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Mr Shane Kidwell’s Celebration of Excellence speech

Mr Shane Kidwell’s Celebration of Excellence speech

Chairman of the Board, Mr Wallington, Mrs Janine Wallington, members of the Oakhill Board, ladies and gentlemen and students of Oakhill.

It is no coincidence that Oakhill is turning 21 at a time when much is being said about 21st century skills and ensuring that we prepare our students for the future. Bernie Trilling at the beginning of his book: 21st century skills, says: this book is dedicated to all the 22nd century learners who will surely wonder what all the fuss is about and why it was so hard for everyone in the 21st century to do the obvious.

The scary thing ladies and gentlemen is, that if you are born today you will be 87 when the 22nd century arrives. There is every possibility that Adam Oosthuizen’s young sister will be alive and well in the year 2100. Oakhill will turn 108 that year! Hanette Bouwer, who is pregnant, son or daughter will be 87, and Scott Armstrong will be watching his Grandson or his Great Grandson playing hockey on our new astro turf which would have been replaced 8 times by then – he will have just turned 100. Medical Science will have kept him alive and who knows – he may even be playing for the master’s hockey side!

21st Birthdays are significant rites-of-passage and Oakhill’s 21st birthday has been just that. We have had a year filled with wonderful reminiscing, meaningful celebration and many heartfelt thank-you’s to those who started us on this journey 21 years ago, but as we ponder the past and the future, we need to remain steadfast in focusing on the now and today we celebrate the students of 2013, who are talented in their own way and they make Oakhill an amazing place to live and work.

We still have a long way to go on our journey – but more of that later….

As I am sure you are all aware, the school has recently been on a tour to China where we visited Beijing and Shanghai. China is a country filled with a rich history and walking on one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall built in the 7th century BC, I could not help thinking of the complete paradox of ancient history and our 21 year old institution. Beijing is 3000 years old and later on, when we had arrived in Shanghai, our guide told us that because it is only 700 years old that it does not really have much of a history. I suppose, in many ways this puts our young school into context – we have only just entered young adulthood and we have many lessons to learn before we can claim the heritage and wisdom of being 700 years old. We have much to do and learn and that in itself is exciting!

I found it extremely difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the population in China. Individuality seems to fade into non- existence when one is faced with the sheer reality of 1.4 billion people, 23 million of them mingling in the streets of Beijing. The whole of the South African population lives in Beijing and Shanghai – – it’s almost impossible to comprehend! Individuality is of paramount importance at Oakhill, it is part of our DNA and I love celebrating the uniqueness of each character we have at Oakhill.

We must ensure that we always remain small enough to really know and care for each other, but big enough to allow us to remain competitive. Bigger is NOT always better because the same qualities that appear to give strength are often sources of weakness. And the fact of being an underdog, can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate. This is perhaps best told in the epic battle between David and Goliath 3000 years ago in the valley of Elah – At the same time that Beijing was becoming a city!

I have recently read a book by Malcolm Gladwell, the Author of Blink and Outliers, entitled David and Goliath. It reminded me of the diversity of my experience in China and my association with this great school – Oakhill. Goliath stands and shouts at the Israelites asking for what was known as ‘single combat’. This was a common practice in the ancient world. Two sides in conflict would avoid bloodshed by choosing one warrior to represent them.

Goliath was kitted out for traditional warfare – body armour, helmet, armour piercing spear and sword for close combat.

David, on the other hand had killed lion and bear with his sling and bare hands, protecting his herd of sheep – he picks up five smooth stones gathers up his shepherd’s staff and strides into the valley. He had faced scarier giants than Goliath.

Goliath is outraged – he sees this shepherd boy descending into the valley and shouts out ‘am I a dog that you come to me with sticks and stones’

What happens next is a matter of legend: David puts one of his stones in the sling and fires at Goliath’s exposed forehead. Goliath falls, stunned!

The battle is won miraculously by an underdog who, by all expectations, should not have won at all. There is an important lesson in this, for battles with all sorts of giants. The powerful and the strong are not always what they seem!

