Reflecting on courage

ms-deans-address-to-the-middle-school-assembly-2

We will regularly bring you the Middle School Dean’s address to the MS Assembly. Here is the first edition:

To many of you it is welcome back after an exciting trip to France, to some of you it is ‘business as usual’ after a short trip away on Friday. For all of us it is still very early in the school year and already we have squeezed so much learning and growing into these past few weeks.

Helpfully, the events of the past weeks have given us much to chew over. The theme that the school has nominated at the outset of the school year from the St. John’s Learner Profile characteristic of Courage, and our recent experiences have given us ample opportunity to test that courage.

The St. John’s IB Learner Profile explains that we at St. John’s “approach uncertainty with forethought and determination: we work independently and cooperatively to explore new ideas and innovative strategies. We are resourceful and resilient in the face of challenges and change.” How appropriate then is it that at the start of the year our Grade 6’s and 7’s have headed into the outdoors to test the mettle of their courage. I say this mindful of the fact that our Grade 8’s are yet to test themselves against the elements in Spa, which will occur later in the year – but aware that most will have had the joy of those experiences from which our Grade 6’s and 7’s have just returned.

We head courageously into the wild each year with you in the knowledge that it is outside our classrooms that the virtue of courage can truly be encountered. Out of the familiar comforts of classroom and play-ground, it is in nature that we encounter challenges of the sort that can both forge character and build a sense of one’s membership to a team. A GOPR0048.JPGsmall example is the courage shown by those Grade 7’s who were too anxious to happily launch themselves off the rock ledges into the river but courageous enough to refuse to give into their fears. Their refusal to give in to the easy option of climbing back down from the cliff ledge and determination to overcome their fears amounted to significant ‘success moments’. Small as this may seem, these success moments are episodes we can hold onto when faced with other challenges in future, touchstone we can turn to when fears appear to overwhelm us again, giving us the strength to say, “I managed it before, I can do it again.” Our trips away were filled with these moments – both individual and communal. As silly as this may sound, but when I ask the Grade 7’s “are you ready” and they scream back to me “BORN READY!!!” we are hearing not simply 50-something voices, but one voice, the voice of a team made up of individuals who are enthusiastically asserting their membership to the Grade 7 cohort.

But we may raise our sights a little higher still – and suggest that our MS trips, such as DSCF0236 (1).jpgthey are, have engaged us even deeply in activities that run deep with the legacy of other, more significant, courageous acts. Our grade 7 sailors are not the first to hit the waters off the coast of Brittany in unfamiliar crafts and conquer their fear of water and wave. Nearly 100 years ago, the beaches of Brittany and Normandy looked a little less like the pristine nature reserves and a lot more like war zones. It is with immense sense of gratitude that we should reflect upon the courageous soldiers who took to those beaches, many of them only a few years older than some of us, in the knowledge that they would be risking their lives to preserve the quality of life and liberty that we enjoy today. By no means am I attempting to equate the grade 6 trip with an armed assault on French soil, but the parallel between our sailors and those sailors of a century ago is worthy of a moments contemplation. Those beaches have been the stage upon which acts of courage have taken place for many years – courage of a different order, but courage nonetheless.

downloadSimilarly, the Grade 7’s visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Grotte Chauvet caves was an extraordinary experience. The museum’s boardwalk through the cave transported us back into a world, around 30 000 years distant from our own – where once cave bears and mammoths roamed these valleys. These caves leave us with a lasting impression of our ancestors very real humanity and courage. Indeed, their art work is a manifestation of an immensely courageous impulse, the belief that by their work they could pass on something to future generations. Few of us will have left the caves without being moved by the sight of the handprints of the walls amidst the ancient herds and immortal beasts. These silhouettes of the artists’ hands, which are likely to have been their signatures, seemed to be reaching out from the very distant past to us, materializing from behind the limestone and beckoning to us. They courageously challenge the notion that time is impenetrable, and boldly declare the power of artistic expression to reach across time and remind us of an essential element of the human condition – our appreciation for the wonders of nature around us.

Mr. James Prowse.jpgLet us be grateful for the opportunities that courageous people have made possible for us. In turn, let us act courageously and, in so doing, grow as individuals and as a community.

Mr. Prowse, MS Dean of Students