“…Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the ‘hero’ within us is revealed..”

This is what Kingswood is about…it all starts with family.

A few weeks ago, at our Senior School Prizegiving Ceremony, Dr Colleen Vassiliou gave a speech as Head of the College. This year has been a very different year not only for our school, but indeed our country and the world at large. The recurring message throughout her speech was that we should look at how we have all managed to adapt to this year and that we really and truly are the heroes of our own story.

“…It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, – in short, the period was so far like the present period…”

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Good afternoon Chair of Council, Mr Warrick Strachan,  our guest of honour, Mrs Diana Hornby and her husband Pat, president of the Old Kingswoodian Club, Mr Colin Stirk, members of the College Council, Heads of the School, our Business Manager, Staff, Parents, and Pupils. I greet all my fellow Kingswoodians and say welcome to our 2020 prize giving ceremony, an unusual one and a first of its kind.  Whoever thought our prize giving would be part virtual. 

We would all agree that covid brought with it contrast and paradox.  In my opening speech to all the new comers on 13 January, I started off by saying.  ‘We have coined 2020 as the year of plenty’ – little did we know what was about to unfold.  If on new pupils day you told me that a pandemic would escalate to the point of schools having to close, I would have thought you were referring to a futuristic sci-fi movie.  And then it happened – 19 March – President Ramaphosa gave us a few days to get our pupils home.  Initially we were delighted about the timing and a short term lockdown fell perfectly within our first term holiday and then, the one month lockdown escalated into an unending season and the reimagining of a school began to unfold. 

Dr Colleen Vassiliou

At first we would all agree that the lockdown gave us time to reflect – a word that stands out to me this year – is the word HERO.

In March we began serious deliberations and planning to get our E-learning process up and running. 

Consideration had to be given to the complexities around remote learning; live lessons versus recorded lessons; google meet, versus teams and zoom; parent’s involvement versus pupil responsibility; getting the balance right without burdening the pupil.

 The main message was quality was more important than quantity.  For the senior school teachers, it was important to constantly obtain feedback so you could be aware of what worked or didn’t work and whether the pupils were comfortable with the pace, quantity and expectations.  The message was also given to teachers to be creative, play and try new things. 

What we were sure of was that we wanted a product that would make the pupils not only ‘love’ learning but that it would be professional enough so that the pupils would be excited to engage in this new way of teaching and learning. 

The remote learning model was a time to think out of the box and the teachers rose to the occasion. They are to be applauded, each and every one of them, to us they were our frontline workers of this Covid-19 pandemic.

Financial decisions had to be made too as we realised that Covid 19 would bring not only health and education challenges but significant financial challenges too.  As a family school we decided to take a huge risk in this regard.  Parents were immensely grateful for the boarding fee respite as the economic effect of the lockdown affected many of our families.  And this is where our Kingswood family stepped up.  Without the assistance of generous donations, we would not have been able to push through these financially hard times.   Thank you to each and every one of the exemplary Old Kingswoodians who assisted us. 

“…A true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart…”

– Hercules

On Tuesday 19 May, the Minister of Education announced that Grade 12 and Grade 7 pupils could return to school.  We were delighted.  ISASA confirmed that other grades could be brought back at the same time and boarding could resume under strict health protocols.  It was decided was decided that the online learning process had to remain the school’s backbone.

Permission had to be granted by the Department of Health and Education and the opening of school was not plain sailing.  Some staff had declared co-morbidities.  Other staff were struggling with being unable to return due to child-care issues.  And families had concerns about the virus.  The opening of school was complex.  We knew we needed to navigate this and we did.

In line with the guidelines, we stuck to basic guiding principles: 

  1. Sanatize hands;
  2. Social distancing; and
  3. Wear masks at all times. 

To get a school up and running remotely is a mammoth task – to get a school Covid compliant just as big – to make it through a pandemic – can only be TEAM work.

I wish to thank Ms van Molendorff and Mr Wright and the Senior school staff for the exemplary role they played in ensuring the remote learning product that unfolded was valued by all.  I wish to thank our medical staff and all support staff who went beyond their duty to ensure our pupils were cared for. I wish to thank the parents for supporting us during this time, but most of all I wish to thank the pupils. 

