Nicholas Sampson, Headmaster

Nicholas Sampson, Headmaster

Today is about the beginning of a period of influence that must derive from character, must derive from consistency, must derive from our school motto; our injunction, To be, rather than to seem to be, to elevate integrity.

So, although it is nice to get a badge, and it is wonderful to receive a tie, that’s just the beginning and just a manifestation of what we want from everybody. This is about the entire Year 12 cohort, not just those receiving their badge.

In your community, in your peer group, there is a lot of wonderful talent, different attitudes, and various backgrounds of difference. If you like, we’re a mosaic. Each individual is a tile in a mosaic, a different colour, different shape, a different reflectivity. It’s only when you stand back from the mosaic and away from the brilliance of each individual tile do you see the magnificence of the whole picture. The whole picture is greater than the sum of its parts. Now, those of you wearing badges and those of you not wearing badges, we look to all of you to exhibit integrity. Think really hard about stories and words we’ve heard this morning, as this is a distressingly dark world at times and some of the news and some of the stories that we are hearing now, and have heard for the past 18 months, in other parts of the world too, distress us. Because rather than appearing to be on a steady flow toward general improvement and the growth of humane understanding and dignity, we might seem to be stepping back into a morass. That morass includes both atrocities and the loss of civilized values. What’s that got to do with us? It has everything to do with us.

As a school, although we can’t change global politics, but what we can do is stand up for that which we think is right, acknowledge that which we know to be proper and to dignify that of humanity which we see in everybody and through which we see society. It is very important that, at times like these, we actually stand for what we know is invaluable, essential and proper, and that we form the habits of mutual respect that can help us and equip us to work for the betterment of society.

That starts even here, even in this enclave in Sydney, even in this school building; where in many ways we’re a society ourselves. Our rules, our values our vocabularies can all seem somewhat exclusive but we’re actually about the elevation of humanity. We’re about the promotion of hope, we’re about the preparation of young citizens and we’re about the revolution Christ articulates, in his story referred to by the Chaplain this morning and in our readings. What is revolution? It’s standing things on their head, revolving them, turning them upside down. What could be more revolutionary, than the Son of God choosing to wash the feet of those around him and rejecting wealth and prosperity and the isolation from the poor. Instead, embracing the duty to care for others in the most humble and thoughtful manner, washing their feet. The service of washing feet was taken up by kings and queens as an echo and resonance of Christ’s view and power in medieval Britain, when they washed the feet of a chosen group of poor and chosen people each Maundy Thursday. That soon was translated into something else; the poor were given money instead. But, the actual physical gesture of washing feet may not have bought silver, may not have bought riches, and may not have bought the next loaf, but what it did was demonstrate interconnectedness and the fact that an office does not isolate you from the people around you. Instead, it obligates you to the people around you.

So, we look even in this place where we can seem to be all about our own activities and values. We look to a specific model of leadership that is distributed across the whole of Year 12. For those of you who accepted specific duties this morning we look to you for leadership that is without ego, and that puts our collective health at the highest of our priorities. That pays specific care to the fragile and the vulnerable. That tries to spot moments of sadness so that we are able to shine light.

Now, interconnectedness is one aspect of that. When we were thinking some time ago about trying to instill our school philosophy, our Anglican tradition, our worldview, we also used the word lovingkindness, which goes back to the Church in Anglo-Saxon times. This further carries the view that we should love each other as a conscious activity because we are connected to each other. Kindness means kin. So, when we read stories, where instead of valuing the integrity of differences, others, in other places, have rejected difference in the most vile and violent manner, it does connect to us. Donne said, no man is an island entirely to himself, we are all connected to one another. Robert Kennedy gave a speech in the 1960s and used this theme where he said more or less; Every time a man or a woman stands up for what he knows to be right, or proper or true, he generates a tiny ripple of hope that goes into a wave that can demolish tyrannies and that can change the world. [1] This means that every aspect of our own conduct here needs to be exemplary. We look for incarnate example, Christ gave that example, he set the standard high. But for us, we can accept the lesson, we can do what we’re asked to do by being true to ourselves, by listening to our conscience and by accepting our duty to elevate each other. We can repeat that, especially with those who are having hard times. Especially those who appear to us to be very different. Especially with those who find it difficult to understand, because the alternative is to write them off, or to belittle them, or diminish them.

A school like this wants to celebrate growth: we want to have a magnificent collegiate shining mosaic, we want each tile in that mosaic to be truly blessed and to be understood and known. What we want above all, is the capacity to wash feet and grow minds. We want high valuation of individuality. We are also a celebration of team and community; we want the one and the many to live in peace and an equilibrium that is dynamic and transformative. And although we are just a school, with just ties and just badges and requests to follow our rules and obedience, our role in the elevation of humanity is clear, noble, and important. So, every time you form a thought we need action, every time we enact an action we develop a habit, every time we demonstrate a habit, we form a character and every time we build up character, we can reap our destiny.

So good luck to those of you who have been inducted today, good luck to the whole of the new Year 12 and to all the school. We march on now; the HSC has begun. We’re entering a new chapter; we do that acknowledging the fact that we are about to have a lot of joy in the course in the upcoming 12 months and joy and doing the right thing can exist very strongly and healthily together.

[1] “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” (Kennedy, R. 1966)

Headmaster’s Address from the Prefects’ Induction 2023/2024