As parents and society in general the Baby Boomer generation (1950 -1970) and the Xers (1970 – 1990) generally perceive and believe that it is preferable to be a Goliath. Being a Goliath was easier in the 1970’s – you could just bully others into agreeing with you and schools didn’t ask you for your opinion and if they did they certainly punished you for it.

Generally speaking these generations think that this past wisdom is perhaps the correct strategy for the future – But it’s not necessarily the case as can be seen from this story!

When we visited the Beijing number 8 school we soon realised that competition for places were at a premium. If you were not bright enough, self-disciplined enough, connected enough, or hard-working enough there certainly was no place for you at this institution. It is a Goliath, and only the fittest and strongest survive. Every kid at the number 8 Beijing school is a small fish in a big pond of 2400 students. They achieve a 100% university entrance pass rate. Each of the 400 pupils per grade is entitled to a University education but they make it clear not necessarily a job thereafter.

When there is too much competition and Goliath rules, you don’t hear of stories of Finn Stevenson and some of his friends teaching each other Mathematics via skype. Peer teaching is a powerful tool because to teach is to learn and understand on a deeper level. Peer teaching is the David of education – innovative, nimble and creative. It is a strange thing, don’t you think, to have an educational philosophy that thinks of other students in the classroom as competitors, for marks and the teachers time and not allies in the adventure of learning?

Goliaths, do not accept wonderful young women like Caitlin Tearle, who have made mistakes and allow them to reassess and gather themselves to finish their school careers well. Goliaths don’t have to because they are big enough to replace you with someone else – someone who will toe the line and do as they say.

Goliaths do not care whether you have the confidence to stand up and give a public speech or not. Margeaux Zonnestein arrived at Oakhill petrified to give her opinion and now she speaks with confidence at an assembly and guys like Pommie can’t get a word in edgeways.

Goliaths always look down on you – they label you, undervalue you and underestimate your ability to be nimble. I received a tweet from an Outeniqua student, the day after all our hockey sides annihilated theirs on their brand new astroturf. It read – if you are good at sport come and play rugby against us. A typical Goliath comment when you have just been beaten by David in the valley of Elah. I replied quite cheekily: we came (to play hockey), we saw we conquered. I never heard back!

Goliaths try to confuse us, intimidate us with their size and are too big to notice that we have in our midst a young Grade 10 boy who is a wonderful writer….listen to this…. The snow has no memory, at least that’s what they say. As in Breughel’s Icarus, the angel who flew too close to the sun. The wax on his wings melted and he fell to Earth, but no one took any notice. I like to think that that’s what snow is like, the snow is like Icarus. It can snow for weeks here in Minnesota, almost drives you mad.

This ladies and gentlemen is the start of a novel by Ben Gunn.

Small schools notice the fact that Michaela Millar has taken some award winning photographs.

And that JJ Strydom scored a century in a 20/20 cricket game last week – his first ever.

You see some institutions pride themselves on being a Goliath….Many wealthy, big schools around our country spare no expense in the education of their students. They grow their overall numbers to well over a thousand pupils. They fall into the trap that wealthy people, wealthy schools and wealthy countries – all Goliaths – fall into. The school assumes that the kind of things that wealth can buy always translate into real-world advantages. They don’t of course. It is not so good to be so big and strong that you’re are a sitting duck for a smooth stone (or hockey ball) fired at 150 miles per hour. It is better to be nimble, innovative, courageous, self-aware and creative.

You see we all assume that being bigger, stronger and richer is always in our best interest – a shepherd boy named David will tell you that it isn’t and in our 21st year we need to remind each other and allow it to filter down the generations, that Oakhill, even though it wants to grow a little, must not lose the very ethos of creativity, freedom to make mistakes, and innovation that has brought us successfully thus far.

So, who would I choose to represent us in single combat to prevent bloodshed against the Outeniqua army? I have no doubt that it would be Caleb Bell with his silky skills on the Hockey field, or Joshua Buchalter in the radio station studio, or Anola Walk in the swimming pool, or our very own South African cyclist Mikayla Oliver. Mikayla has been awarded her South African colours for track cycling but never worn them. I’d like her to join me on the stage so that I can present them to her!