You showed such grit, such resilience and such character.  We are so proud of you. 

You are part of history, even a global pandemic couldn’t stop you and here you sit, ready to receive your award – after hard work and deep commitment – well done!

“…A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spire of overwhelming obstacles…”

Christopher Reeve

The Covid-19 pandemic blind-sided not only us but the entire world.  What we have seen though is plenty consolidation from a finance point of view, plenty of care from our teachers, plenty of courage from our pupils, plenty of consideration from the leadership team, plenty of compassion from our community and kindness from our staff and massive amounts of constant information about the Coronavirus. 

As we moved through the various levels, we finally arrived at the start of our third term and Level 1.  Pupils embraced being back in the class with such appreciation.  They arrived back at school with their souls filled.  They handled the covid-19 regulations so well.  And as pupils attended classes and were able to physically extend themselves outdoors, attend house dinners, the pupils began to revel in what they had missed and what school life is all about.  A highlight for me was our Heritage day celebration where the school came alive on City Lords, expressing their appreciation for being African, joining in the Jerusalema and singing our Anthem with pride.  To witness our children being children.  Another highlight was our OK Tie Ceremony where the OK Club awarded our school Dr, Dr Fred Oosthuizen with the highest award bestowed by the Old Kingswoodian Club: The Honorary Vice-President Award. 

Often our children are exposed to so much and as much as this is necessary it is emotionally draining for them.  Our matric pupils experienced disenfranchised grief this year, a loss of so much that they should have experienced.  We applaud our matric pupils for pushing through the loss – for applying themselves and we wish them well as they head into their matric final examinations. 

Pupils are faced daily with many transformation conversations. The situation that unfolded in America, and racist incidences that continue to permeate our South African context, pupils are emotionally drained, disillusioned and overwhelmed. 

Conversations are courageous, but often takes its toll on our pupils emotional well-being.  Our Pupil Leadership team, are to be commended this year for successes regarding the representation of pupils on council sub-committees. 

The development of a Transformation working document, and policy and the appointment of a Transformation Officer has propelled us significantly forward on our transformation journey. 

Yes, we have a lot of work still to do, but we will strive to make this a place where everyone feels they belong.  We are also partnering tomorrow with the Uyinene Foundation, workshopping our role in addressing gender based violence. 

To reiterate our school’s definition of transformation:

“…A conscious journey that starts with the self so that the Kingswood College family builds and shapes a holistic, diverse, representative, inclusive and courageous community within the values of the school resulting in a sense of belonging…”

We are excited to be on this journey, as we prepare out pupils to be a transforming influence in society.

We have some phenomenal individuals retiring at the end of the year.

Mr Steve Gardner our Business Manager was appointed in 2004 as Bursar.  In 2008 his title was changed to Business Manager as he offered valuable expertise far beyond the ambit of a bursar.  Mr Gardner’s passion lay in capital development projects which included Kirkby House construction, City Lords Project, Hugh Stocks swimming complex,  Cohen teaching block, HPC, Heads residence in Francis street, Jagger House assistants flat, and Hobson House.  Bursars are never popular as their favourite answer is NO but Steve’s magic permeates so much of this school and he is loved and respected by all.  We wish you well Mr Gardner – we wish you Health and happiness as you head into the next chapter of your journey.

Ms Elmarie Retief joined Kingswood in 1993.  She has served as a Personal Assistant to six College Heads.  She deserves a medal for this.  From Council minutes to administrative roles, managing diaries and executing HR functions.  She has taught a class here and there and ran enrichment activities.  She is the glue that keeps Kingswood together.  Enrolment processes, academic administration, logistics, boarding matters, pupil discipline, reception, public relations, secretary to staff the list goes on and on and on.  She has seen many changes in Education and written policies and protocols adapting to the various changes.  She not only served as College PA but Secretary to the Chairman of Council.  Elmarie is a friend to all.  A confidant, an inspiration.  A strong woman of integrity with a deep love for Kingswood.  We wish you well El as you go walk barefoot in the sand on the beaches of Jeffreys Bay. 

