Although it’s 2018 now, in looking for ideas for my Valedictory speech for the class of 2018, I came across my speech to bid farewell to the class of 2015 (my previous charges). Besides being an English teacher, I am the Grade Co-ordinator of a senior class at my school. The three-year cycle seems to have gone very quickly! Anyway, here is my speech. I’ve added some visual treats from Hogwarts (i.e., the visit I mentioned to the Harry Potter Studio in London). Hope you enjoy it (or remember it 🙂
In August this year, I was lucky enough to visit the Harry Potter Studios in London. I was reminded about the wonder of the world created by JK Rowling in her books and the subsequent films. It got me thinking that in many ways, Kingmead could be compared to Hogwarts. You know: private school, strict heirarchy amongst the grades, unusual inter house competitions…
My visit also made me remember one of those weird exercises we do in English class at the beginning of Grade 8 to get to know you better, and for you to get to know yourself. Nearly 5 years ago, when the current matrics sat in my Grade 8 English class, I asked them about their hopes and dreams, their fears and their biggest disappointments. I will never forget the tears in Amelia Warren’s eyes as she told me that her biggest disappointment in life was not getting her Hogwarts letter when she was 11. So when Amelia mentioned, at the end of her Speech Day address, that Kingsmead was a magical, magical place, I knew that I had found the theme for my farewell to the Class of 2015.
I remember when you started in Grade 8. It feels impossible that that could possibly be just short of 5 years ago. You were fresh from Junior school, and on the whole, you were enthusiastic and playful. You enjoyed the freedom of high school, which you had felt lacking in your Grade 7 year, and you enjoyed learning to fly. You thrived on your first exposure to age appropriate science experiments with Professor Sprout in the Life Sciences department. You probably thought at least one of your teachers was a Dolores Umbridge. Possibly also in Life Sciences. There might have been a Mad Eye Moody, and we had our creepy caretaker, Mr Filch, although he didn’t last long. I can only think that there have been many Hagrids, who have helped you girls out when you needed help. Like Mrs Roberts’ open heart and purse (I think she is owed about R5000 in unpaid IOUs over the years;)) Or Mrs Ellis and her team, and Mr Michley and his team, who always run around before and after you, making sure you have every thing a young witch needs, from cauldrons to invisibility cloaks. I think I might have been convinced to play a Get Out Of Detention card once or twice. I want to thank, on behalf of the grade, the amazing form teachers, Mrs Roberts, Mrs Wilmot and Ms Cambitzis. Ms Isack has also helped us over the years by filling in when someone was stuck at Azkaban. Thank you all for the relationships you have developed and the spells you have taught them.
I think you quickly learnt that high school is not for the feint hearted, and that there were many new lessons to be learnt and many challenges to overcome. This meant that many of you have seen school days starting at 6am with early morning training and ending at 5.30 after choir. Maybe we should have popped you all on the Hogwarts express so that you could check in and stay in all term. That might have saved me from a few run ins with Mrs Weasley. You remember how, in the final book, she proved that you don’t get between a mama bear and her cub! I suspect I couldn’t have prevented a few owls would getting through anyway, bypassing the protocol of a visit to Poppy Pomfrey, the matron in the hospital wing.
You learnt that perseverance was the only way to survive in the cutthroat world of high school. You probably experimented with spells and potions of all sorts to get you through these long days. Sadly, I watched your innocence and wonder at the world of magic being whittled away by huge academic demands, over-commitment to Quiddich and other extra curricular activities. More recently some of you have looked like you might buckle under the perceived pressure to achieve results which seem out of your reach.
You’re a wizard, Harry! You’re amazing, intelligent, resilient, brave young women, and your life does not depend on your matric results. You don’t believe me now. And that’s probably right – you shouldn’t listen to me now! Study as hard as you can and get the best possible marks! But don’t let the muggles get you down, young witches! You are much more valuable than anything that could be summarised in some numbers on a piece of paper. Your value lies in your ability to conquer all sorts of darkness. As Dumbledore said, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Every one of you has a capacity for magic that is far more important than a matric certificate.
I’ve watched so many of you overcome what seemed like insurmountable dark forces. If I could have bottled the number of tears that my shoulders have absorbed over the years, and made them in to some sort of protection from pain potion, I would so gladly have done this to take away your hurt. I’m not talking about fights against the Dark Lord Voldemort, although that might have featured at Babanango or Spirit of Adventure. The dark forces you have had to overcome have been dread diseases, the loss of loved ones, at times cruel treatment at the hands of your peers, crime, inequality, injustice. I know that many of you have had to take Dumbledore’s words to heart at times, when he said: “We must try not to sink beneath our anguish, Harry, but battle on.” I am quite convinced that you will go forth into the world and make great strides in conquering the dark forces around us. You’ve proved in hard times that there is a tremendous resilience, a quiet grace, and it’s that which you take with you into the world.
You have proved that although you might appear to be the most complacent people who ever stepped onto this campus (and your form teachers will back me up here – they, too, have tried to get reply slips out of you!), I have seen your ability to rally huge support for a worthy cause at the drop of a hat. I believe you will be forces of great light in the world, as you become architechts, doctors or lawyers. Some of you might work for the Ministry of Magic. I hope that some of you will spread the light with your remarkable talents on the stage, on the canvas and in the world of words. Some of you will share the magic of numbers (an area that has always eluded me!) and some of you will invent life-changing technology.
While I might have suggested that your final results are not the most important thing in the world, I don’t want you to misunderstand me. It is essential that you prepare well now to face He Who Shall Not Be Named. Actually, let’s remember that Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself. So let’s name that Fear: Final Examinations. There. I said it. It’s not so scary anymore. Every one of you proved to me in your prelim exams that when you work hard and apply yourself to your studies, you are capable of achieving results that far exceed anyone’s expectations. Do yourselves a favour, and learn this formula now: get enough sleep, eat your vegetables and take your Vitamin B, get some exercise and cut down on your social life for the next few weeks. This will help you prepare to the best of your abilities. I know that you are going to knock these exams through the hooped goal posts.
And that brings me back to that ever-elusive golden snitch. This prized possession will change for you as the years go by. For now, it might seem like conquering these exams and grabbing the top marks will bring victory. And it will. But then the snitch is released again, and next time, the goals will have shifted – the new snitch is a university degree, or a much-sought-after position at a much-sought-after firm. Those achievements will be victories too. In fact, there are plenty of golden snitches waiting to be grabbed in your lifetime. But the goals might not always be what you expect them to be. Sometimes, when the darkness hits, the snitch is just showing up; sometimes the snitch is making others feel comforted. Like Dumbledoor said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”There are great adventures waiting for you out there, if you’re prepared to step out of your comfort zones and into the magical forest. Some of those adventures might take you down difficult paths and lead you to places you did not expect to go. Remember: Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.
Your light is in you, in your gratitude, in your compassion, in your generosity. Your light is in your personal brand of intelligence and your special gifts that you bring to this world. And so, my beautiful young women, you brave, kind, bright, strong, innovative and amazing human beings, “Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”