A Letter to Parents

Mark Turner

Dear Parents and Guardians,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The famous opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens appropriately sum up my thinking this week.

As I compose this letter, rarely have I felt there is so much to say but found it so difficult to report. The week has certainly been a roller coaster of celebrations, incidents and emotions.

The main way I have been able to contextualize so many different feelings, is by adopting a structure of chronology. Here is a summary of the last few days as events unfurled.

Last Wednesday, I found myself in a jubilant mood while sipping a glass of champagne, signing a long-awaited Memorandum of Understanding with the president of our SMUS Alumni Association (SMUSAA), Samantha Stone ’87. This document commits the school and SMUSAA to working together in mutual best interest.

I am most grateful to the architects of the agreement – Neil Mulholland ’88, Chris Devlin  ’86 and others – who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring this to a point of completion. With our broader community of almost 8,000 alumni, many of them spread in a diaspora around the world, we have a fantastic resource network to support us through thick and thin.

I should also like to recognize the great work of our Alumni Relations office, who together with University Counselling have launched an Alumni Mentorship Program (AMP). Having a diverse alumni network with such a global prospective is a rich resource. In addition, over the year, much good work has been done growing SMUS Connect. This is our interactive alumni database which will allow alumni, parents and friends of SMUS to cement connections around the world. This means that any student or alum at any stage can gain the best possible relevant advice as they make key choices around university destinations and courses, and professional journeys.

We were already planning a series of talks and Chapels around National Indigenous Peoples Day, which were scheduled to run as part of our evolving work on Indigenous relations. Of course, this year the week was given a terrible and poignant relevance by the shocking news of the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School. I suspect that over the next few weeks, months, and even years, we will hear much more about individual stories of dislocated young lives cut short. We aim that our own journey along a path toward respecting our Indigenous neighbours will be a thorough and intentional one. I encourage you to read this article written by Keven Fletcher, our Chaplain and Indigenous Liaison, from April 16, which sets out how we will demonstrate our commitment to being good neighbours over the next few years. This is important work in progress.

Serpent Cycle by Dylan Thomas

As I write, sitting on my office table is a magnificent print, Serpent Cycle by Dylan Thomas, who has been appointed our Indigenous Scholar in Residence for the next academic year. The image was presented as a sign of appreciation by Kevin Brand, principal of Qwam Qwum Stuwixwulh Community School and Coast Salish Elder Bill White.

Next up and in total contrast, was a visit on Sunday morning to the final outing of the SMUS Rowing team. The Rowing team is a truly remarkable part of our SMUS operation. Sometimes I feel they are not given fair tribute, and “out of sight, out of mind” can be a problem. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to be able to celebrate with our rowers, a season devoid of inter-school competition, but one that saw them persevere with strenuous individual and crew training objectives, despite all the obstacles. To see 30-plus rowers challenging themselves on ergometers in the rain at the Derby facility or launching into the Gorge waterway to put new-found skills into practice was a remarkable sight.

On Sunday, we christened a new boat, dedicated to the rowers of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, who were denied the chance to compete, but whose bonds as crewmates have perhaps been galvanized even stronger as a consequence. It was fitting that the new boat should be named Relentless. Our club has proved to be just that and will bounce back quickly once things reopen next year. I must pay tribute to Head of Rowing Susanne Walker Curry and her dedicated team, who have been a supreme example of ‘relentlessness’ in support of our rowers.

Returning home and basking in the euphoria of my rowing centre visit, spirits were quickly crushed by the numbing news of the death of one of our Grade 10 day students, Harrison Helliwell. Since then, we have aimed to support those most directly affected and closely involved. That said, the shockwaves of this tragedy quickly spread to every corner of our school. We often talk about community, but this past week on receipt of this tragic news, we saw demonstrations of it. I have been most proud of the way in which all individuals have rallied around to support one another. I have written to the Helliwell family offering sincere condolences on behalf of us all. If you would like to give a donation in memory of Harrison, his parents have chosen St. Paul’s Foundation as their charity of choice.

At the same time while this life and loss has been happening, I have been conducting exit interviews with a number of our Grade 12 graduates. It is often said that students are our best ambassadors. I find myself saying repeatedly to prospective parents and those interested in our school: “judge on outcome.” Having allocated time to meet in person with these remarkable young men and women, I remain committed to that statement. The range of activities and experiences that they enthuse about is quite remarkable. To hear balanced and articulate young men and women talk about what they have benefitted from SMUS, to hear their suggestions as to what we should do to change and reform for the future, and to share with them their enthusiasms for the broader post-SMUS canvas of life that will open up, makes me feel that it is all worthwhile in the end.

Our next objective will be to try to pick ourselves up, shake ourselves off and head to the end of term. We are hopeful that the healing balm of time over the summer will enable us to recapture our joie de vivre by the time school reopens in September. There is no doubt these last few days have tested our community as seldom before. I am confident that in our support of one another we will find the resilience to come through.

As always, thank you for your best wishes and support,
Mark Turner

PS – As one final note, on Thursday I enjoyed a most delicious Faculty and Staff Appreciation Lunch provided by members of our Parents’ Auxiliary, who I would like to thank for their overwhelming support in the middle of a difficult week. The attention to detail and ‘love’ dedicated to this process is a wonderful encouragement that will see us through to the finish line at the end of term. On behalf of faculty and staff, many thanks indeed.

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