Prize Giving Address

April 20, 2017

Address at the Annual Prize Giving, 8 December 2015.

I read on a t-shirt when I recently attended the IB conference for heads the following statement;

“The most important things in life are not about things”.

I became a grandfather this year for the first time. Now that really focuses you not just on your advancing age but the power of life, the power of a family addition, and the power of your influence for good. Family bonds, love, companionship, friendship, other people, humanity – these are the things that matter.

Whilst we all aspire to live in a nice house, drive a nice car, have nice clothes, sit on nice furniture, and use wonderful toys or gadgets or equipment, deep down all of us know that such things and the exclusive and driven pursuit of such things, in the end, are not the most important thing.

So many parents at Newington sacrifice a huge many “things” to be able to pay the school fees for their son. This is greatly appreciated and illustrates the high priority Newington parents place on the good education of their son. They are demonstrating to their son that education for life is crucial. In return the vast majority of parents want a happy son, full of virtue and making a great effort in all that he does. Effort, persistence, resilience, trying hard are all great learning virtues for life.

Newington in return tries to provide a first rate education for life. There are thousands of books and articles on the purpose of a good education. Let me advance just 4 purposes:

  • Education for work – educating so that one gets fulfilment from your work, challenge, service, enjoyment and all most likely for a career not yet invented
  • Education for life – lifelong learning, flexibility of learning, encouraging creativity and imagination with learning and all for the constant change of life
  • Education for self-discovery – who you are and what you stand for and why – the importance of character development. I like the Socrates phrase “a life not examined is not worth living”.
  • Education for serving others – our role to promote humanity. Is life just about me or do we serve others?

On this last factor one asks what can I realistically do to promote humanity? There are seven current Australian causes in my opinion that provokes us into a response. How big a response, what priority we determine and what action we decide are an individual decision. The first six causes are:

  1. Environmental issues
  2. Mental health acceptance and action. I acknowledge Year 12 of 2015 with their theme of “strive and thrive 15” that did so much good to reduce the stigmas around mental health acceptance
  3. Gender inequality – Year 12 of 2016 with their theme of “value you, support him, stand with her” have really ignited much positive thought and action already
  4. Refugee crisis – both internationally and at home. Amazingly children are still in detention in Australia. The home issues were graphically highlighted when Professor Munjed al Murderis spoke at the ethics talk this year about his journey from Iran to the Curtin Detention Centre for 12 months, to being a world leader in orthopedics and the development of artificial limbs. His book Walking Free is highly recommended.
  5. Poverty – local, national and international and especially our own indigenous inequality and complex issues
  6. Excessive use of screen time by all of us – the de-personalisation concerns, the breaking down of the importance of relationships, of discussions/conversations, of face to face time

I am so pleased we have boys and staff working on most of these big issues. All incredibly challenging. Yet doing nothing is not an action we aspire to do as humans if we do believe the important things in life are not things.

The seventh cause highlighted so graphically by Paris and Beirut in the last month is the attempted destruction of humanity by extremists/fanatics. It is an extremist issue. In Paris these extremists used their own invented labels like “Islamic State” that bear no relation to the 99 per cent of wonderful Muslims in the world living under a religion of peace to do their harm. I do worry about the adverse stereotyping of people that can cause so much angst and division and only adds to the problem.

Extremists of any religion or cause can pollute humanity. It seems to me that most extremists come from a world of poverty or being born into an environment of hatred or being educated into that cause (radicalisaton). Perhaps we need to re-double our focus on the causes rather than the constant adding to the hatred or poverty or radicalisation processes by the old fashioned methods.

All of us must condemn all acts of violence. All of us must speak up for the rights of all. All of us must support humanity. Rather than be silent we should speak up to embrace all good people regardless of colour or sexuality or religion or gender or background or whatever someone wears. Rather than stereotype via broad groupings we must engage in dialogue with individuals. We must value difference. We need to get to know people before making judgments. We quickly learn we are more alike than we are different.

Australia has wonderful diversity. Newington has wonderful diversity. Diversity is a great strength. But it needs active nurture by all of us to release its full potential. Newington College encourages boys to achieve their personal best by fostering positive self- esteem that regards personal achievement as worthy of effort. We present our policies and practices within a balanced liberal education based on the medieval concept of liberalism. A classical liberal education equips boys not only with the ability to learn but also with the spiritual, moral and aesthetic senses that will enable them to perceive or to construct values throughout their lives. It cultivates active citizenship and civic engagement.

The four prongs educating for work, for life, for self-discovery and for serving others are complex. I am glad we are not a sausage factory just producing excellent ATAR results. Newington College must remain loyal to its founding fathers. We take everyone, we celebrate our diversity, we rejoice in our broad community from all walks of life and we are a bit edgy on social justice matters.

Such an approach requires outstanding teachers and support staff working together. We are so blessed with the quality of the Newington College staff. In this context I use a quote from Pablo Picasso. He stated that “the meaning of life is to find your gifts, the purpose of life is to give it away”. This sums up the teaching profession and especially our wonderful teachers at Newington.

May I conclude by wishing all of the Newington community a strong family orientated, joyous and peaceful Christmas and New Year period. May the spiritual dimension of the season provide time to reflect on all that is moving about the human spirit, about our families and loved ones, about our role to promote and nurture humanity, and about our relationship with our God.

Dr David Mulford

8 December 2015