Principal’s Farewell

As I prepare to finish up my time here at Salesian College Chadstone I have done a fair bit of reflecting on my experiences over the past nine years. As is the case with my wandering mind, this led to me considering how these experiences have impacted on me and how have they formed me. In this week’s blog I will look at how our life experiences form us, reflect on my experiences and finally share my gratitude for the experiences I have had over the past nine years.

Psychologists all over the world ponder the question ‘Do our experiences shape who we are?’ Are the memories we keep from these experiences more important in shaping who we are than the experiences themselves? Are our experiences solely the reason we become who we become?

There is debate in this area, whilst all scholars tend to agree that our experiences do shape who we are and that memories of those experiences are equally as important. The debate grows out of whether the experiences are solely responsible for who we become, or is there a core identity each individual has that influences the ultimate impact our experiences have on us.

We have all had experiences that have had a significant effect on who we are. What I have noticed over time is that it is not so much the experience itself that is important, rather it is our response or the meaning we assign to the experience. What is the story we tell ourselves about that experience? It is these that affects who we are, future decisions we make, and how we interact with others. The meaning we create from our experiences shape who we are.

Knowing that our identity is significantly impacted on by the culmination of our experiences can be simultaneously terrifying and liberating. Every experience we have shapes who we are in one-way or another. Every experience! Even an experience that is not monumental will change us. A seemingly unimportant experience may simply change how you feel one day which can cause a chain reaction of how you act a certain day, and how you act that day could affect your life as a whole.

There is a danger, I believe, if we take a position as some in our society believe that we are simply a collection of moments and happenings of our lives. The danger in taking such a position may encourage people to take a fatalistic position in life and perhaps use their experiences as an excuse for who or what they become. The strongest argument against such a position would be that two people can have the identical experience and yet it can have a profoundly different impact on who they are or who they become. I would strongly argue that there is some intrinsic influence, our personality or disposition which dictates how we respond to a given experience and more importantly there is a choice element as we can choose to respond in a particular way to the same experience and we do this each and every day with every experience we encounter.

So, as I reflect on my time here at Salesian and the experiences I have enjoyed I cannot but glow in the positive impact they have had on my life. As with any job or any period in life there are always going to be some down times or hardships but given the infrequent nature and the overwhelming number of positive happenings here they tend to fade into obscurity.

My time here has been peppered with friendships, support, commitment, enthusiasm, a willingness to give things a go and most importantly a living out of a set of values that contributed greatly to the wonderful community we enjoy on a daily basis. Rather than single out any individual it is easier to speak of people in groups and hope that those individuals within in these groups are able to see how their support and friendship has meant so much.

I can never put in words exactly how much the experience of being Principal here at Salesian College Chadstone has meant to me, nor convey the passion I have for Salesian education, but I hope penning this blog will go some way in expressing my feelings and gratitude.

Firstly I would like to acknowledge the Salesians of Don Bosco who employed me and supported me in my role as Principal. I have felt nothing but warmth and welcome and an unconditional support from the Salesians, something all Principals would wish for. My gratitude is endless and extends to both individuals and the Salesian community collectively.

I will truly miss my association with the Salesians, in particular the Salesian Principal group, as I have made lifelong friends, shared great comradery and just had a wow of a time. The experiences afforded me during my years here will never be forgotten, nor are they likely to be replaced. This group of fine leaders offer a network of support, guidance, ideas, but most of all a group of friends to share the joys and the sorrows that come with being a leader in a contemporary Catholic school.

The Salesian community at Chadstone has also been a wonderful source of energy, support and friendship for the past nine years. The three rectors during my time have always been at my side ensuring we provide a true Salesian experience for everyone who walks through our door. The other members of the community have also provided me with confidence and reassurance with their kind words of support and guidance. I will miss my dinners with the community where we were able to take time to share stories and contemplate the challenges we face.

Next, I want to acknowledge the staff at Salesian College. They are the equal of any staff I have ever worked with and I would argue better than most. Their trust and support over the nine years has meant we have been able to take the College forward and provide a wonderful experience for the boys entrusted to our care. Their commitment and care for the boys truly reflects the mission set for them by Saint John Bosco.

I still find it hard to fathom the community spirit this College enjoys with so many parents willing to involve themselves in school life, something that is not common in secondary schools. Led by the parent’s association this school enjoys a connection with their parent body that would be the envy of any school. The support and friendship I have enjoyed here at Salesian is life giving. Gatherings such as Mother’s Day Mass, Father’s Day Mass, Year 7 Social gathering, Information Evenings, Orientation Evening, Cabaret Night, Valedictory Dinners have always been highlights, a time to meet with families and share the bond we have here at the College.

Finally, but most importantly there are the boys. I estimate somewhere in the region of two and a half thousand different boys who have gone through the College over the nine years who are outstanding young men. To put in to words why is difficult, but it is characteristics such as warmth, welcoming, friendly, in the most part studious, supportive, accepting, well presented, sense of other that truly makes them great men. They have made my job a privilege, to be thanked for something that has been an honour to do seems to be weird in some way. The pride I have in the school, in particular the boys is extraordinary, I can physically feel my chest expand when I talk about this College and the boys. My pride stems from what the boys represent and what they stand for.

The community and the values lived out originate in the Salesian Charism. I can’t begin to express my deep love of this charism. I can’t help but feel I have learnt from history’s greatest educator. The Preventative system created nearly two hundred years ago has stood the test of time and will continue to do so for the next two hundred. Having a presence and walking with our students will always be central to my leadership. Reason, Religion and Loving Kindness are very strong pillars on which to build an education system. These values and structures have help form me as the leader I am today and will form the basis of my leadership moving forward at Caroline Chisholm Catholic College.

So, whilst I am comfortable with my decision and I’m sure Salesian College Chadstone will continue to prosper, I cannot help but get the odd pang of guilt and regret and every now and then need to convince myself I have made the right decision. Chadstone has stolen a part of my heart which will never be replaced.

Whilst my time as a member of the Salesian community is coming to an end, I will take a large part of the Salesian tradition with me. I know the experiences I have had have helped make me the person and the leader I am today. I know that I am better for having enjoyed nine wonderful years here at Chadstone.

I leave making a couple of points or asking a couple of questions:

  • If our memories and experiences shape who we are, then how can one person justify judging another when they do not know all of their experiences and all of their memories of those experiences?
  • How will your core identity, your attitude and intrinsic values shape your response to the experiences and events in your life? and finally
  • How will you remember your experiences here at Salesian College Chadstone and how will they impact on the person you are or will be?

Thank you all for the wonderful and joyous ride over the past nine years.

Rob Brennan