Who would I choose to represent us at single combat, if it were body boarding? (Niklas) Or Dance (Mirren, Chelsea)? Or Rap (Godwin)?

I know it would be Ross Eyre for talent in art or Ronald Nel in a standoff for not smiling or Michaela Pretorius for kindness – surely there is no one who could be kinder than her!

The fact is our young David really did take Outeniqua on and we beat them at every level in hockey. Our U14 hockey side were 2-0 down at half-time against York, another Goliath and we came back to draw the game 2-2. I’d go to war with Tiffy Lellyet, or Sam Mvimbi, or Toby Walk!

I’d choose these two to represent us at single combat any day too – sit back and listen to this….

Adam Helberg and Fransu Myberg – guitar duet

Stefan Weyers, our previous Director of Sport in the Prep school, who is a philosopher king and the greatest advocate of Oakhill was educated in a conservative town in the Free State – he sent this poem written by Sam Walter Foss to me recently: (I have paraphrased for sake of time)

It was written in 1895 The Calf Path

One day through the primeval wood A calf walked home as good calves should; But made a trail all bent askew, A crooked trail as all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled, And I infer the calf is dead. But still he left behind his trail, And thereby hangs my moral tale. The trail was taken up next day By a lone dog that passed that way; And then a wise bellwether sheep Pursued the trail o’er hill and glade Through those old woods a path was made.

This forest path became a lane That bent and turned and turned again; This crooked lane became a road,

The years passed on in swiftness fleet, The road became a village street; And thus, before we were aware, A city’s crowded thoroughfare.

Each day a hundred thousand rout Followed this zigzag calf about And o’er his crooked journey went The traffic of a continent.

A hundred thousand men were led By one calf near three centuries dead. They followed still his crooked way, And lost one hundred years a day; For thus such reverence is lent To well-established precedent.

The fact is ladies and gentlemen that we achieve things at this young school, which defy the odds. You see the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate. It makes us stronger, more resilient, more determined, more innovative and creative.

But now that we have an astro, will we follow the calf path of life, and start behaving like a Goliath? For thus such reverence is lent, To well-established precedent.

Or will we be bold, and never follow the madding crowd? Will we ensure that we always remain nimble, self-aware, humble and innovative?

David was self-aware – he knew what he was capable of. David was courageous and courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through tough times and you discover that they have not been so tough after all.

Oakhill is 21 and running a 21 year old school is complex. Often we want to behave like a 50 year old school but as we grow older……..heaven forbid that we become a Goliath, cumbersome, boring, ungainly, arrogant, loud and compliant.

Being a great school does not happen in one fell swoop. Having an astro will not make us great. Nor will having a new sport campus, or a state-of-the-art Music, Art and Drama centre. There are no miracle moments in becoming great, no lucky breaks….beating Outeniqua does not make us great. Relentlessly believing in each other, remaining humble, learning from our mistakes and allowing kids to believe that there is a David lurking in each and every one of us, will put us on the right path because, ultimately being great, is each of us striving for that in our own unique way.

Our 21st year is a watershed year in many respects. Last year at this time we had raised 5 million rand and if you had indicated to me that we would raise 17 million between then and now, I would have said it’s impossible! But we had a dream and that dream has gained momentum and now we have a sport campus of 17 hectares with 4 full-size playing fields and an astroturf. Our master plan for the sport campus is complete and many of you have led by example and either donated money or taken a debenture.

These accomplishments allow us to keep dreaming and the future beckons us forth with other facilities and exciting projects but when I stand on this land, I don’t see the fields, the astroturf or the clubhouse – because you see all this is futile without the young men and women who will be playing on these fields. When I stand on the new campus, I hear the laughter and encouragement of parents from the side-lines, I see teams winning and losing, I see determination, camaraderie and team-work, I see belief in the impossible, I see courage and ultimately I see young men and women growing in stature, resilience and pride. This campus cannot wait for the sound of your laughter!

