The farewell party to the outgoing tenth happened yesterday. And it concluded with the mandatory crowning of the St. Anne’s Queen. From total chaos there was sudden order as participants ‘walked the ramp’ resplendent in their mothers’ finery, with stilettos and nail polish to match. In school uniform they are children, in party dress they are young sophisticates. The transformation is startling and thankfully only skin deep. But the process has begun.
This year the ‘tie-breaker’ question was: what is the one attribute that you have learnt in school that you will carry forward through the rest of your life? From the three finalists, the answers received were: respect, self-confidence and forgiveness. A fourteen year old girl deciding on forgiveness? And this from a girl who was not a frontrunner in anything during the year – others in the class had shone more brightly either in terms of talent, academic achievement, or competitive skills. Yes, she was unanimously chosen the winner. This was her moment. This was also a lesson in expecting the unexpected.
The question made me think back to what my own answer would have been. Since I went (‘studied in’ would be technically correct, but not factually so!) to many schools, one attribute from each would earn me a bagful!
From my first, the answer would have to be, unequivocally, joy – the rightful legacy of every child. My teacher, Miss Braniff, radiated cheer and really loved us and we knew it. From the next, honesty. And thereby hangs a tale. A classmate called me a few rude names and I responded with a tight slap across her face. A nun, observing from a distance, summoned me and administered an even more stinging slap. I cried and protested; after all, I was the injured party. Then she explained that we retaliate in anger when, deep down, we recognise what we do not like about ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves, we can be honest with each other and untruths, however harsh, can never hurt.
From the next school, I learned resilience and survival. I was the mercilessly ragged newcomer and I hated my time in that institute. Either the teachers did not see what was happening or chose not to see, and one did not squeal. Looking back at that miserable child, I realise that the experience has made me more compassionate, more observant and yes, definitely resilient when faced with odds. So, strangely enough, I have to be grateful for the bad times too.
Finally, from the Jesuits I learned what it means to be ‘a person for others’. This has been the most defining moment of my life – a reference point to return to and assess my reason for being.