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Peterhouse Boys

Peterhouse Boys Speech Day 2021 - Rector's Speech

2021; little can be said for conventional wisdom and no amount of experience counts!

What a remarkable, in every sense, this year has been. We have certainly lived history and in many cases we will have written into history a number of Peterhouse firsts. More of that later. As we reflect back on the year one recognises that precedent is a principle that holds little weight in managing the events of 2021. Much has come our way this year; most of this to test our resolve and to challenge our sensibilities. Consequently, and dare I say, this has resulted in decisions that have been built on gut feel and responding to circumstance. Has this always worked for us? I am not sure and history will decide on whether or not gut feel and reaction to circumstance saved the day or compounded the problem. “Flying by the seat of ones pants” may well be an apt way of reflecting on 2021. If we ever thought, in December 2020, that 2021 would be in some way be better; how wrong we were. The ever present shadow of Covid, and its management in Zimbabwe, has tested the bounds of our sensibilities and we continue to wrestle with finding ways in which we could fulfil our obligations to our community with respect to best educational practice.

Chairman of the Peterhouse Board of Governors, Mr Simon Hammond; our Guest of Honour, Dr Matthew Mbanga; members of the Peterhouse Board of Governors, most notably those who have travelled great distances to be with us here today, Mrs Hough, Headmistress of Peterhouse Girls and Mr Hough, Mr Martin, Head of Springvale House and Mrs Martin, members of the staff, parents who will, sadly only participate online, prize winners and young men of the Peterhouse Vth and VIth Forms. It is my singular pleasure to welcome you to this Chapel this morning…this Chapel which represents our foundation and the “rock of tradition” on which this incredible school is built.

Martin Luther King is quoted as saying; “If you can’t fly then run; if you can’t run then walk; if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward”. And so it has been in 2021. We have not stood still this year and have, despite many hurdles, continued to embrace our role for providing a great educational environment for our Peterhouse pupils and their parents. 2021 has been a unique year. It has challenged us; frustrated us, but, above all it has offered us new opportunities to seek new ways of doing things and grow, personally. We have had to wrestle with a range of obstacles but, in each case, we have always looked for solutions; all of which have added both to the colour and character to this school.

My remarks this year may not be entirely conventional, but, in reporting on 2021 the non-conventional has become the new way of doing things.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “That you gain strength, courage and confidence from every experience that you really stop to look difficulties and fear in the face and you are, in response, able to say to yourself; I lived through this horror; I can take on the challenge of the next thing that comes along” And so that describes, so well, the journey that has been 2021.

There have been five crucial pillars which have driven our 2021 adventure. At the start of the century the educational guru’s identified the six skills fundamental to a 21st Century education. Namely; Critical thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, Cross – cultural skill and Character. In 2021 Peterhouse we re-wrote educational philosophy and set our own skills which have helped define the year and which, I hope, the leavers here today define the place in the history of the school. Our narrative this year has been built on; Classroom, Compassion, Courage, Confidence and lastly Character.

The Classroom, the world of Covid, has made it become an undefined space. It can be here at school or equally it can be at home. In fact it can just about be anywhere now; under a tree, alongside a dam or in an old industrial warehouse. To this end, the parent community have come to appreciate that the classroom is a complex space. Dig-school has given us a wonderful opportunity to partner with parents albeit I am aware, in many instances, trunks were packed well before any announcement of formal returns to school. By definition, at Peterhouse our classroom is much bigger than four walls and a whiteboard; while it spans all that is academic it also goes many steps further. It has been on the sport field albeit our inter-actions with other schools has been virtually non-existent. But we have internally produced some excellent inter-house competition. It has been in the Music School where our musicians produced a wealth of quality “virtual” entries for NIAA. Drama continues to thrive, again virtually, and through NIAA our junior dramatists produced some great and well rewarded work. We even managed to stage, over three nights, the junior production of the Jungle Book. Outside the confines of the school, the B Block went to the Chimanimani’s as did the D and C Block complete their outdoor education. The school also ran a series of winter weekend leadership workshops, with Outward Bound Zimbabwe, in Calderwood Park. Our classroom continues to thrive and the notion of offering a wide range of activities continues to be central to the Peterhouse experience. We have definitely not stood still!

In recognition of our endeavours to providing a broad holistic education, the Peterhouse man is compassionate – he understands empathy and with it an appreciation of his fellow man. On many occasions, this year, we have seen this play out in managing the sudden and rather dramatic changes to the management of our calendar. In this regard, I would like to highlight just one example where the true meaning of being a Peterhouse man was shown. On announcing that Easter was cancelled (can you believe that!!) a large number of boys found themselves stranded at school. To the man, every Prefect chose not to find a justification to go home when the opportunity arose but rather they opted to remain at school in support of those unable to get home. This selfless act of support, for their fellow pupils reinforced, and so visibly exemplified our understanding of compassion. The delivery of hundreds of Easter Eggs by the Heads of School went further to reinforce this sense of care for those trapped at school. To Kyle, Charles and the whole prefect body I wish to thank you for your commitment to the ideals of good leadership. It has been my privilege to work alongside you in 2021.

