Prizegiving Address

April 20, 2017

Address to the College during Annual Prize giving on Thursday, 8 December 2016. 

What a year! In the prize giving program I use quotes to illustrate the themes of change and revolutions. I quote Charles Dickens from the opening line of the Tale of Two Cities.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

The book introduces us to the French revolution – with its highs and lows.

At Newington, we have had so many highs, so many great times and so much success this year. They are recorded in the annual report that is on our website and as per my practice I do not intend to go over them today. Despite the many seasons of light as per the Dickens quote, we did experience a number of moments of despair. We had far too many untimely young deaths of much loved people – a recent old boy, a treasured staff member, a year 10 lad and two parents. We experienced a major accident of a year 9 boy. Our community was plunged into the worst of times. Yet the strength of our community shone out and the way everyone combined to put our vision into action was most heart-warming.

Resilience of individuals, of friends, of families, of groups, of teachers/mentors/coaches, of the College was tested. Our pastoral teams rose to the challenge and everyone felt the special bonds of support. I was very proud of how the Newington community rose to the most severe of challenges to be all part of the healing and practical support.

We are about to endure the press-driven league tables for the HSC. Please remember they do not include our 37 IB diploma boys hence they will not fully represent us. Plus, perhaps our press should consider, as the famous former Headmaster of Wellington College, Sir Anthony Seldon, suggested should happen in England, that the league tables be based on the measure of well-being as a way to help tackle an epidemic of mental health issues in our society. Indicators could include resources put into pastoral care or well-being measures; or student survey results on their views about school support.

As a parent of three children I always knew I wanted more from my choice of school than simply exam results.

I am delighted that the year 12 class of 2017 have as their theme “my strength, is your support”. They wish to continue the great work being done on mental health prevention, cure and education. The recent ABC series called “Man Up” created many excellent resources for discussion, reflection and action.

My other quote used in the program is from the Nobel Prize winner for literature of 2016 – Bob Dylan. The award created much debate in academic circles. Yet he won the award for literature and not poetry.

If Seamus Heaney, himself a Nobel laureate, sourced his voices and rhythms to predecessors like Keats and Yeats and Wordsworth, then Dylan finds his in lead belly and Woody Guthrie, and the jazz musicians of the 1950’s. And, of course, just as Dylan was inspired by the writers of his youth, so have many of the writers of the last half-century been inspired by Dylan.

Our society today is “rapidly changing” at break-neck speed – and to add to the Chairman’s speech – Brexit; Trump; the rise of extreme Nationalism; rise of simple solutions to complex problems; the possible returning to our cocoon and isolationist ways; political discourse based on brutal and uncivilised behaviours; the appalling stereotyping of certain nationalities or religions or minorities; and severe reactions to accepting or embracing the strength of diversity or multiculturalism.

Who amongst the boys here today will be the active responders to all of this negativity? Our teachers work to “draw you out” and to light the fires of curiosity, imagination and goodness. Our teachers seek to educate the whole person.

I thank our teaching staff for their most valuable role in working with parents to educate the Newington man. I particularly would like to thank David Roberts, our new Deputy Headmaster, for his wonderful first year leading the Stanmore campus.

Our teachers seek to avoid simple solutions to complex issues or teaching exclusively to simple league tables or testing regimes that the press crave for. We seek to educate for life and hence for strength of character.

We want Newington men:
A) to be builders of bridges not walls
B) to be optimistic in life not pessimistic
C) to be givers and not takers
D) to be equally strong on their responsibilities as their rights
E) to be courageous to speak up against injustice when they know something is not right
F) to have a sense of service to others rather than be constantly fed at the self-service bar
G) to have a sense of duty rather than be constantly fed on a life of duty-free

The class of 2016, led by senior prefect Jack Jacobs and his team took their theme of “value you, support him, stand with her” and had a great impact for good. In particular their focus on “stand with her”– taking on the issues of gender inequality, of gender stereotyping, of inappropriate gender language that generalises, hurts or demeans women and of our continuing national shame of domestic violence. Such an approach by the young men of Newington makes you feel proud as an educator of young men. Such an approach can help the revolution to “stand with her”.

There was a powerful message in the context of domestic violence, but relevant to everything, recently delivered in parliament by Emma Husar MP for Lindsay that stated “I’ve tried to teach my kids to always tell the truth even if it makes your voice shake”. Now that would be a revolution for all of us that would have a massive impact for positive change.

Our college is based on Methodist foundations that became the uniting church in 1977. The founder of the Methodist church was Rev John Wesley and the drivers of his church revolution in the 18th century were based on egalitarian and anti-elitist ideals. Our college remains inspired by his powerful quote “do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can”.

As an individual or school or community or nation, we are defined by the choices we make. The Newington education seeks to shape these choices as our boys of promise mature into men of substance and resilience. I thank every one of the Newington extended family and village for their role in this journey.

Dr David Mulford

8 December 2016