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Transcending life's challenges

In the absence of Mr Domenic Burgio at the Graduation of the Class of 2019, Vice Principal Mr Neil Alweyn delivered the following Principal’s address to the CBC community.

Good evening to my valued colleagues, to our special guests, to our beautiful families and a special good evening to you, the Class of 2019.

As I sit here in hospital writing these words, I am overcome with sadness that for the first time in 38 years, I cannot be present at the Graduation ceremony of the school I teach at. As I mentioned at the assembly a couple of weeks ago, Graduation events are among the most cherished on the calendar for me. There is a reason for this; it is almost existential. The tradesmen who worked on the auditorium we sit in tonight had, and will ever have, tangible evidence of their work, their value, their craft and their legacy. They can return to this site time and time again to see what they built and to take pride in its ongoing function. Teachers and the staff who partner us do not have that luxury. We can kid ourselves that it was that theorem explanation, or the inspiration of this lesson or that, and maybe it was, but the truth is that the quality of our work is not an exact science. So we look forward to these evenings, the culmination of six years in our community for signs and feedback that we did do a good job, that our partnership with the families did yield a dividend and that the beautiful young men who graduate tonight take a little piece of all of us into their future lives, and by doing that provide us the pride of practice that building this gymnasium did for the tradesman who toiled here some 20 years ago.

Tonight is a wonderful occasion, and no-one should rain on your parade. However, one of the problems I have witnessed over the years at such events is that there is a great deal of Pollyanna gazing into the future. Everyone will be successful, everyone will find joy and everyone will live happily ever after. While this is a fantastic ideal, it is not the truth. These things will only happen if each of you commits to the values your school and parents have given you as a base and redoubles his efforts to continually reflect and improve. Graduation is base camp, it’s not Everest. At each graduation ceremony, the keynote speaker is charged with providing some pearl of wisdom for the class to take away. Last year I Googled valedictory speeches, and realised I’m not at the intellectual level to do that. The only thing old people like me can offer young people like you is my experience. I often remark that when Solomon was asked by the Lord what he wanted from God, he chose wisdom. It is an attribute I have always valued in others, and now I’m in my 60th year, I hope I have a little of it to share with you. So sit back for a few minutes and indulge me while I give you the world according to Dom. It may be completely irrelevant, of mild interest or might just change your life, and it will only cost you a few moments of attention, feigned or otherwise.

Class of 2019, I recently interviewed you all. Overwhelmingly, but not universally, you seemed happy with your journey. Interestingly, what you described as the positive attributes of this school; its wonderful sense of community; its values; its staff, who you described as always being available and going the extra mile; the opportunities for academic, artistic, sporting and spiritual extension, and the brotherhood you feel with, and for, each other, was exactly what groups have described in previous years. What set me on my haunches was that, although the experience seemed the same as the boys I interviewed in 2014, it did not seem to be valued as much. One boy, who I have personally helped with issues school related and not, began sullenly that the journey had been just alright. When pressed to elaborate, he told me the school had changed and when I engaged him further all he could offer me was that we had banned mobiles this year. That was it. That was how he saw his time at the College, by making that inconvenience the defining experience of his secondary education. Later, I caught up privately with him and reminded him of all the amazing things people had actually done for him over his time at the College, the constant advocacy for him when he strayed. He acknowledged all of that and ended up making some of the most gracious comments I heard during the entire process, but it wasn’t his default. His default was to only identify the problems.

I have just got back from Peru. The people have nothing. They live in the most extreme poverty. On our visit to Fe y Allegria No 26, little Year2 children were putting toys in my pockets to bring back to my grandchildren. We visited the homes of women who have benefitted by previous Immersions and listened to their stories. There was no anger; no sense of entitlement; no bitterness or resentment. There was just thanks and hope -- thanks for our contribution and hope for their children’s future. Importantly hope for us, we who have it all. Why is it that in one of the best cities, in one of the best countries in the world we seem to define ourselves by what we haven’t got. I have just returned from having an MRI at Fiona Stanley Hospital. The staff have been amazingly helpful, friendly, compassionate and accommodating. It is modern, clean, full of every medical device known to humankind. Doctors are all around me, all day every day. I’ve had over 100 blood tests to find out what’s wrong with me. By any standard this hospital should be the envy of the world, and yet it rates 3.1/5 in the Google reviews. I am dumbstruck. What are people’s expectation if such a facility is deemed mediocre, and how will they ever be achieved consistently?

