Headmaster’s Assembly – 27 July 2018

“The Guy in the Glass”

Today’s assembly was inspired by two people – one who sent me a video of Mark Andrews’ (ex Springbok lock) talk to the rugby players at the opening of the Kearsney Festival of which we were a part and someone who asked me to look at a book titled “At What Cost” – subtitled “Defending Adolescent Development in Fiercely Competitive Schools.”

I have not completed the book yet but the concerns raised by the author are around expectations and performance in high-achieving schools such as ours and what happens to those boys who don’t meet those expectations or who cannot meet those expectations. There is a very real concern that we celebrate high-profile achievement which is beyond the reach of most of us, to the detriment of those who then feel unworthy and useless.

Perhaps our message has become clouded over time which is why I wanted to make it clear today. In making it clear, I return to the words of Old Boy John Smit who spoke at last year’s Founders Day Assembly and said that Boys High encouraged boys to be the best versions of themselves they could be. And that is what we are about.

We set high expectations yes, but those expectations should be obtainable. These include expectations around behaviour and conduct which is obtainable for everyone. We expect our boys to do their best on the sports fields and in the classrooms – again to do “their” best and I know that most teachers celebrate the boy who has improved as much as the boy who comes first. In my Maths class you get a Smartie for improving – just one – but I acknowledged not only excellence but relative excellence.

In assemblies we do acknowledge top achievement and indeed we must, but it mustn’t be to the detriment of the rest of us. Acknowledging top achievement must be to celebrate with that boy and to be pleased for him and to inspire us to reach the heights of which we are capable. I have said to you many times – there will only be one Head Boy and 35 Prefects which leaves the vast majority of us not. That doesn’t mean we cannot be leaders in our own way. There will be one school Dux – that doesn’t mean that the rest of us who do not have the same academic talent just give up – it means we achieve according to our abilities. So how do we know if we have indeed done our best? Who tells us what those standards are?

That brings me to the second point. In Mark Andrews’ speech, he read a poem written in 1934 by Dale Wimbrow called “The Guy in the Glass” which I shall read to you now. This poem was read after every match by the members of the 1995 World Cup winning rugby team in their quest to be the best they could be.

The Guy in the Glass

by Dale Wimbrow, (c) 1934

When you get what you want in your struggle for self,

And the world makes you King for a day,

Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,

And see what that guy has to say.


For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,

Who judgement upon you must pass.

The feller whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the guy staring back from the glass.


He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,

For he’s with you clear up to the end,

And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test

If the guy in the glass is your friend.


You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,

And think you’re a wonderful guy,

But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum

If you can’t look him straight in the eye.


You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,

And get pats on the back as you pass,

But your final reward will be heartaches and tears

If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

You will notice that the author doesn’t say a single word about winning medals or races or coming first. What he speaks about is doing your best. Being able to be at peace with oneself. There is something funny about mirrors. We look into them almost every day, usually in the mornings as we prepare for the day with our ablutions and getting dressed and then at night when we get ready for bed. Sometimes we like what we see and sometimes we don’t. Tonight, when you look into the mirror one last time before going to sleep – linger awhile and look, not just at your reflection but also into your own soul. Were you happy with yourself today? Did you behave well, did you help someone, did you improve a mark, did you practise or play well and so on?

On Saturday we take on our friends from Maritzburg College in our biannual fixture and we know we are in for a tough game no matter what sport we play. After that game you will have to look your teammates and coaches in the eye and tell them that you have given your everything and done your best. But then, you will have to look at the guy in the glass – you – and that is the guy you cannot fool. You may be able to fool your coach, your teammates, but you cannot fool yourself.

If the guy in the glass says to you that you have tried your very best – then smile at him and be proud of him. It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it doesn’t matter what team you play and what level of expertise you are. What matters is how you do related to your own ability. What matters is the guy in the glass.

Do not think of yourselves as unworthy, useless, insignificant because others have more talent than you in certain areas. Do not think your triumphs are small because only others get public recognition. Think of yourself in terms of your own abilities and celebrate your achievements because no matter how small the world may think they are -–they are massive to you, and that is all that counts!