Each year we invite back some of the Year 12 students who showed the highest levels of excellence, work ethic and resilience to speak to the girls and boys of St Margaret’s Berwick Grammar and give them their recipe for success.
This year, this reunion was something just a little bit extra special. For the purposes of this article, I will speak about some of the achievements of the Senior Boys of 2020, although the messages will apply equally to girls as well.
In my very first speech at the start of the year, I commended the Class of 2020 for “making lemonade” out of the limitations of 2020.
Of course I was referring to the old adage, when life gives you lemons, best make lemonade. And while all these old cliches and sayings sound simple, making lemonade when life gives you lemons is actually pretty tough to do.
How can we all, when times are hard, turn that difficulty into something sweet? What exactly is the recipe for making lemonade out of life’s challenges?
I felt like last year’s graduates might have something particularly special to offer.
Many of the boys spoke about organisation, specific study skills, mindset, and working with others – things of real value that are useful each year. And these were very much appreciated by their audience – I can assure you when our Dux and former school captain Oliver Ward received his acknowledgement on stage, he received the most thunderous applause we have ever heard in an assembly.
But this year, personal qualities also featured – and were sometimes only evident as the young men told their stories.
Success during difficult times takes courage and determination. We each have to make the decision that what challenges us, will not define us. We are more than our circumstances. What resides inside us that we can draw upon during these times is our character. The Class of 2020 could choose to give in to the challenges of completing a good proportion of their VCE remotely – or they could decide not to let those challenges stop them achieving what they wanted. Many re-designed their study practices to feature online working groups and emailed test topics – they embraced the technology and new ways of thinking. Some took the time forced to spend at home and re-wrote their entire routine to better suit this new way of living.
This inner strength is like physical kinds of strength – it takes time and practice to develop. A good set of questions to ask younger people is: How are you developing the muscles of your inner strength today? Do you practice doing hard things? Do you relish doing hard things knowing that it makes you all the more ready to face adversity?
It also takes optimism. These students had to believe in themselves and used their character strength of perspective. There’s another old saying that works well here: “This too shall pass”. Sometimes you just have to keep working and know that you will make it out the other end. As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once famously said, “If you’re going through hell – keep going”.
And finally, it takes resilience. Even now in 2021 we are still experiencing the after-effects of 2020, and just a short time ago, were in a quick circuit breaker lockdown to protect what we put in place with our hard work last year. Resilience is standing up, over and over again each time you are faced with a challenge.
Each of the young people who succeeded in these conditions has a story of resilience , courage, determination and optimism. And each of the students to come will have their own story too. Perhaps 2021 will be an opportunity for us all to think about our stories – some written already and many still to come.
What will your story be?
Will you embrace challenges and believe in yourself? Can you make lemonade too?