Of the countless speeches I’ve delivered in this uniform, this speech was undoubtedly the most difficult to write. If I were to do full and proper justice to six years of memories in the blue and brown, Year 7 would be sitting on your laps, ready for their farewell assembly.
I’d say that after nearly 5000 classes, 1200 lunchtimes, 690 training sessions, 138 games of sport, 102 debates, 84 exams, 48 assemblies, 18 end of season dinners, 12 report interviews with Dr Jaggar and two musicals, this school has probably had enough of me!
But I could never have had enough of this school. There’s a reason Old Boys litter the sidelines of sports matches. There’s a reason they can’t resist sharing old photos of themselves sitting where you are, wearing what you’re wearing. There’s a reason many of us will be standing in here in 30 years’ time, maybe with a few bald heads and maybe with a few boys of our own, reliving the good old days at High.
It’s because we belong here. It’s because we belong with each other.
I knew that I belonged here on a rainy day on Mission Field 6, when the 2012 13A football team won our first game for the school. I knew it in Year 8, when my class collectively wondered if we would ever get our SRPs back. I knew it in Year 9, on that legendary overnight history excursion to Canberra, when our whole grade notched up eight hours of sleep. Between us all.
In Year 10, it was transcending language barriers to teach our German exchange students the esoteric rules of our handball game. In Year 11, it was the feeling of responsibility when we became the oldest boys in the school. And in Year 12, despite our video about feminism reaching 25 million screens around the globe in languages I’ve never even heard of, we knew there was nowhere else in the world we felt at home, apart from right here, with each other.
I recently took the time to browse end-of-season reports written in the school’s Record, recalling six years of sport, debating, music, model UN, philosophy, drama, outdoor education, assemblies and of course, badges committee meetings. The one thing that really struck me was that each report ended in a similar way – “the team’s skills have improved immensely and we’re already preparing to overcome next year’s challenges.”
Wait – next year’s challenges? But for us, there’s no next year. There’s no next season, no next term, no next week, there’s not even the next day. Suddenly, this is it. After representing High School at McKay, at schools across Sydney, in Armidale, Melbourne and even San Francisco, I’m done. We are done. We belonged at High, but for us, there’s no more High. Where are we supposed to belong now?
Perhaps our time here has helped us to answer that question. For most of us, we’re stronger, taller and faster. We can put basketballs through hoops. We can write more persuasive essays and deliver more powerful speeches. We can tell you about the state of the Australian economy and solve complex calculus equations. Well maybe that one doesn’t apply to all of us.
But I’m not so sure that chemistry marks and erg times and the wide range of skills you’ve developed in this school will get you through life on their own. No, there’s only one quality that will help you belong in every place you go in the world. It is the most universal quality fostered between these walls – the one qualification which should be important to everyone – character. Men of character are men who belong in the world.
A man of character who graduated from Sydney Boys High is one who shows his utmost kindness to everyone he comes across. He’s humble in victory and gracious in defeat. He tells the truth. He stands up for what he believes in, whether he’s standing up to his enemies or his friends.
The Sydney High man of character might not be assertive and physically imposing, he might be sensitive and subtle. He might show his weakness at times. He’s not afraid to tell people when he cares about them or to ask for help if he needs it.
The broad array of great men of character in the Class of 2017 proves that there’s no one-size-fits-all, perfect description. In fact, beyond being diverse, sometimes we’re going to make obvious, undeniable mistakes. That’s normal. But we’re going to recognise that imperfection is part of being a man of character. Imperfection is part of belonging.
I am so proud to say that Sydney Boys High School has made me more creative, more knowledgeable and more skilful. But I am most proud to say that this school has made me a man of better character. We have all helped each other to belong here, and we have all helped each other to walk out of here today and to start belonging in the world. Thank you to our parents, our teachers, our coaches, our office staff, canteen staff, IT staff, cleaners and everyone else who helped us belong by shaping our character.
Boys, it’s been an unbelievable honour to serve as your Captain – thank you so much to Lucas, Dharmesh, the Prefects and all of you who supported our leadership this past year. The Class of 2017, who we are, what we’ve achieved, the friendships we’ve forged, those are going to live on in this place for much longer than we will. Even when we stand in here old and grey, grandchildren hanging over our shoulders, the memories will come flooding back, I’m sure of it. So to quote Dr Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
For the last time Sydney Boys High School, thank you and goodbye.