna write me a happy one – I will see my husband in heaven and we will both be young and we will have a big celebration. I have to confess to the matrics that I did not read the cards of condolences when he passed away because at the time it was too painful for me to read the beautiful messages that I received from my grade 7 girls. I read them this week – 5 years on! The second reason why these girls are special to me is because my youngest daughter is the same age as them and so I identify with them and so sometimes I understood your mischief a little bit more than I should have.
I hope Class of 2019 that we appreciate this vibrant country that you live in. We live in a country of mixing languages, potjie, beerboeps, kwela kwela, biltong … all these words define us as a breed apart. Then there are the unique aspects of being South African – car guards which foreigners cannot understand, load shedding, politicians physically fighting in parliament and so much beauty, so much potential and a place where you and I have a big role to play in making a difference, regardless of what the future holds.
Nelson Mandela said, “If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.” I hope your roads in the future lead you to forgiveness and the inherent quality you were born with, goodness.
I end with a wish and an African blessing for your future:
May the sun fill your heart with
warmth and light
May clear blue skies lift your
spirits to a new height
May your nights be filled with the
song of cicades
May you sleep cooled by a gentle
breeze.
May you never be without a shady spot,
May you always have food in plenty
for your pot,
May your life be filled with many
friendly happy faces,
And may you prosper in good
health, love and peace
wherever your place is.
While work may change, people will continue to be the common thread and driver of creativity, innovation and progress. I know, Class of 2019, that you are what the future is waiting for. I know you are creative and innovative. I know you are what the world is waiting for, so go into your future bravely, with goodness and forgiveness, and with love. Be blessed.
 

 October 13, 2019
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