Farewell, Mrs Gerber

BY Mrs S. Gerber

It is a little awkward when you have been soliciting articles and writing farewell articles for too long, and then realise it is your turn to go and you need to put it in the magazine before you go. So, I realised, “Best I write it myself…”
When I arrived at Riebeek, at the turn of the century, having taught at Umtata High School and Westering High School, I probably had not thought carefully about the fact that Riebeek is a building with tomorrow inside. It was while at Riebeek that I married, and Michael and I created a beautiful, flawed and perfect family. It was in the Riebeek staff room that I heard of my mom’s passing. It was at Riebeek that I was supported and loved as the various milestones of my life evolved.
I loved the drama productions that started with a dream of Dana Bosch and led to the heyday of our productions in about 2009 to 2013 where our drama shows had cast and crew members of more than 200 learners who were responsible for the craziest innovations and the girls ran everything from sound, lighting, props, directing, backstage control, choreography. The adrenaline rush of those finales was amazing. To this day, I sometimes get a message from an Old Girl telling me that a song from a certain production played on the radio and fond memories flooded back.
Over time, I became involved in the marketing of the school and must have processed thousands of photographs in my time and I think the number of videos compiles sits at about 400. This labour of love was time sapping but gave me an insight into all our girls and staff because the camera does not lie. The energy of our girls and the light within each girl will stay with me.
I don’t think those of us who were teaching at Riebeek when Jayde passed will ever fully recover from the collective trauma and deep pain of the time. The sleepless nights as we monitored our social media accounts to remove abusive comments and the love poured into the farewell video for her leave an imprint. I think the thing about photography is that it is inherently personal, and I know Yolanda Mni and I felt quite weird when a moment of a pink balloon in a tree in honour of Jayde was used in a documentary about her as if something of her had been stolen in the media frenzy. We all miss her and her passing reminded us that life is fleeting.
I remember fondly the Club Induction parties with their various themes and what a vibrant and loud annual event it was. I remember with awe the Founder’s Days where Old Girls shrieked and chatted, and we reconnected. As I reflect back, I realise that it is not the documents and policies drawn up, the lists and paperwork, the SABC interviews (although that was memorable), accolades and achievements (although they too were validation and awesome) that will be remembered. It is the people, especially the watching of potential reached and the sense of purpose that it gave me. The farewell speeches and cards affirmed the value of making a difference one act at a time.
I loved Room 24 and teaching there was wonderful. In the time I spent there it would mean much to me to read letters from girls that said that the classroom was their haven where they felt safe, secure, entertained a bit and filled with potential. Teaching History has been a joy and I have been privileged to hear stories from the learners about their experiences and views. History as a subject teaches learners about empathy and standing in another’s shoes and I hope that, in spite of a world wide culture of wokeness, it is a skill that our girls will continue to foster. Leo Busgaglia famously said, "If you can’t be nice to people, would you at least not hurt them?”
It remains my belief that “Hate cannot drive out darkness, only love can do that.” as articulated by Martin Luther King Jnr. There is much love and light at Riebeek and it is a place that I will miss sorely. But, I am acutely aware that no-one is irreplaceable and that others will take on my ex-roles and will improve and add amazing ways to do things better.
I think 2020 was a defining year for many. It forced or gave us an opportunity to evaluate our priorities and sometimes to reflect, and it brought change in our communities and our hearts. It gave us the distance to see fully the world and how transient all plans are. My husband asked me, when I considered accepting the appointment, “Are you going to tell your children, your own and the ones in your care, to work hard and dream or are you going to show them that hard work leads to success and dreams need bravery?” It was clearly very persuasive. The speed of the appointment was daunting. I was phoned on Sunday 10 October and offered the position of being a Deputy Principal at Collegiate Girls’ School and was expected to start the next day, which was extended to 1 November. I was at a Snake Sanctuary with my family and the boys had snakes draped around their necks when the call came, and so it certainly felt like “Snakes and Ladders Reimaged”. My whirlwind winding down time at Riebeek included an amazing and surprising You are our Anchor Matric History celebration, a Grade 10 History class singing and presenting me with lights and letters, and some wonderful Friday afternoon sessions with friends on staff and daily surprise gifts with such awesome themes, such as the sucker jar because my life will suck without my school buddies.
I have been blessed with working with the best of mentors at my time at Riebeek. My principal in matric in 1988 became my awe-inspiring boss. Mrs Stear senior, and a keen supporter throughout my career. My Westering friend, Miss Bekker, became my boss. My Standard 3 and 5 teacher, the vibrant Mrs Woods, became my boss too. Then, Mrs Stear became my boss after we taught together at Umtata High School and I met her again when I was baby-sitting Rob’s son and he brought his date and soul-mate home. Kieran, you have been such an integral part of my life and sounding board about child rearing and people handling and I will miss you so very much on a daily basis.
Daniel, Bailey and Michael, thank you for the sacrifices. You three have completed me, You three have managed the household and made do so that mom could work on the laptop, and I love you to the moon and back.
I wish nothing but the best to you all, and thank you for the stunning music, laughter, bonding, experiences, growth and support.

 November 19, 2021
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