Great schools are made up of great teams and lest we forget – it has taken a super-human effort to get to this place and we could not have done it if it were not for the commitment, vision, determination and perseverance of a team of parents and staff who have toiled on your behalf.

Paul Kotze has led this process in all respects and as chairman of the Planning Committee has held us all accountable to achieve the goals set. Future generations will perhaps have forgotten who Paul is but when they read our school history they will know they are indebted to him for his wisdom, insight and time.

Ian Brymer has also helped on this committee as has Phillip Stewart our estate manager and between the two of them they have ensured that we will have a magnificent facility.

Dave Hall, who sits on our board is also an engineer and has kindly project managed the astroturf project as well as overseeing the groundwork for the fields.

I would also like to personally thank Gordon Shutte who sits on the Board, the Finance committee and the Planning committee. I have personally relied on his advice and expertise in ensuring that we move forward knowing that we have done what is best for our school in all respects to this project. He devotes an enormous amount of time to Oakhill and we would certainly not be announcing these development were it not for his support.

Jon Salters, who chairs our finance committee continues to believe and drive us forward practically but also from a visionary perspective. He is an eternal optimist and always finds solutions to complex problems. Jon spent many hours devising our debenture documents and ultimately ensuring that all we have done could be financed responsibly and accountably. Many thanks to him for his friendship and his support.

I would also like to personally thank Jenny Gardy who is heading up our Astroturf fundraising committee. She has quietly and efficiently gone about ensuring that we will have an astroturf by April 2014 – thank you! I mentioned earlier that in our 21st year we are starting to behave like a much older institution. Our community wants more and last week we hosted a cocktail function for the arts, particularly music, to share our vision for this subject as we progress into 2014. We are at present 3 million short of our target for upgrading our art block into state-of-the-art classrooms, a 21st century library and innovation centre, drama and art classrooms for both schools and as with other dreams we have had, we are not losing hope of success.

Thank you to Dr Martin Young who has recently volunteered to head up the Music fundraising initiative and I would like to thank him for dedicating a large chunk of his time to this cause.

Grade 10 – I am an African

Thabo Mbeki gave that speech in parliament. I am currently reading his biography and am struck by the sacrifices and pain that families went through because of exiled or jailed loved ones. This separation devastated families and social connections but there was a steely determination amongst these struggle families because they knew that they were sacrificing for the future. In the same way, I feel for our current Matrics and their families, who have sacrificed immensely, knowing that they will not necessarily have the benefit of these facilities. I am hoping that you can see the impact it will have on the school you are so proud of. Thank you for your selfless giving and thank you for being part of this amazing journey of growing a school. There are many of you who have played a significant part in this.

To have a great school, you need parents who care. Parents who are positive, helpful and who encourage teachers and kids at every turn. Oakhill has many of these and your support and honesty does not go unnoticed.

One of our Parents, Peter Wallington, our Board Chair, leads the way in this arena. Peter has become a friend and mentor and our school is fortunate to have a servant of his stature leading the institution at this exciting time and impressionable age. His commitment and service to this school is truly remarkable and I have no doubt that his fingerprints will continue to have a significant influence here in generations to come. Good to great transformations never happen in one fell swoop and Peter has dedicated his energy and time for the last seven years to this project. Thank you for your care, concern, honesty and support at all times.

Allan Graham awards…..

When Lulu Read, Jack Duthie and Thomas Marrow arrived at Oakhill the school was 7 years old they were only 4 or 5. It was the year 2000. South Africa had been a democracy for six years already and Nelson Mandela had stepped down as President of the Republic the year before. The future was bright and these three young men and woman started a journey at a fledgling school.

We introduced the Allan Graham Award some years back to recognise those who had completed 12 years of schooling at Oakhill. We only have three recipients this year and I’ll ask them to come up to receive their awards now.

