Those of you that have been down to Brooks field in the past month may have noticed a difference in the stands. Behind the area where the spectators sit on the western side of the field are around ten trees that have been planted at the top level of the stands. They were planted there as part of an initiative by your Prefect group as representatives of this year’s Form Vs. This is part of their gift to the school.
One of my favourite sayings is “Plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit”. This advice has been taken literally by these boys and they have suggested the planting of trees in a place that desperately need shade. Many times in a rugby season I have felt sorry for our boys as they sit in the Highveld sun supporting their team and I have wished for some kind of shelter for them – be it a gazebo or a roof. And so it shall be – but not for you. You see these trees will take some time to grow – perhaps five or even ten years. But they will grow, if we look after them properly, and they will provide cooling shade for generations to come. And this matric group will come back to their 10 year reunion in 2028 and watch us play a rugby match and remember that they were responsible for the leafy canopy that protects our boys. And they will smile quietly and remember today when the trees were still little sticks.
The phrase about trees is not meant to be taken literally but obviously speaks of legacy – leaving something now or doing something now that may not be seen in your lifetime or certainly for a long time – a long-term investment so to speak. What is your legacy and what is your long-term investment? Perhaps it is the influence you may have on your fellow pupil, perhaps it is a system you change. This might even be a change we want to see in ourselves.
When I was appointed to this school I had twenty years of service left before I had to retire. I am now almost halfway through that time and am often asked what I would like to be remembered for. In these first eight years we have had a great building project – the second biggest since the actual construction of the school over 100 years ago. But that is not what I want to be remembered for. My legacy is still a work in progress and I see great strides made yet I see setback too. I want our school to be an example of boys’ education – where young boys develop into robust young men, who are strong yet kind, tough yet gentle, with old-fashioned values yet a new-world confidence and relevance. I want you to hold open car doors for women, greet all others respectfully but I also want you to have an entrepreneurial spirit and a critical mind that thinks independently. I want you to cry in movies and wear pink and be strong for others when they need you. I want you to stand up and speak out against wrong. I want you to do gentlemanly things.
I want us to grow past any outdated ideas of traditional boys schools machismo into the new world where masculinity is defined by the care you show others and the strength you have to stand up to injustice. I want to see you accept each other – black and white not sitting in separate rows or places but together with your friends, gay and straight, English and Afrikaans, whatever your alleged differences may be. I want someone not to be teased for being different. One of the words I hate is “tolerate” because to me it implies that my viewpoint is superior to yours but I will accept yours as a condescending gesture of good faith. I don’t want you to tolerate each other – I want you to accept each other in all your beautiful faults. I want you to look past race, gender, sexuality, language, age and look deeply into the souls of a fellow human being. That is the tree I wish to plant. I may never get to sit in its shade but my children and grandchildren may, and that will make me happy.
So what do you want to plant? What will you leave behind of yourselves for the world to see as it develops? Will you be remembered and for what?
The older you get, the more your impending end of life affects you. This is not meant to be a macabre or depressing assembly – it is simply the truth. Older people realise their time is closer to ending than it was and they worry about what they will be leaving behind. If the average life expectancy of a SA middle class person is 85 years, you may start worrying about these things at age 80 or after a major health scare. Your life at PBHS is five years – that is all. Five small, short years in which to plant your tree, in which to leave your mark.
This doesn’t have to be a loud and public mark – it can be a small, quiet and seemingly insignificant mark but one that is felt by someone. Leave something of you behind and let it be worthwhile, let it be good.
And so today I leave you with a challenge to be different, to redefine boys education away from the jock, macho, ra-ra posturing towards being a real man. Being able to wear pink, loving ballet or rugby and being unafraid to say so, holding open a car door for a woman and showing her your respect without fear of ridicule, calling out your friends when they make racist or sexist jokes. That is the tree I wish to plant. But what is your tree? What do you want to leave behind you either here at school or when you are no more?
“This is the beginning of a new day. You have been given this day to use as you will. You can waste it or use it for good. What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever; in its place is something that you have left behind . . . let it be something good”