Good afternoon Dr. Matthews, Mr. Lawrence, Mrs. Bentley, Mr. Toy, members of the Platform Party, faculty, staff, students and fellow Grads of 2015.
I feel honoured and incredibly grateful for this opportunity to speak to you on behalf of my classmates to my right. In truth, however, I have been both eagerly anticipating and dreading this speech, and what it represents, since the beginning of the year.
Graduation is a celebration of our St. George’s journey, in the company of the friends, family, and mentors who have made it special. It is our promotion into the next grade—not a numbered one in the high school education system, but one that introduces us to the adult world, full of responsibilities and unknown possibilities.
Graduation is also when we leave our lives at St. George’s, as we know them, forever. This means a fresh start, with new friends and adventures, but it also means parting ways with the ones we have here, a second family. We will live in the present, and time will take these people and these moments and fix them in our minds as fond memories.
So, graduation is both an overture and a finale; a new beginning and a funeral.
To capture this zeitgeist, this two-faced spirit of graduation, is at the heart of every valedictory I have come across.
How should I capture it then? How should I commemorate our story here and connect it with the world which awaits us?
I could, for instance, take us on a trip down memory lane. Under the steady guidance of Mr. Devenish and Mr. Toy, our Junior School years were filled with far more fun than we realized then. A certain wanderlust guided us through the playgrounds and forest during recesses; that same restlessness drove us to explore the school and to take advantage of all the opportunities we could find.
But then we came into the Senior School. A class that started with just 19 students rose to more than 160 by the beginning of Grade 12. As our class size changed, we changed too. For one thing, many boys, especially the formerly short among us, zoomed up in height in a curious new phenomenon called puberty. Spencer Louie’s voice has gone down several octaves, while Matthew Lee…still has plenty of time to start developing a baritone sound. Some things might never change, though. In a couple years’ time, the only shirt that can fit Jayden Bloom will probably still be five sizes too small.
I could talk about what legacy we’ve left at St. George’s—because we have left behind a terrific trail of stories and legends in our wake. I’m talking beyond the provincial sports titles, national academic distinctions, and prolific university acceptances. A fantastic Student Expo, featuring our very own Zedion. A stunning Rigg show. Romeo and Juliet. The ‘Hunger Games’ House Supper skit. Krispy Kreme donut sales. Smokey McLean with his smoke machine (nobody will ever forget that). Each One Teach One. Saints Conference. Grad Band and Jazz Combo. Alley Outreach. Student-run senior assemblies. Investment and Business Club. VMUN. Our Grad Prank Beach Day—bananas and emergency showers included.
Context is important though. Dig deep enough, and you’ll find that the Class of 2011, the Grads when we were in Grade 8, had more than 36 suspensions on their docket in a single year. It makes our record this year pale in comparison.
And even if the things we’re able to leave behind stretch out to infinity, these achievements themselves mean only so much. Flip through yearbooks past, or look to other students around this city or country, and you’ll realize that we are not alone, nor the greatest, in awards or distinctions, initiatives, or events. We’ve had our share of tough losses and disappointments, as well.
But what does make what we’ve done special is the fact that we acted with our own grit and determination. It is this perspective of excellence, of trying one’s best and helping each other succeed, which I have seen embraced everywhere from Schoolreach tournaments to provincial Rugby matches, Yearbook photo meetings to Basketball games. As Philippe de Coubertin, a founder of the modern Olympic Games, said, “The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.”
I could say “we are the future,” but then I’d be a little concerned about the future. For all the awesome things that we’ve accomplished, and all the potential and talent we have, I have some not insignificant doubts. Let’s recognize a few facts here: Jeff Lee will never attend an assembly willingly in his life, though eventually we’ll all be shopping from the Apple Stores which he runs. Charley Zhang will never need to pay for heating gas, because he already has so much heat inside of him. Chock Lopez will shed a tear once in his life.
You don’t need to have your finger on the pulse to know that Michael Hougen will find every single excuse possible to miss any of his university classes. Uncharacteristically of the Athletics department, they had to ban Michael Hougen from ab-blasting because of overuse of the Fitness Centre during class time. Apparently, he justified it by asking Dr. Matthews whether maintaining his health was more important than the pursuit of his studies. It’s a good thing they banned him too, or else none of his essays in History 12 would ever have gotten started.
I could talk about how we as a grade formed “a cohesive unit” in our last year, as many School Captains have in the past. But this would be a half truth. Talking about our diversity and individualism would also be missing the point.
The imprint of the Grad Lounge and Grad events on our school lives has definitely bonded us together more closely than ever. But, refreshingly, we weren’t all on the same track, all of the time. Our class was somewhere in between the extremes of monolithic on one end and cliquey on the other. We were more than willing to support those whom we didn’t know as well, and we were devoted to our own close friends as we strived to strengthen those relationships right until the end of the year. But we never, ever missed an opportunity to stick up for another Grad.
Peer through the aperture of our year and you’ll see what I mean. I remember “the boys” dropping in for their first visit ever at a Winter Band Concert—though in return they expected a marching band at the Rugby game against Shawnigan Lake.
