IB2 Graduation Speech: Joanne de Koning

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Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, parents, link parents, members of the Governing Council, staff, friends and siblings and, of course, to the honoured guests of the evening – the Graduating Class of 2016. I am indeed very honoured to have been asked to speak at this event and I thank you all most humbly for your invitation and encouragement. In particular, I want to thank Rafik, without whom I would not even have known I was on the programme. However, I am truly delighted to have this opportunity as it gives me the chance to reveal something of the inside scoop of these young people before you today.

I have to admit that this has been an extraordinary year group on so many levels. It has been a long time since we have been challenged, pushed out of our comfort zones, shaken up and forced to re-evaluate on so many key issues to life at Waterford in particular and UWC in general. No sooner had a decision been made then we would see Wouter and Sebastian arriving with the tough questions, new perspectives and sometimes even demands to rethink or re-evaluate – and back to the drawing board we would go.

The SRC exec – Lindo (a most skilled and sophisticated negotiator and diplomat it was sometimes really hard not to see his logic), Sivuse (who is such an amazing debater we often had to take a recess to think of a good response) and Akhona (imminently sensible and the mediator of the group – thank goodness!) all challenged us on issues of policy, of management, of implementation and a host of other things too numerous to mention. In raising any issues referring to dress code, we would be sure to have Jacqui and Nick turning up with a strong feminist perspective advocating strongly for the rights of all women on campus and challenging any perceived gender stereotypes that may have been unwittingly expressed.

Diana would challenge the comfort zones of our “colour blind bubble” through her commitment to projects such as Africa week and Batya and Helen would stir up the self-righteous to re-evaluate their understanding of social justice and equality. Michael and Ali never let go of the sustainability bone and made sure it stayed in the forefront of our thinking. Andres challenged our understanding of mutual respect and responsibility to each other and Alma never allowed us to stagnate in terms of our academic rigour – especially with regard to assessment. Milan challenged our disciplinary code by raising and debating our collective understanding of human rights and freedom and together we have all learned that change, especially in a democracy, can be slow and sometimes frustrating.

I will admit, that there were times over the last two years that we looked forward to saying goodbye to these young people (we would count the sleeps at some points) – they have been interactive and engaged beyond all expectations, and they have never shied away from keeping us all on our toes and ahead of our game. But, Ladies and Gentleman, these are exactly the kinds of people that we so desperately need in the world today – a world seemingly gone mad on so many levels, where hate and fear have triumphed in the most unexpected places, where human rights abuses and shocking cruelty has escalated to new levels, a world in which we now live with a new and terrifying “norm of peril” – these are the people we need: People not afraid to stand up for what they believe, people prepared to challenge the establishment, to redefine the parameters, to face the uncomfortable, to go where no-one else dares go: value driven, self-motivated, passionate and committed to peace and a sustainable future – and we couldn’t be prouder of them!

At his address to prospective parents at entrance testing days, Mr Lowry always tells parents that if they want their children to end up as conforming, submissive, passive acceptors of the status quo – then Waterford in NOT the school they want to choose. Precisely because we are UWC and therefore fundamentally different from all other private schools across the globe - because we provide the space and the opportunity for an education like no other, an education in which our students can be set free to become all they are meant to be, where challenging the status quo is the practice, where tackling the tough and uncomfortable issues is expected, where finding ways to make a difference is the purpose.

And now that the time has come to say goodbye, I want to tell you all that you have lived the UWC mission at Waterford even if you didn’t always recognise that you were doing so, that you are now equipped and hopefully motivated and inspired to be the change the world needs so desperately, that that change need not be large or grand, it can be quiet and small – but each of you, in your own special and unique way, has within you the power to change the world and that is an awesome and sobering responsibility.

I was recently lucky enough to attend the UWC Congress in Trieste Italy and to meet so many extraordinary alumni in particular who are engaged with the movement but also making such incredible impact in their personal spheres of influence. One of the great quotations I learned at that conference comes from our UWC benefactor Shelby Davis who said – “The world needs dreamers, and the world needs doers but most of all, the world needs dreamers who are doers”.

You are all UWC dreamers – aspirational, idealistic, value driven young people – we need you to go out and be doers! UWC is like the Hotel California – once you have checked in, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. You will carry your UWC values with you forever, you are irrevocably changed and you can’t ever go back to the person you were before you came to UWC. And so our final goodbyes are a paradox, the sincere sadness and realisation that we are losing something extraordinary special in all of you but the immense pride in who you have become and the hope we have for you all to live out our UWC values and however you can, to change our world.

Because I am an English literature teacher, I felt it only appropriate to end with a last quotation for you all to take away with you. I know my lit class will be expecting Cummings or Fitzgerald or Tennessee Williams but I have chosen to end with my favourite literary character of all time – Winnie the Pooh, who incidentally turns 90 this year and is still the most inspirational character of all time: After a particularly satisfying visit with his best friend Piglet, Pooh hugs Piglet and says: How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. Our dearest IB2s, we love you all so much, we so are so incredibly proud of you, we have faith in you as agents of change and we consider ourselves beyond lucky to have had something in you all that makes saying goodbye so hard.

Hambani Kahle IB2s – may you all be blessed beyond measure xx

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