Principal's Remarks

BY Mrs M. Woods

Today marks the 29th Founder’s Day celebration at the school, for which we shall always be grateful to Mrs Natalie Stear, (Principal from 1988 to 2000) who initiated this annual Birthday Party in 1988.


The idiom, “Time flies”, was first recorded in about 1800, but Shakespeare used a similar phrase, “the swiftest hours, as they flew,” as did Alexander Pope, “swift fly the years.”  On realizing that today will be my last Founder’s Day as Headmistress of Riebeek College, this idiom kept coming into my mind. There are so many ways to ponder about this:   The passing of time: the process by which time passes

Time goes by: it passes

Time wears on: it passes

Time ticks away: it passes

Time elapses: it passes

Time intervenes: it passes before you do something or before something happens Time creeps by: it passes very slowly

Time slips by:it passes and you fail to use it or to gain an advantage from it


It is accepted that time flies when you are having fun, so I truly believe that my years at Riebeek College, from a Sub A (now Grade R) pupil in 1957, to Matric in 1968, as a teacher, HOD, Deputy and finally as Headmistress, have flown, for that very reason. It has been fun! My life has been fun, and I feel humbled and privileged to be able to say that, and mean it.


Today we celebrate 139 years of our school’s existence. Our Founder’s Day always evokes in us a sense of gratitude and a spirit of oneness. It binds us as one family and enables us to get back to our roots and relive the spirit of our founder. It’s also an occasion to remember with fond gratitude the life and mission of our founder and give thanks to the Lord. It is an opportunity to unite the past with the present.


Going back in time to 1877, Dominee Braam Steytler, the founder of our school, made what I think was one of the best decisions in his life – to establish a quality school for girls only. Together with the synod of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk of the 1860s and 70s, they saw fit to fight for their belief in establishing a school for young girls. At the time this was most unusual, as co-educational schools (boys and girls) were then the norm. Their visionary insight and perseverance in striving to establish a quality school for girls only, has stood the test of time.  


I know that all our forefathers, past headmistresses, teachers and young ladies who have graced the portals of this school over all these years, are proud of not only our continued academic success, but more particularly, the type of young ladies, who after ringing the Valedictory Bell in the foyer and leaving the gates of the school for the last time, leave as mature, well-educated ladies who have a sound moral compass in place. More importantly, as ladies who have received an education imbued with the necessary values to become good, knowledgeable, moral citizens of South Africa, who will be able to make sound choices throughout their lives. It is the foundation on which the rest of their lives is established.


In 2006, Val Donald Bell, an old Riebeek girl and an accomplished actress as Madam, in an SABC’s sitcom, Madam and Eve, wrote the following after spending the morning at the school as our guest speaker on Founder’s Day:  “I will always brag about the joyful enthusiasm that flows through the veins of Riebeek girls.   I am proud to be one!”   A wonderful testament to all of us, past and present.


Last year I announced the completion of our new administration block and it gives me great pleasure, this time around, to tell you that it has been beautifully furnished. Special thanks to all the old girls, particularly from last year’s reunion, for their generous monetary donations, that went towards the financing of this project. We have got the larniest boardroom ever!   Practical sophistication at its best!   You are most welcome to visit it after assembly this morning.


Sadly, this year, Mr Neil Hoare, a former Deputy Principal and dedicated Science teacher passed away. Mr Hoare was a gentle giant of a man who was loved and respected by all the staff and pupils, both present and past.  Mrs Anne Peltason, friend and colleague, said the following about Mr Hoare, “Neil was kindness personified.”   At the beginning of the term we held a special assembly to pay tribute to a special teacher, for his place in the history of our school.  As a very good friend of mine, Annemarie Toerien Meyler, also a Riebeek Old Girl, living in Ireland said of him, quoting from an Irish poem, “While he is gone, something beautiful remains.”   We can equally apply this to all old girls, teachers, friends, who are with us no more. I want to share the whole of this beautiful poem with you, and I hope it means as much to you as it does to me.


The tide recedes but leaves behind

Bright seashells on the sand.

The sun goes down, but gentle

Warmth still lingers on the land.

The music stops, and yet it echoes

On in sweet refrains…..

For every joy that passes,

Something beautiful remains. 


Our consistently good end of year results are clear evidence of the sound education that over all this time, has continued to be of a high standard. The pass rate from Grade 4 to Grade 11 last year was 98,8% and the Bachelor pass rate of our matrics was 93%. Out of our 88 matric candidates, 80 could therefore gain entrance to university and 7 received diploma passes. This is exceptional, considering that most of our young ladies’ home language is not English!   So as time passes, Riebeek continues to hold 

her head high!