Academic issues

All great schools push the envelope academically and Oakhill is no exception. We write the international benchmarking tests in Grade 3, 6 and 9 and our results this year have proved to be outstanding when compared against 50 countries throughout the world. Our English, Maths and Science match up to any great school around the globe and there is absolutely no reason for our young men and women not to excel.

For the third year running one of our pupils has won a certificate from the Royal Society of South Africa and this year Carmen Micic was one of two pupils nationally, to receive a merit prize for her essay entitled: The doping debate, can Science stamp out doping in South African sport.

We have also had two pupils in the last three years in the top 15 of the National English Olympiad and this year we had a Grade 10, Iqraa Daniels, who was placed third in South Africa. This is an outstanding achievement given that she is competing against Matrics.

Great schools remain globally competitive and our high academic standards can be seen when our own Preparatory students are pitted against other students in the scholarship exams. Oakhill pupils won 8 out of the 12 academic scholarships for 2014 and this certainly bodes well for the future.

The results achieved by the matrics of 2012 were also pleasing. Our 100% pass rate is still intact, but more importantly we continued to impress by ensuring that 94% of our candidates received a university endorsement which is outstanding and our matric group of 50 candidates produced 79 distinctions between them. Our Dux scholar Luke Bell earned a level 7 (80% or above) in seven subjects, followed by Liza Combrink, Nicholas Cuthbert, Emma Horn, Gillian Jones and Leo Thesen with five level 7 achievements.

The Matrics of 2013 are well-set for a wonderful set of results and we wish them every blessing in the next couple of months as they complete their school careers. Not all of them will receive 7 or 8 distinctions but each of them will be striving for their personal best and that ultimately is all that matters. Oakhill strives for excellence but it also strives to produce young men and women who are self-aware and want to make the world a better place. I believe we do!


Any great school relies on the passion and enthusiasm of great staff and we continue to build an excellent team at Oakhill where colleagues complement each other, where there is a wonderfully eclectic mix of young and old, wise and naive, specialists and generalists and males and females. Jonathan Jansen in his book: Great South African teachers, in which two of our current staff feature, says there are 6 categories of teachers. There’s the subject artist and Sue Carver and Dawie Botha certainly fit this mould. Secondly there is the Inspiring Mentor: Peter Vieyra, or Moira Schady. Thirdly the life performer: Amy Nuttal fits firmly here. The soft disciplinarian: Gerhard Claasen, the tough love coach: Hannalie Viljoen and the extended parent, Linda Lifson or Sue Buchalter. Dave Pryke and Chicco Ponela are uncategorisable.

Our team continues to grow in stature but like with any team there are some comings and goings.

Altogether there have been 5 new additions to the team this year. All of them have had a remarkable impact and their uniqueness has added to our diversity of thought, culture and experience.

Adolf Groenewald has added some wisdom in our Geography department and joins the House Mentor team – He’ll be an inspiring mentor in time…. Terri Pautz our girls’ hockey coach joined us as a full-time graphic designer Carika Rademan joined us as the Director of Music from Woodridge in PE Ian Melliar joined us as our Water Polo professional and has immediately made an impact Karine Trollip joins us from the beginning of 2014 as our new Marketing and commercial manager, as does, Andrew Browne who has been appointed as the new senior master and HOD Maths Zachary Viljoen, a young graduate joins us to give flexibility in the Science and Maths departments Robyn Humphreys a talented musician and dancer joins us to help in the Drama and History departments, and Liam Bell joins us from Chesterhouse to run our Business studies department from the beginning of 2014.

There were a few departures this year, too:

Lee Raynor left us earlier in the year as did Olga Schoeman, who sadly is very ill and battling cancer.

After 20 years here, Sheila Pasio decided to spend some time with her family who are located all around the world! She was an expert teacher and has left an indelible mark on this young institution. I’ve had many good laughs with Moira Schady who has served Oakhill for 14 years. She has joined her husband’s business as the accountant and her smile and professionalism will be sorely missed. She will be replaced by Dawie Botha who has always been a great accountancy teacher but has been hiding in the shadows of the Deputy Headmaster’s office. I remember interviewing Kyle Langman three years ago and we were impressed with this young man’s enthusiasm. Kyle and Monique have taken up an assistant Housemaster position at Maritzburg College and we wish him every blessing. The lovable Barbie Leibrandt has recently also become the CEO of happiness in Knysna and although she has formally left Oakhill, she will always be in our hearts.

