Closing Day Address – Shawnigan 2022

The commission for me to give a short Head’s Address at this Closing Day no doubt fills you all with dread: “he’s going to talk about trees on campus at length again… once was enough at Grad!”

But never fear: not today!

And you’ll be pleased to hear that Kathini took a ruthless red pen yesterday to my closing address, mindful of the blazing sun and possible heat stroke!

But it wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t some Latin thrown into a speech.
When I was at boarding school in England – back in the midst of time – I used to love a nineteenth century engraving in our library which gave a clear set of commands in Latin to incoming students:

Aut discem, aut discede, manet sors tertia caedi (Either learn or leave; or there remains a third fate, stay and be beaten).

Fortunately, beating by Shawnigan prefects was ended in 1966 and, further down the line, by the Headmaster in 1983. I searched the archives: the offence for the last student caned is unknown. Our canes, Samson and Delilah, live in the Museum as a reminder of our corporal punishment past.

As an aside, I met one alumnus from the Class of 1960 who was reputed to have taken a beating from the Headmaster whilst simultaneously stealing a couple of cigarettes from the silver dispenser on the Head’s Desk whilst saying “Thank you, Sir, may I have another.” This naughty student, now in his eighties, just made a significant donation to support a full scholarship for a deserving student from a family in need of financial support. He did this in memory of a teacher who was both inspirational and believed in him – when others didn’t.

So... “Either learn or leave; or there remains a third fate, stay and be beaten.”

As the Class of 2022, many of you, I trust, have taken the imperative of “learn” at Shawnigan, some of your cohort over the five years have “left” and some have chosen the third option of “stay” – and do Wilberforce [our restorative action community service]. MCB’s records reveal that over 25 of you here today have spent time on Wilberforce with 46 stints shared between you and a couple of what we call “frequent fliers” (who will remain nameless but you know who you are!).

In the spirit of the Founder’s Prayer, all of you graduates sitting in front of me have “thoroughly finished” your Shawnigan journey today – with a little bit of restorative Wilberforce along the way – and this moment “yieldeth the true glory.”

Picking up my Class of 2022 kaleidoscope there have been moments of pure laughter, occasional madness, delight, tears and heartfelt pride when I remember the time we have spent together.

It is hard to isolate and capture the most memorable moments of this year for me: was it the wonderfully and weirdly alternative name and posters for the Spring Fling (“Larry’s Lazer Show”), perhaps getting my own back by commentating at Inter-House Track & Field, the startling then-and-now photos of the five year dinner, a last supper with the prefects at the Head’s House, surprises at every turn on April Fool’s Day, “Penumbra,” the spontaneous golf buggy race at Track & Field (which nearly ended my career!), the Shawnigan Stampede in the form of a couple of sheep appearing unexpectedly in the Quad as recently as Monday morning, streamers and balloons galore in the Main Building on Wednesday morning….  

…or the fun of yesterday’s late-night tour of some of the Houses and finding students wearing sombreros and fake moustaches, line dancing under the stars, storytelling around the table, toasting s’mores and toasting friendship, and – at one House – a student delighting in irreverent impersonations of me! I haven’t yet read the security report to find out what else happened after I went to bed!
As the Class of 2022, you have brought both a distinctive sense of good mischief and laughter to the campus – the perfect antidote to some of the challenges we have faced.

Some of my favourite moments of this term have come when sitting at the front or back of Chapel and listening to Chapel and “This I believe” addresses – witty, mischievous, heartfelt, thought-provoking – on subjects as far ranging as finding the perfect partner to dance with in the kitchen of life to body-building, from metaphorical soap to sharing deeply personal stories in a trusted space.

I scribbled down three of your compelling insights:

“I am determined in what I believe: I believe that meaningful connections I’ve made in Shawnigan are what truly make me happy. It is my friends that motivate me to move forward.”

“Everyone has their own distinct stories and cultural backgrounds, and that’s what makes being here so special.”

“Shawnigan Lake School gave me more than opportunity; it gave me a community.”

Your voices.

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 staff and to the wider Shawnigan community for the unstinting support they have received on their journey so far.

On this note, I would like to turn to our departing staff members, for whom this also is an emotionally charged day – and to take a moment to thank them 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.

“And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” [TS Eliot]

And back to our Grads.

Your “Grad Packs” (full of letters, photos and cards) stand as testament to the affection and regard you are held in.

I have one message / piece of advice for all of you today.

At the start of January, I gave an address to the School community, which drew on the wisdom of South African Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu – Tutu not Tat-too (after my bamboozling you on Thursday night with my pronunciation). Separated by a common language and all that.

In January, I introduced you to the Zulu word Ubuntu (pronounced ‘oo-bun-tooo’). Tutu defined it as:

“Ubuntu [...] speaks of the very essence of being human. [We] say [...] "Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu." Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate.  

In essence, I am because you are, because we are. You can't be human in isolation; you are human only in relationships.

Desmond Tutu had a bubbling enthusiasm and infectious zest for humanity, an engaging and mischievous sense of fun – as does the Class of 2022.

Tutu believed in Ubuntu. He believed in humour, humility and humanity.

My brother was invited to attend Tutu’s memorial at Westminster Abbey last week and he sent me a copy of the Order of Service. It prompted me to think of Ubuntu.

I turn to Ubuntu again as you step forward from Shawnigan and towards new beginnings.

In the days, weeks and years ahead, draw on Shawnigan’s distinctive sense of and education around Ubuntu: we are defined by each other and our relationships. Be generous, friendly, caring and compassionate – be modest and act in word and deed in the spirit of Ubuntu.

As my parents continue to remind me: learn to lead from the front, the middle and the back.

Humility is a vital ingredient of Ubuntu.

Be humble.

It’s not just a South African concept. It is universal.

For example, underpinning the successful formula of the All-Blacks rugby team is a values-based and purpose-driven culture (some of you will have read James’ Kerr’s excellent “Legacy”): it all starts with “sweeping the sheds” – never be too big to do the small things that need to be done. The senior players, after an international match, sweep the changing room whilst the rest of the world is watching the highlights. It’s about the team and not individuals. A shared humanity.

Some of you will be surprised – in fact shocked – to know that I played a season of rugby at College and – some what bizarrely – shared the second row with a British Lion with two jobs coached into me: catch the ball at the line out and, in open play, immediately (given my inexperience) pass the ball to someone else, preferably one of our Kiwis. One of our team went on to win two Super 12 titles with the Canterbury Crusaders and to play in the centre for the All Blacks – and is now CEO of New Zealand Rugby. I went on... or perhaps backwards to dusty books in the library and as Mr. Murdy chirped, in the last Sports Colours Awards, to tiddlywinks.

However, I learnt a lot about teamwork, a generosity of spirit, humble and servant leadership and sweeping the sheds from these players. In essence, Ubuntu.

The best people I have met over the last half a century understand and model Ubuntu.

It’s the best advice I can give you.

Understand it and role model it all times.

The sun sets on the British Columbian flag and now sets on your time at Shawnigan.

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, for a new beginning.

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, this home-away-from-home.

We are going to miss you.

And draw comfort in that immortal line of the cartoonist Dr Seuss: “Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.”

It has been a great privilege to be your Head.

June 2022

Richard D A Lamont
Head of School
Palmam qui Meruit Ferat
We acknowledge with respect the Coast Salish Peoples on whose traditional lands and waterways we live, learn and play. We are grateful for the opportunity to share in this beautiful region, and we aspire to healthy and respectful relationships with those who have lived on and cared for these lands for millennia.