Dear members of the Salesian College community,
I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a blessed Easter season and a safe holiday period. For my article this week, I thought I would share with you my address at this Thursday’s Dux Assembly.
“In a few minutes we will be singing our College song which was penned by Fr. Peter Monaghan in the early part of Mr. Brennan’s principalship. It is a melancholy fact that more than a year has passed since we have been able to sing it as a whole school. I hope that we will all relish the opportunity and sing our song loud and proud. Before we get stuck into it, I would ask that we think about one of the phrases in our anthem: ‘Striving to do our best.’ On one level, these five simple words of Fr. Monaghan are unremarkable. However, on the cusp of Easter and at the end of term, it is important, I think, to consider the heft of these words, to do a personal stocktake and to lay out some tentative plans for the future.
The word ‘strive’ came into English from the French term ‘estriver’ in the Fourteenth Century. Originally, ‘strive’ meant to compete, or, to quarrel. It isn’t surprising that terms such as ‘strive’ and its close neighbour ‘strife’ emerged in the Fourteenth Century given the horrors of the Black Death, the Little Ice Age and the famines which characterised this harrowing period. Nowadays, ‘strive’ has a more positive connotation with its definition generally accepted to mean to make a strenuous effort to try to achieve something worthwhile. Note that whilst this modern meaning is more positive, it still entails a struggle: it is not necessarily easy and there is a sense, too, that ‘striving’ does not always result in success.
Whilst this is the case, I don’t think we need to look too far to find plenty of examples where, recently, Salesian boys, both past and present, have striven to be their best. As evidence, I would like to cite our VCAL boys who were certainly striving to do their best when they worked so hard to raise $18000.00 for leukaemia research via the ‘World’s Greatest Shave’ project. They have been an inspiration to the whole school. At the recent Hall of Fame dinner, guests heard about five wonderful Past Pupils who have given back to their communities in a variety of ways. The virtuoso musical performances by Year 8 student, Max Schroder, provide a further example. Similarly, the Year 7 boys strove to be their best in their PBL meta-projects earlier in the term. At the other end of the schooling spectrum, a host of Year 12 boys were adjudged to be ‘Exceeding Expectations’ in one or more subjects in the last iteration of the Learning Indicator Reports. The Term One Student Congress, meanwhile, was notable for a welter of impressive proposals and mature discussion of a difficult topic. Finally, of course, we can draw upon the example of the top achievers from the Year 12 class of 2020 who wrestled with great adversity to achieve something worthwhile. All of these instances drawn, as they are, from a variety of different fields, exist as practical manifestations of Salesian boys striving to do their best. I am sure, too, that we would all be able to recount many additional stories similar to these.
It would be a very rare organisation, however, where everything is perfect and all are achieving their best. And so it is with us. We need to honestly and openly acknowledge where we have fallen short of our best. A number of instances spring to mind: the use of discriminatory language, whether it be characterised by racism, misogyny, homophobia or religious sectarianism continues to be a worrying aspect of our school, especially in the common currency of ‘banter’ between friends. Similarly, derogatory memes and videos corrode community. Some vandalism in the toilets and our ongoing litter issues are further examples where we are a long way from where we need to be. It is the case, of course, that hundreds and hundreds of our boys, the great majority of the student cohort, do not do any of these things. These negative aspects continue, however, because we ignore them, or, dismiss them because they don’t directly affect us.
How do we strive to be our best? It is isn’t easy, but it is pretty simple. A number of maxims of Don Bosco shine a light on this path. Firstly, ‘Holiness consists of being cheerful.’ Secondly, ‘I want to give you the formula for sanctity: first, be happy; second, study and pray; third, do good to everyone.’ Lastly, when asked how one could become a saint, Don Bosco simply said, ‘Follow the rules of the house.’ Boys, don’t let terms such as ‘saint’ and ‘holiness’ get in the way: they simply mean cheerfulness, happiness, doing good, being kind, working, studying and praying. This is what it means to be striving to do our best.
Boys, you are a great group of young people. I wouldn’t want to be at any other school. This term, we have achieved a great deal and we can be rightly proud of our accomplishments. And, yes, we have some work to as well. We’ll get stuck into that as a community next term. Until then, boys, I hope you have a blessed Easter, a lovely holiday and a peaceful rest.”