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Closing Day Reflections

The Headmaster's address to students, staff, parents, and graduates

The commission to give an address at this graduation has guided me to our Library in order to learn more about the history of our School and Vancouver Island – and I can also hear the staff voices: ‘keep it short – we’re timing you’, ‘remember we are suffering from heat exhaustion in our academic gowns,’ and ‘don’t fall (or be pushed) into the Lake as you navigate your first Closing Day.'

This is indeed a time for exploration – and I take it as my metaphor today.

This morning in Chapel we heard two prayers, both attributed to Sir Francis Drake – Englishman, sea captain, adventurer, and circumnavigator of the globe. The founder and first headmaster of Shawnigan, CW Lonsdale, drew great strength from one of the prayers (which we know as the ‘Founder’s Prayer’) – it reminds us of the importance of not just the beginning but the challenge and endeavour of the journey each of us has embarked upon. This was Lonsdale’s favourite prayer and he is reported to have read it frequently. Perhaps it captures his journey of discovery, dogged determination, his ‘great endeavour’ to carve a school out of the British Columbia wilderness in 1916 and his lifelong dedication to the development of Shawnigan.
 
The second prayer, read by Sarah R. and Markus B. in Chapel, is said to have been written by Sir Francis Drake before he set sail from Portsmouth in England – coincidentally my birthplace – on ‘The Golden Hinde’ on a voyage to this Pacific coastline. In the prayer, he asks God to challenge us to ‘dare more boldly,’ ‘to venture on wider seas,’ and ‘to push back / the horizons of our hopes.’ It is a prayer that challenges each of us to imagine new worlds, to dream dreams, and to sail beyond the horizon.
 
I too stand in front of you as a new arrival. The Lamonts chose to leave the fjords of Norway to join you here on Vancouver Island – our own family adventure.
 
British Columbia has a strong and proud tradition of explorers, from Simon Fraser to Spanish navigators. On the back of your programs, we have produced the chart printed in 1798 which captures the navigation and exploration of the northwestern Pacific coastline by Captain George Vancouver, aboard HMS Discovery. A life-sized gold statue stands astride the central globe at the top of the government building in Victoria, where we hold part of our annual Shawnigan Model United Nations. Vancouver first set sail, aged 13, as a young officer on an expedition led by Captain Cook. On HMS Discovery in the 1790s, Captain Vancouver carried out a survey of every inlet and outlet on this coastline. His gold statue gazes out upon the coast that he did so much to define.
 
His published account of the expedition was entitled ‘A Voyage of Discovery’ – given that indigenous people had lived along the coast for ten thousand years before, it proved to be a voyage of mutual discovery, as the coast became a contour for the meeting of cultures.

Both geographically and metaphorically, Shawnigan stands as a natural harbour for you as students, and strives to provide safe and secure anchorage – a place for sea trials, a place to lose your bearings (and to find them again), a place to charter new waters, and to connect with different cultures. It has been a personal ‘voyage of discovery’ for all of us.

It is important that we teach you to test yourselves in order that you acquire the skills necessary to navigate through dangers and deceptions. In Drake’s prayer, he guides us that ‘where losing sight of land, / We shall find the stars.’ Here, at Shawnigan, we aim
not just to teach you the names of the stars but how to read and navigate by them. We invite you, our students, to be map makers, to sound the waters, to voyage out away from the trade routes and discover new frontiers – equipped with a moral compass, a logbook of experience, and a pioneering sense of adventure.

On departure from Norway, one of my friends sent me a postcard with a quotation from The Motorcycle Diaries – the memoir of Che Guevara’s adventures across South America as a young doctor: "What do we leave behind when we cross each frontier? Each moment seems split in two; melancholy for what was left behind and the excitement of entering a new land." The postcard lives in my office as a reminder of my friends and family at home and also as a reminder of the excitement and adventures ahead.

This is undoubtedly an exciting time for our Shawnigan graduates, with new frontiers to cross and important challenges on the horizon.
For all of you, in some sense, it is a journey into the unknown, into risk – towards life’s improbabilities. What you learn about yourself and your friends along the way is at the heart of the experience - and I am certain that the invaluable friendships forged here will nourish you for many years to come. I ask that, in your lives, you continue to place emphasis on Conversation, Compassion and Community – the mortar of an institution such as this.

Yet when the waters ahead seem frightening, please remember that you do have: the inner strength, ‘perseverance’ [as per our Word Shirt this year] and courage to continue your exploration – ‘to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’ [Tennyson].

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff for their support of students over the course of this academic year.

