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2021 Remembrance Day Speech

David Young, Head of School
This speech was part of our 2021 Remembrance Day ceremony, you can watch a recording here. 


Good morning and welcome. We are gathered today in act of Remembrance. For our St. George’s community, this is a twofold, interwoven act of remembrance. We join with Canadians across the country to remember all those who have died in conflict, soldiers, and civilians, since the beginning of the last century. However, within that larger scope, we offer specific remembrance, one of honour and reverence. Each year we gather to remember our own – The Fallen. We remember our 24 Old Boys and 3 Masters who died in the Second World War.  St. George’s School has committed to remembering their names, solemnly and with care, to ensure they are never forgotten.
 
I would like to acknowledge our special guests – Mr. Michael Skene ’85, the Chair of the Board; Mr. Prentice Durbin ’89, our Foundation Chair; Mr. Rodan Gopaul-Singh ‘88, President of the OBA Alumni; Ms. Christina Brown, President of the Parents Association; and Mr. Stephen Millen ’70 who has kindly supported in sharing a reading.
 
I want to acknowledge the absence of our larger community at this service that in years gone by would have been filled with our Alumni, Alumni parents, retirees, and Friends of the School. We hope that by next year we will be able to host our full community here again.
 
We also pause to acknowledge that we are gathering on the traditional, unceded territory of the Musqueam First Nation. In doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to the process of reconciliation, as we continue to deepen our relationship with our Musqueam neighbours.
 
The things a community values can be seen in its actions and its stories. Within each of my first five conversations with people at St. George’s I learned about The Fallen. I learned about the determination to ensure they are always remembered, not distantly, or generically but personally. And I learned that this was to ensure that their willingness to serve and their sacrifice was not forgotten, was not in vain. I learned, in fact, that the philosophy of service and sacrifice lie right at the heart of the history and values of this School.
 
I’ve been reflecting on the ideas and ideals of service and sacrifice, particularly as it relates to St. George’s School. I’ve been thinking about all our Old Boys who served, and most poignantly the sacrifice made by the Fallen.
 
The definition of sacrifice reads: being willing to give up something so something else could be gained.
 
Sacrifice is in essence a part of an equation, an equation of subtraction or loss for one such that there is an addition or gain for another. That equation of sacrifice can be entered into in many ways – a sacrifice of time, effort, relationship, money, service, and ultimately, and most significantly, that rarest and most revered sacrifice, the sacrifice of life.
 
By remembering our Fallen with such committed diligence that mindset of giving something up so that someone else might gain has, in my experience thus far, become a foundational value of the School. Those ideals of service and sacrifice have imbued in generations of St. George’s students, a sense of responsibility to give. We are a school built upon the ideas of service and sacrifice. 
 
I also want to assert something else. When we each have an awareness that our own gains have come to us because of the service and sacrifice of someone else, we, in turn, are more likely to be willing to offer some sacrifice in service of opportunities and support of others.
 
The effects of service and sacrifice spread, it cascades, it reaches far further than its initial impact. In fact, its multiplying pathways become impossible to know.
 
I wonder if I can give you a personal example of the cascading effect of the sacrifice made by St. George’s students and its rolling, far-reaching impact.
 
In April 1945, after intense campaigns throughout the Netherlands following the D-Day landing, Canadian troops arrived in Rotterdam. More than 7,600 Canadians died in the eight-month campaign to liberate the Netherlands—a tremendous sacrifice in the cause of freedom.
 
Although difficult to fully confirm, it is highly likely that regiments that contained St. George’s Old Boys entered Rotterdam that day, certainly, they were involved in the campaigns in the Netherlands leading up to it.
 
As the liberating Canadian troops drove by those celebrating on packed streets, a young eight-year-old girl stood at the very front of the crowd. Her name was Helma Trass. Her young life had been one of hunger and suffering and the raw joy and gratitude she felt that day was profound.
 
She made a promise: she would somehow honour the sacrifice of the Canadian soldiers who gave her freedom, gave her life.
 
Helma grew up to become an incredibly bright young woman who was deeply committed to the ideals of education, and it became her commitment that she find a way to go to Canada to fulfil that promise she had made.
 
And so it became her turn to make a sacrifice. Not one that put her life in danger but a sacrifice of a different sort. She left her family and moved to Canada. Despite being advised that her plan was ridiculous, she gave up all her money and borrowed more to open a small school in a rural field 30 minutes north of Toronto.  She felt that she would be able to give back to Canada by educating its children. Her specific focus, long before it was fashionable, was on science and curiosity and the ideals of service. Her school grew and grew. Her graduates now populate leading positions across industries and countries.
 
One of the early students to attend her school was Michael Warner. He remembers being inspired by that atmosphere of curiosity and fell in love with science and he was always encouraged to give of himself.
 
He became a doctor. Over the past 18 months Dr. Warner’s sacrifice and service and been noted throughout the Canadian media, has become one of the faces and leading voices of our current fight against COVID-19. His overwhelming and passionate commitment to the care of his patients has been written about at length. He has given care to thousands of patients at great personal cost, and it is impossible to know how many lives he and his team have saved.
 
In speaking with Michael, he gives credit to the atmosphere created at Toronto Montessori School (TMS). Helma’s personal sacrifice to ensure her school held to its principles of care cascaded to him. And in speaking to Helma, who is now in her 80s, she continues to say that she was determined to come to Canada and support the educating of children because of her gratitude to the Canadians who sacrificed themselves so that she could be liberated. And we can be confident that our Old Boys, who offered their service and the ultimate sacrifice, were part of a Canadian force responsible for the liberation of the Netherlands and Helma’s freedom.
 
In a much, much smaller way, that cascade of service and sacrifice found another outcome. I was able to become a Head of TMS, Helma’s school, the school that held service at its core, and that, in turn, has led me here to St. George’s today to complete the circle.
 
Acts of service and sacrifice cascade and domino in ways that we can never know.
 
And so I speak this morning to you, our boys. The sacrifice made by our Old Boys and Masters may seem a long time ago, it may in fact be difficult for you to draw a personal line between what happened in the world in 1939 - 1945 and your own life today.
 
The founding students of this School demonstrated that ideals of service and a willingness to sacrifice are foundational to who we are. We are a school built on service and sacrifice.
 
The cascading impact of their service and sacrifice continues. We may have no full comprehension of where that domino effect has reached, but I encourage you to speak to any of our Old Boys and you will hear and see that spirit in their own personal stories.
 
Those acts of profound service and sacrifice have been concentrated into an understanding that you have a responsibility. A responsibility, that, when opportunity presents itself, you too will be willing to give of yourself such that others will benefit.
 
Several generations ago our young men saw injustice, saw a threat to truth, saw freedoms being taken and they resolved to serve, willing to sacrifice. Thankfully today it is unlikely your responsibility to give will involve conflict in which your life is at risk. We are blessed to live in a country at peace. We are fortunate not to want for the basics in life; nevertheless, around us are huge issues in which injustice exists and freedoms are threatened. Your sacrifice need not be the ultimate one; in fact, your sacrifice need not be huge. However, your willingness to see a need and to step into that equation of service and sacrifice continues to be essential.  That equation that requires you to give something so that something else can be gained will continue to cascade and impact people you will never know about.
 
The American writer Albert Pike wrote, “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
 
This School is built upon acts of service and sacrifice, and today we remember.
St. George’s School acknowledges that we are situated on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam First Nation.

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