Years ago my family was holidaying in Venice. Suddenly on the Rialto Bridge 12 year old Rosie runs up to me and says, “Dad! Dad! Give me money!” She had seen a gang working the pea and shell trick and everyone was winning. She had followed the pea several times and found she was always right, and the payouts were coming fast and thick. I cautioned her enthusiasm and soon enough a young American tourist thought he had the thing mastered. Confidently he proffered his 100,000 lire and the game started. I still remember the look on Rosie’s face when the pea wasn’t where it should have been, and the American boy’s tears when he realised he wasn’t as smart as he thought. He had been taken and there is nothing more pathetic than watching the gang disappear to their next sucker whilst he forlornly moped his loss. I relate this story to you because there is a massive scam being perpetuated on all of us, especially young people and I want you to be at least aware of it. It is the scam that a perfect life exists and can be permanently achieved.

My message to you tonight is one of hope. You are all capable of the achievements we all want for you but just be aware! The greatest con effected on people in recent years is social media. The view that life is perfect is now prevalent culture. And if it isn’t perfect, there are enough ads on Facebook and Instagram to point you in the right direction to buy it. You have been told you should always be happy, always be successful and can always win. This attitude will crush you, because this attitude only highlights failure.

In 1967 my parents built a new house. It was about 1km from my new school. Each day I would have to navigate  five or six dogs who would bite, often at their master’s call, make my way past a pair of brothers who were notorious bullies, suffer seven hours of anti-Italian commentary, the politest being that I was a greasy ding. I had to listen to how Italian tanks had one forward gear and six reverse and the staple gag, “Why is Italy shaped like a boot? Because you can’t get enough crap in a shoe.” I would have my lunch ridiculed, avoid dropping my pencil from the desk which would make Mr. Thomas bring out the cane and then at day’s end figure a route back home that avoided the same brothers who would stand over me in the morning. By the time I got home, and provided my parents hadn’t killed and eaten my pet pigeons (which they did once or twice over the journey!), I felt an enormous sense of achievement. I felt victory over another day and all that it had thrown at me. I felt triumph.

Life is difficult. This is a great truth, or should be. It is a great truth because once we accept it, we can transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult, once we truly understand and accept it, then life is no longer difficult because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters. Most people fail to accept this truth, instead moaning incessantly, noisily or subtly, of the enormity of their problems, their burdens and their difficulties as if life were generally easy. As if life should be easy. They voice their belief noisily or subtly that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been visited upon them or upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others.

Gentlemen of CBC, life is a series of problems. Will you be the one to moan about them, or the one to solve and overcome them? The great moments of joy in your life only have meaning when they are juxtaposed with the challenges. At this school we believe that an advantage you have is your committed and steadfast parents and loved ones. Never take them for granted. Hold your loved one’s hand and look into their eyes. These are the people you should devote your lives to, these and other members of your family. The great tragedy of this week’s events on a Melbourne tram, where a large number of schoolboys presented derogatory behavior in front of members of the public, is that those boys reflected neither the values of their parents or their school. They succumbed to a rabble mentality that caused shame to their parents and I can only imagine how soul-destroying the staff at their school must feel. Devote your lives to ensuring you do neither; seek to bring pride and joy into your loved ones’ lives.

The College has supported your parents’ values by maintaining focus on five attributes that will help you in all situations. Base your decisions on Gospel Values, Always give of your best, Don’t make excuses like so many people do. Own your behaviour. Put others at the centre of your life, being especially respectful of women and finally, learn from ‘the stranger’; the person who doesn’t think or look like you. This is wisdom.

I mentioned the CBC tapestry at your farewell assembly. I mentioned that you are now an integral part of our history. The only thing I would ever want as a Principal is that every member of the community I lead feels loved, supported and challenged. I conclude this speech hoping that is how you have felt because it is how all the staff feel about you. We are all immensely proud of you, and look forward to your bright futures with positive anticipation. You are, and will always be, a part of us. We love you. God Bless you.

Mr Domenic Burgio

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