Each September, you only get one chance to make your first address to the students, in my position. Sort of like remembering you only have one chance to make a good first impression. I do this with the Senior School, Middle School and Junior School. What do I think about in preparation for these opportunities?
I’ve tried any number of things, and because I’ve had a few years of practice my attempts have evolved year by year. The Junior School gets its message via the Alligator story. I just have to start taking my tie off on this occasion, and the alert students, especially the Grade 4s and 5s, know what’s coming. My tie is in fact an alligator lurking in a ditch, and I start explaining what the Headmaster does: he works with everyone he can to make the School a better place, and in doing this, there are sometimes challenges – alligators in ditches – that need to be surmounted. Doing so takes the help of other people, and so I gradually gather a crowd of students, about eight of them, who are finally able to lift me (yes, really – physically, each of them holding one of my limbs) over the ditch where the alligator lurks. We all need other people to help us get where we want to go.
The Senior School gets a more sophisticated delivery, about everyone belonging, and respecting that fact – despite all our differences.
The Middle School this year had a new wrinkle. Several of them, at random, introduced themselves to me and I introduced myself to them: the starting point in any relationship. What next, I asked, after you first introduce yourself to someone? These are smart kids, the answer leaped off their tongues: you want to find out more information about these new friends. So I volunteered some information about myself, something few people know, and I told them they could ask me some questions about it: I once had a dream of sailing around the world, alone. In answer to one of their questions, I told them about Joshua Slocum’s book, Sailing Alone Around the World, the account of the first solo circumnavigation. Then it was their turn: what were their dreams? I give them full credit for this list: to be an author, to skydive, and – most imaginatively and revealingly – to slide all the way down the empty lane of a bowling alley. The point of the exercise: we do need to get to know each other, and at our school we all have aspirations and hidden dreams. If you want to share your dreams and other people’s, you have to create a space to do so. That’s what happens at our School.