It has been our responsibility as staff here at Shawnigan to accompany you on your journey so far – not as your friends but as your guides, charged by your families to help steer you to this day. A good teacher, a good guide is one who makes himself or herself ‘progressively unnecessary’ [Thomas Carruthers].

I shall remember you vividly and with deep affection as the students I started with – and I would like to thank you for your support and guidance over the past year. Your legacy as a Grade 12 group has been to ensure that Shawnigan is a secure and inclusive place in which students of all profiles can flourish – a ‘level playing field’ for all.

One Grade 11 student wrote this month in a letter as part of the prefect selection process:

‘Shawnigan has a way of changing people, shaping them into passionate adults that strive for the best. However, over this past year I have recognized that not only were the people changing, but so too was the School itself. I wish to cultivate that growth.

The prefects [and Grade 12s] this year have done an outstanding job transitioning…..to a school that grows and adapts to better accommodate its students while still maintaining its core beliefs.’

Picking up my kaleidoscope. there have been moments of pure laughter, occasional madness, delight, tears and heartfelt pride when I remember the time we have spent together.

You have welcomed the Lamont family into your lives and shown a real generosity of spirit – and introduced us to the rhythms, traditions, idiosyncrasies and community of Shawnigan.

It is hard to isolate and capture the most memorable moments of this year with you: perhaps Atoussa’s infamously croaky ‘Please stand’ in Chapel, the rugby players who chose to wear rainbow laces in solidarity with rugby worldwide, finding myself singing along at the musical with my daughter Poppy and the rest of the audience, the then-and-now photos of the 5 Year Dinner, a last supper with the prefects in our garden, finding myself the target of physics-lesson water bombs or missiles at dodgeball, the glint in some eyes at the prospect of chopping the headmaster down in last week’s soccer match against the Senior Girls or being chirped from the sidelines that I was in need of my inhaler given my lack of match fitness – but I am most proud of how the community stood strong in the face of great adversity and sadness earlier this month at the loss of one of our own.

I hope that during the course of today you find a moment to think of your loved ones unable to be here whose unstinting support, daily sacrifices, and dreams for your futures have guided you to this point. It is your achievement; it is their achievement.

They are with us in spirit today.

I would now like to invite our students to show their appreciation to their families to the Shawnigan Parents Association, to the staff, and to the wider Shawnigan community for the unstinting support they have received on the road so far.

On this note, I would like to turn to some departing staff members, for whom this also is an emotionally charged day - and to take a moment to thank:

Brydie Thomas, Takeshi Barnes, Jon Zacks, Vito Pasquale, Margot Allen, and Erica Dalrymple.

for their outstanding contributions to Shawnigan. All of you have individually enriched our world - and the School shall miss you. We wish you the very best for the adventures ahead.

We sincerely hope you - as Grads, departing students in other grades and departing staff - continue to lead rewarding and fulfilling lives and that, f
or the years to come, you will act as our ambassadors, our network, our voice beyond the lake – and we look forward to welcoming you back to the shores of Shawnigan Lake and to hearing about your adventures, your friendships and your futures.

Many staff have told me that you are the finest Grade 12 year that they can remember. Your ‘Grad Packs’ (full of letters, photos and cards) stand as testimony to the affection and regard you are held in.

This afternoon, there will undoubtedly be tears of sadness, of relief, of exhaustion and of happiness – and you will have that sense of ‘half turn[ing] to go yet turning stay’ [Christina Rossetti] as you draw strength for the next step on your journey.

And as the coach or car you find yourself in this evening bumps over the familiar road towards the gates of campus, please take a moment to reflect on the magic of this place – and, at the same time, reflect that you are a part of a larger, compelling and unstoppable hope which radiates today from Shawnigan.

In the words of the explorer Sir Francis Drake and in the spirit of our Founder, CW Lonsdale, I invite us all ‘to push back / the horizons of our hopes’ and ‘to dare more boldly’.

It has been a great privilege to be your Headmaster.


Richard D A Lamont
Headmaster
June 2019

Palmam qui Meruit Ferat
 

Disturb us, Lord,
when we are too well pleased with ourselves;
when our dreams have come true
because we have dreamed too little,
when we arrived safely
because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
we have lost our thirst
for the waters of life;
having fallen in love with life,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision
of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly —
to venture on wider seas
where storms will show your mastery;
where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
the horizons of our hopes;
and to push back the future
in strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
who is Jesus Christ.
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Shawnigan Lake School is an independent boarding school for Grades 8-12 on Canada's West Coast. Our modern, diverse and innovative programming helps shape the next generation of global leaders.