I mentioned Jill Long and Vivienne van der Merwe at the Junior School Prize Giving this morning.  They also retire this year.  We recalled how we grieved the loss of our beloved Marian van Aardt, who passed away a few months ago.  A big void was left when Ms van Aardt passed away this year.  She is sorely missed but her soul print she left on the school, the staff and the pupils she taught will always be remembered. 

Ms van der Merwe, was appointed in 2008, a loved English teacher retired just before lock down and so we never got the opportunity to bid her farewell. She has left her legacy in the editing of the Kingswood Magazine and her redesign of the Junior School Library into a Media Centre.  Thank you for your many years of service to Kingswood College. 

Ms Jill Long started with us in 2004.  She fulfilled various roles not only as a Pre-Primary school HoD but also supporting her husband, Andy in the Marketing Department and as Manager of the Wyvern Club.  Jill was one of those exemplary teachers that every parent wanted their child to go through her hands. She has a self-less approach and puts the needs of others above her own.  Thank you Jill for being a part of the moulding of many Kingswood pupils. 

Reflecting on this year, I wish to read the following poem: “If this time” by Kevin McCormack

If this time has taught us anything, it is that success and how we measure it, needs to be redefined,
And that the only person to whom you should ever compare yourself;
Is who you were, yesterday.
Make your growth game strong, and along the way, be kind to yourself –
If you are doing your best, Then you are doing enough
If this time has taught us anything
It is that it is more important now than ever before, to see the world through your own eyes
Begin by looking at yourself
Look honestly and look gently
Look inward with compassion and kindness and look outward with humility and appreciation
If this time has taught us anything, it is that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear –
And our greatest fear is losing that to which we have become attached.
Yesterday is heavy, put it down.
If this time has taught us anything, it is that life really is about the journey, not the destination
And it must be, for surely we are not here merely to reach the destination,
Be alive, for after all, life is all you’ve got.
And when you pay attention to the things for which you are grateful,
You soon forget about what you think you’re missing
Your reality, and what you perceive it to be, are seldom aligned.
You need to beat your own pathway
Without seeking the approval of others
If this time has taught us anything, it is this:
There is a source of resilience deep within us all.
If this time does not teach us that time itself is precious,
Then we will have missed the lesson.
The lesson that never before have the past and the future been so irrelevant,
And that the quest to find ourselves has been fruitless;
Only because we’ve been searching in all the wrong places
We are here, We are now
And to grasp with both hands, the fresh opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn
If this time is not wasted

Our 125 celebration was a milestone in our schools history and then 2020 unfolded.  No school or any higher education institution had previous experience on how to run a school during a pandemic.  To cope, all we knew was that we would have to be HERO’s – Honest;  Empathetic;  Respectful and Open-minded.  We had to acquire as much information as possible from reliable sources, making a clear decision based on credible information, showing compassion, adopting a willingness to be flexible, encouraging team work and being brave enough to display courageous leadership.  We had to remember that this was a medical matter and that would be the guiding principle. 

This made me wonder about so many areas of our existence and how we don’t move forward because we don’t apply the same HERO principles.  To have courage and show compassion was the only way to steer through 2020.  And we did.    

I need to pause and acknowledge and thank Ms Dianna Hornby, OK 1979.  Thank you for your continual commitment and service to this great school.  Thank you for handing out the prizes today.  You are a Kingswood Hero.  We are delighted to have Mrs Hornby’s granddaughter join us in grade 000 this year.  It is amazing how things come full circle in time.  

This is what Kingswood is about, it all starts with family, we need each other. Family is what matters most and our school community is a family.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Thank you Kingswoodians for journeying with us during this usual year.  2021 the focus will be on character and leadership development.  Onward and Upward! 

– Dr Colleen Vassiliou

Nici Coleman our Director of Music brought me a book at the beginning of third term – ‘The purpose driven life by Rick Warren – I encourage every young person in this Chapel to read this book at some point in their life.

And I would like to end with the following quote from the book:

“When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time”

– Rick Warren

If this year has taught me anything is that what matters most is how we spend our time.

To all Kingswoodians, thank you for investing your time in this great school.