To equip our young ladies to tackle problems, we must teach them the power of independent thinking and collaborative action.   These young people with values will then build a more sustainable future.   Therefore…3 values are needed to assure that each student has an open mind and we need all 3 to keep our students’ minds open.   Therefore, the virtuous circle of the open mind consists of TOLERANCE plus ENERGY (Physical and Mental) plus KNOWLEDGE.

This is why our 2016 annual theme for the year is #TEK (standing for tolerance, energy and knowledge). Helen Keller said, “Tolerance is the highest result of education.”  Aristotle said, “Energy of the mind is the essence of life.”

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said, “Knowledge with action converts adversity into prosperity.”


So as the expression, time flies, implies, 2016 is flying by, while all of us at Riebeek College are working hard to put our theme into action. At Riebeek we do not only talk the talk, but with God’s help, we walk the walk – on a daily basis.

I said the following at our Founder’s Day in 2008 when I was asked by Mrs Merle van Onselen Phipps, who used to co-ordinate all our reunion groups for our Founder’s Day Ceremony for many years, to be the guest speaker:

“I have read that humanity has always had a close relationship with bees, whose honey has been a staple food since before the dawn of civilization.   As a symbol, the bees’ lifestyle mimics that of the human social order – a co-operative, productive social hierarchy.   Also, that bees’ never-flagging labours make them an emblem of hard work, industriousness, teamwork, perseverance, charity, selflessness and constancy.”


With these virtues, our founders could not have chosen a better emblem to represent the Riebeek Girl! We shall continue to change and move with the times, but our values shall be the constant in our lives. As Irene Peter says: “Just because everything is different doesn’t mean that everything has changed.” I have always believed that change is a good thing if it is embraced in the proper spirit. Here at Riebeek we, the intrepid, are not afraid of change, but here too, at Riebeek, we, the wise, know that often the more things change, the more they stay the same. Looking back over my long years at Riebeek, I am able to ring some of the best of those changes and traditions. The Bee is one of our important traditions:


It has become a tradition to read Mrs Rose Loggenberg Hartman’s letter written in 1999 recounting the origin of the Silver Riebeek “Bee” Pin motif. She wrote: “Miss Brehm ,who was a staff member of the school, while on a visit to London, commissioned a jeweller to fashion the “Bee” into a brooch, intending that it be worn as part of the school uniform. This idea proved to be non-feasible and she contented herself that only one be made for her. One day, while on a visit to our home, she presented this to my sister, Dorothy, who treasured it as a gift from a valued family friend. Subsequently, Dorothy handed “The Bee” to Miss Bartlett, intending it should be held in trust for each succeeding Headmistress of Riebeek College to be worn when the occasion deemed it fitting.   I think this was a happy gesture lending an added charm to the tradition.  It only remains for me to wish you a most successful, memorable and joyous linking of hands with the past on this day, and that Riebeek College continues its successful path into the future.”


So today, ladies and gentlemen, we give thanks to our God for this school, and at this very fitting time in our programme, I have asked Ms Cathy-Jane Mintoor, our new choir mistress at the school and an accomplished singer, to perform an arrangement of the wonderful Hymn, To God be theGlory.” Incidentally, the lyrics of this hymn were written by a woman, Fanny Crosby, published in 1875.  Yes, “Great things He hath taught us, great things He hath done.”


On this Founders Day, we pray for…
Vision for the future
Wisdom in the present
Guidance in the everyday
Love for one another
Hope in the circumstances of life
Peace in our hearts and in our world.


It only remains for me to wish you all well, and sincerely thank you for making the “time” to visit your alma mater on this, my last Founder’s Day as Headmistress of Riebeek College. As I face the changes of my own future I trust that I have been a good steward of all that is good and honourable in this College we love best.  For me it has been a life’s work and in saying this I embrace our motto Ora Et Labora, and give thanks and praise to God above who saw fit to entrust me with this labour of love. 


To all Old Girls who have gone the extra mile to travel from all over the country and some special ladies who have travelled from across the oceans, I can only say that we are extremely proud and humbled to have you with us here today.   I can truly say that your special presence here, epitomizes the phrase that I have coined at the school over the years, “Once a Riebeek girl, always a Riebeek girl!”


 May 16, 2016
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Mrs M. Woods

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