A wise man once told me that when writing speeches, you shouldn’t stress about what you think you’re expected to say, or what you think people want to hear. He told me to speak from the heart, and if I do that, people will listen. So that is what I’m going to do.
This time last year I was given the honour of being named the head prefect for 2018. I was overwhelmed. Out of my depth. There was Ren-C Tamayo, the head boy of 2017, receiving just about every music or academic award and scholarship imaginable. I was thinking “far out!” This is the guy who I’m going to follow into the job. The guy whose shoes I will be filling. I felt self conscious and afraid that I didn’t belong in the role.
But I talked with Miss Southall and she must’ve read my mind. She said “Ben. You’ve been chosen because of what you’ve been like for the last four years. You deserve this, and you don’t need to change who you are to fit the role.” Ren-C’s, advice was more or less the same. “Don’t be fake. Each head boy is different and you don’t need to be a superstar in all aspects of school life to be a leader.”
I thought about what they’d both said, and it took me a while to realise that Ren-C wasn’t the head boy because he was an academic genius, he wasn’t the head boy because he was a superstar musician. It was because he was great with people. That’s what made him an outstanding leader, and that’s the quality that I have modelled my leadership on. Because leadership, particularly school leadership, isn’t about changing the world. It’s not about what you do when you’re in the spotlight.. It’s about what you do down on the ground. As a big year 13, the simplest things, like having time for a chat or remembering a young fellah’s name, can make their day. Sometimes it’s more than this. There are boys at our school who are vulnerable, boys who need time and support, and this is what leadership is really about. In my experience, there is nothing more rewarding than when a parent says to you, “Thank you for looking after my boy.”
The first time I considered the idea of leadership was way back in 2014. While being disciplined for antics in Mrs Cuttances year 9 RE class, Mr Van Boom said sooner or later, there would come a time to decide whether to be a leader of boys, or a leader of men. I didn’t think about it much at the time, but I never forgot it, and gradually I began to realise how important, how accurate and how relevant that piece of advice was. One of the greatest challenges of my five years has been knowing the time to be one of the boys, and the time to stand up and be a man. This proved to be easier said than done, and there have certainly been times when I haven’t got that right. But what I’ve learned from this is that it’s how you react and deal with your mistakes that matters. And it’s our mistakes that teach us the most valuable lessons.
There are also lessons to be learnt from obstacles that make us feel like the world has ended. And that is certainly how I felt earlier this year when the doctor told me I’d be off school for months and out of sport for the entire winter.
Fortunately, I recovered faster than expected and it was only a month or two before I was back at school and eventually back on the field. But being named on the bench for the third fifteen was a position I had never expected to be in. I ended up spending most of the season in the second fifteen, but I continued to train with the firsts in the mornings in the hope of a call up. As the end of the season drew nearer I began to accept that it wasn’t meant to be.
Looking back, maybe it all happened for a reason. Maybe this was God’s way of reminding me not to get ahead of myself and take things for granted. So when the call finally came in the final stages of the season, the sense of gratitude and pride that I felt was on a whole new level. The experience reinforced that it is a privilege, not a right, to represent this school, and that you should believe in yourself and never give up.
But that’s enough about me. I’m speaking to you on behalf of the students, and particularly the class of 2018. Our time here has come to an end, and while we will no doubt miss this place, we are ready to move on. We are excited and itching to head out the doors and into the big wide world and for that, we have the school to thank. It has provided us with endless opportunities, and supported us as we pursued them. It has taught us not just the curriculum, but life skills, and prepared us for whatever the future holds.
Of course, St Pats is not the only influence in our lives. While St Pat’s may have taught us for five years, there are people who have been doing that for eighteen. I’d like to thank not only my parents, Sue and Simon, for supporting me, putting up with me and catering for my enormous food intake, but also the parents of every year thirteen. You were our first teachers, long before this school and it’s you we have to thank for getting us here in one piece. I know that being the parents of teenage boys is far from easy. It’s not in our nature to get sentimental, so we don’t always show our gratitude, but we really do appreciate you.
As much as we will miss St Pats, St Pats will miss us too. We have often been labelled a “challenging” or “troublesome” year group, but I prefer the word “unique”. We are the last of the old school, pen and paper, chromebookless generation, and the last of the boys who have experienced a McEvedy shield victory. We’ve also seen plenty of drama in our time, bomb threats, asbestos holidays, and our first experience of NCEA exams being disrupted by earthquakes. We have been the leaders of a fantastic supporters club, whether its expeditions to Palmerston North to cheer on our basketballers, or trips to the cake tin to support Libby and the Phoenix, we’ve turned out in force.
As a year group, we’ve been far from perfect, but I believe we have set an example of what a brotherhood is for the juniors and for the next generation of leaders. To the year elevens and twelves, I want you to remember that the brotherhood that we talk about is a responsibility, not a right. Like Aaron and Joseph said last week, it is a practice, it takes work, it takes action from every individual. It’s not an invisible force that connects the whole school, and if everyone just sat back and waited for it, then it wouldn’t exist. As the Bible tells us, faith, without works, is dead.
Speaking of Aaron and Joseph. I want to thank you both for having my back this year, and for all your work, especially in the couple of months that I wasn’t at school. Aaron, even when you’ve been stressed beyond belief by the demands of your extra curricular activities,, you’ve still never stopped smiling and always made me laugh. You’re the most multi-talented guy I know, your skill in music, your ability to command an audience and your knack for scoring runs, all qualities that I can only dream of. Joseph. Keep being unbelievably friendly and kind to everyone, keep working harder than anyone I know and keep doing art, because man that stuff is amazing. Every team needs it’s quiet, thoughtful member, the brains of the operation, and you’ve been as good at that as they come.
I want to thank the prefects, for the hard work you do behind the scenes which Aaron, Joseph and I often get the credit for, and all the year thirteens. I am so lucky to be able to call you my mates and my brothers.
To all the staff, thank you for caring about so much more than the subjects you teach, about more than our academic success. Your concern for us is always evident and it’s a huge part of what makes St Pats more than a school.
As the saying goes, we don’t know what we have until it’s gone, and in the last week or two I’ve certainly started to appreciate more and more what a privilege it is to walk these halls, to play on these fields and to wear this uniform. Because those are things that we are leaving behind. But what will never leave us are the relationships that we have formed and the bonds that we share with some truly awesome people. At the end of the day, it isn’t the halls or the uniform that have prepared us for the next step. It’s the people. Sectare Fidem.
Ben Shepherd’s prize-giving speech, St Pat’s Town 2018.