We all have a little spark of joy inside of us, and we chose to share that limited light with each other as much as possible. We celebrated the diversity we shared—no matter whether we were from just around the block or across the Pacific Ocean, whether we played for Canada or Mexico, or we weren’t involved in any competitive sports at all, whether we were gay or straight, bi- or pan-, whether we were the first to jump for the Nintendo controller, or we preferred to keep to ourselves.
I could tell you, as Dr. Matthews usually does, to remember the School fondly. But, while hanging on the last edge of our pivotal years at Saints, I think we’d agree that we will do much more than that. We know that St. George’s isn’t the walls of the building behind us, nor the class timetable or even the curriculum. St. George’s is ultimately the people here—the collective result of this entire community of students and teachers—and in leaving we take a part of St. George’s with us wherever we go.
When we encounter adversity, we’ll draw from the lessons and values we’ve learned here. When we meet new people and join new communities, we’ll instil the same sense of fraternity and caring that we’ve enjoyed here. When we eat at our college cafeterias, maybe we’ll even devise a food rating system based on precious metals and, without any proof whatsoever, convince the entire campus that they’re eating one rank below prison food.
Our time here at St. George’s still has a lot to give us, even beyond graduation. The ripple can be more important than the initial wave.
I could use the ever popular stock phrases: “We did it! We’ve done it! Despite the unsanitary amount of hours of Super Smash Bros. logged on the Wii U, we actually graduated.”
But to do so without qualification neglects the enormous support we have received over the past five years and beyond to get to this point.
First and foremost, to our parents and grandparents—thank you for being there throughout our entire lives. Thanks for pushing us when we needed a push, for picking us up when we were down, and for having so much patience for us. Thank you for enrolling us at Saints. Today is your day just as much as it is ours.
To our teachers and coaches—thank you for imparting your passion to us, for being our mentors and friends, for looking out for us when we needed help. The amount of sheer dedication you have in the face of the amount of trouble we cause in your classes is awe-inspiring. We will not forget you.
To the staff behind the scenes—thank you for feeding us, keeping our classrooms clean and safe, making the fields green, and ensuring our letters, marks, and transcripts got where they needed to go. Custodians, we’re really, really, really sorry about the Grad Lounge.
To Mr. Palmer—you are tireless, benevolent, and humble. You’ve stuck by our side as both our Head of Grade 8 and our Head of Grade 12. The incredible commitment that you have demonstrated to us has touched us all, and without you, our graduation would simply not be possible. Thank you for seeing us all the way.
To Mr. Lawrence—we are proud to be graduating with you this year, even if you had to repeat some 30 years at this School in order to get to this stage. Your perpetual optimism and warm openness are things that we have come to identify with Saints itself. You and we may leave Saints, but know that a part of Saints will always be with you, and a part of you will always be with us.
To Dr. Matthews—when we were new to this campus, you were new to it too. We grew up in the Senior School together. Throughout that time, we’ve come to know you as someone whom we could always ask for help, someone interested and supportive of each and every one of us. Thank you for your leadership, your kindness, and your encouragement.
To the younger grades—thank you for the memories on the bus, in class, or just around in the hallway. Remember us, but don’t feel constrained within what we’ve done or said. Chart your own path; write your own story…except if it involves mass email surveys. Grade 11s—or rather, incoming Grade 12s—good luck.
On a more personal note: to the Prefects—thank you for being an outstanding team. I’ve learned so much from you and have been humbled by your company. In particular, Reed—you’ve been an amazing and thoughtful co-leader, and it’s been a privilege to work closely with you. Nicolas—I have always looked up to you and your leadership, and this year has been no different.
To the Grads—thank you for placing your trust in me and for welcoming me with open arms. Getting to know some of you better and watching you guys in action, whether it was at the Boarding House, on the Band Tour, at Burnaby Lake or at the boathouse, have been some of my best memories this year. Your friendship and kindness have affected me greatly, and I hope that I have been able to be of service to all of you this year.
So, I could say or do any of these aforementioned things – but what I will do is this:
I would like to quote, of all things, a funeral elegy – one of the most famous poems of the ancient Roman Catullus.
It’s not all that morbid, I assure you. From its last line comes the name of a modern military custom, the ‘Hail and Farewell,’ which celebrates, honours and well-wishes the departing most senior leaders of a unit as a new senior group is invested.
Loosely in English, the line goes:
“And for evermore, my brother, I salute you and wish you well.”
The original Latin reads:
“atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.”
And is that not, after all, what a valedictory is supposed to be?
So, Grads of 2015, this is it. We’ve come to the end of our story, and the end of this speech. We’ve sat through the funeral and the new beginning. Cheers to the outstanding year, the lasting friendships, the stubbornness of our brotherhood. Good luck to all of you, wherever you may go. We’ll miss each other.
I offer you these parting words:
“atque in perpetuum, fratrēs, avēte atque valēte.”
“And for evermore, my brothers, I salute you and wish you well.”