Andrew Meintjes was educated at Kearsney College and Edgewood Teachers training College in KZN and recently indicated that he will be returning to his old stomping ground in Richards Bay where Charmaine’s parents live.

It’s never easy to be the counsellor in a modern school and Linda Lifson has chosen to take a sabbatical from these duties. She has made a significant impact and leaves behind firm foundations.

Finally, Hu Lianmei, who has been with us for two years, returns to China to be with her family. She has been gentle, professional and passionate about sharing the richness of her country’s culture and language and we will miss her.

Goodbye to class of 2013

I mentioned Lulu Read earlier in my address when I spoke of her joining Oakhill in the year 2000. Lulu has been the SRC president for the last two years and has truly been a servant of her peers and the school in every respect. Her wisdom and sense of belonging at Oakhill have been crucial to the success of our 21st year. She understands Oakhill because she has been here a long time – for more than half its existence – but more importantly she understands Oakhill because she embraced the way it taught her to think critically, to collaborate with others, to express her opinion, to learn from her mistakes and to be confident in her own ability. Without making out that Lulu is a saint – she isn’t – she embodies all that is brave, courageous and different about this school because she was prepared to give her best in all she did here. She worked extremely conscientiously in the academic arena, despite her huge work-load, ensured that she was engaged on the sports field and contributed in an enormously powerful way on the stage.

If ever there was someone who was not scared to make mistakes it was her. If ever there was someone who led by example – she did. She never shirked her responsibilities, never gave second best, never made excuses and ultimately represented this school with pride, courage and conviction. She is a true Oakhillian because she lived the joy of learning and Trent and Bridget, you can be truly proud of all she has achieved in her 13 years with us – we are immensely proud of her!

How do we measure excellence at Oakhill? It comes in all shapes and sizes and as a result it’s difficult to define it. Way back in 1987 I can remember sitting in the audience at my Celebration thinking that it was a pity that I was not excellent. I’m still not sure that I am, to be honest, but one thing I have realised is: that I have the potential to be, if I want to. We all grow and develop at different times and sometimes we undervalue our own strengths.

I would like to introduce a new award this morning. To win this award you may not be an Honours recipient. You may not be an SRC member or House Captain. The certificate will be awarded to a matric student who embodies the following qualities:

E M FORSTER SAID: The people I admire most are those who are sensitive and want to create something or discover something, and do not see life in terms of power…they produce literature and art, or they do disinterested scientific research, or they may be what is called ‘ordinary people’ who are creative in their private lives and who always help their neighbours. I believe in the aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and all classes, and all through the ages there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human condition. They are sensitive to others, as well as for themselves. They are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke.

The recipient of this award will be decided by the Headmaster and the SRC President. It need not be awarded every year. This year we would like to award the Pam Muir certificate for excellence, in honour of one of our founders who passed away recently, to a young man who did not plan to be great, would not consider himself great, but is great: Jono van der Merwe

Our Matrics take leave of us today and enter a world which glorifies Goliaths and my prayer is that you will remain like David. Confident of your abilities, not afraid of giants, not intimidated by size, sure of your strengths, aware of your frailty, compassionate, accountable, responsible, but most of all happy with who you are and confident that you can make this world a better place.

Matrics some of you are 18 some of you are 19. You were born the same year, or the year after our democracy was established. You do not harbour the scars of apartheid – you are truly the sons and daughters of democracy. You have a voice, you have a purpose and your Baby Boomer parents are hoping that you will fix up some of the mess they have left you.

So…Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character: it becomes your destiny.

We reflect with pride and gratitude on what has been accomplished this year and we look forward to the future with anticipation and confidence. John Lennon said: A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.

We certainly dream together here and just when you think the dreams not possible a David stands up.

Sweet dreams and God bless…..

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