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming odds.” Or so said the late actor Christopher Reeves. And so, through 2021, there have been many heroes here at Peterhouse; the D Blocker, VIth Form Leaver, member of staff, Sanatorium Sister, member of kitchen staff, tractor driver all of whom have, in their own separate ways, personified the essence of courage. On so many occasions, and through a maze of uncertainty, courage has not been in short supply this year. From the disappointments of having those weekend trips home cancelled (at the last minute) to physically wrestling with the coronavirus, acts of courage have been a very visible part of our 2021 journey. This is best illustrated, again, in the events of Easter when on the announcement of a school lockdown the boys linked arms and walked away from Assembly in song. At the end of a long term and with an expectation of a holiday this response showed an amazing degree of fortitude, strength and courage. For those of us adults present, there was much to be learnt from this exhibition of courage in tackling adversity. The power of the Peterhouse spirit is so well reflected in the courage shown, throughout the year, by every member of our community; pupil, parent, staff and Petrean. In the adapted words of Haile Selassie our courage in 2021 means we have “become bigger than we were; we have become more courageous and bold; greater in spirit and much larger in outlook.” Such is the Peterhouse man of 2021.

In confidence we have found ourselves more resilient, tougher and more willing to engage with some of the craziness which has characterised events of 2021. This confidence expressed in two but entirely different ways. From a schools perspective we took bold decisions to re-energise our development programme and in so doing have redeveloped the Art Studios at Springvale and Peterhouse Girls. At Springvale there has been a major upgrade of the Senior Boys’ boarding accommodation – a project which has been on the drawing board for far too long. Infrastructurally, the Peterhouse Girls Laundry has also be completely redeveloped. At Peterhouse Boys’ Tinokura is about to undergo a major upgrade with the gutting and rebuilding of the bathroom facilities. In early 2022 we will also be opening two new Science laboratories at Peterhouse Girls. And if this were not enough BESTCO is planning for a number of significant sporting developments at the school – the planning for these now at an advanced stage. But as a real expression of personal and individual confidence I want to make reference to a recent Pecha Kucha Society meeting. Pecha Kucha, is the Japanese art of delivering a presentation based on visual clues. The confidence, levels of articulation and intellectual depth of the participants spoke volumes for the strength of academic engagement in the school, but, more importantly it was in the confidence of presentation and delivery that the characteristics of the true Peterhouse man were truly exhibited.

And so to the essence of our being and that rests in character. On too many occasions my response to enquiries about how we are doing at Peterhouse has been; we are in a colourful and character building phase of our history. There has been an abundance, perhaps too many, character building moments this year. However, it has been in the staff; academic, admin and service, that our true colours shone. In a year which has had many twists and turns the staff of all three schools have made incredible sacrifice at the expense of their own well-being and family time. The expectations of shifts in term calendars, decisions to lock-down boarding schools and ultimately to manage an examination environment overshadowed by an outbreak of Covid adds much to the normal anxieties and stresses of life in a full boarding school. And all of this done with a nod and a smile. There can be few, if any other school environments which have expected so much from their staff. If there was ever a case for a of study for resilience, toughness and grit it would be here at Peterhouse and in our staff Common Rooms. At a recent ATS Heads meeting in Harare a number of colleagues asked after the Peterhouse staff by expressing their disbelief in what they have been subjected to this year. This is best illustrated by the fact that by the time we close the school in December the staff would have taught well in excess of 210 days (national policy requires between 180 / 186).

From my vantage point this commitment to ensuring the ongoing educational excellence of this school speaks to a remarkable spirit and sense of purpose – what an incredible group of people to be working alongside: thank you for commitment, toughness and support – you are indeed the heroes of 2021. You are why parents were queuing up weeks before the 30 August to drop their sons off at Peterhouse. Sadly, we have to bid farewell to two of our 2021 characters and heroes. Kirsten Kondonis, moves to St Johns with regular terms and half term breaks; we now understand the real motivation behind your departure. Your contribution to this school has been significant. You have written your legacy into the Geography Department. Equally, your role as Senior Tutor has been pivotal in guiding the Upper School through the trials and tribulations of the last two years. I do hope you will stay in touch with us and your successor who you so ably persuaded to move back to Zimbabwe from the Bahamas. To Aidan Blignaut, your departure to the UK marks the end of your Peterhouse season. It would be my sincere hope that both Peterhouse and Zimbabwe are now well embedded in your mind. We have greatly valued all that you have done in a range of areas in the school most notably in rowing. Your good natured banter and willingness to roll with the punches on the golf course will all be missed. I really hope, in returning “home” you will realise your dreams of working professionally in the field of sport. So in defining character one only needs to look at “team Peterhouse” in 2021. Their fortitude being the epitome of the notion of character. Former United States President George W Bush said of character; “The future success of nations depends on making sure our children understand the difference between right and wrong and to have the strength of character to make the right choices. To help them reach their full potential and live with integrity and pride we must teach our children to be kind, responsible, honest and self-disciplined”.

I would really like to invite former President Bush to Peterhouse for he would quickly recognise that all the core components in view on character are well displayed in our Peterhouse community.

So, in conclusion, I believe we have lived our 2021 narrative. We have enjoyed success in the classroom. We understand and appreciate that our compassion is in the service of others. We have built our house on rock and in so doing have the courage to ensure that we know right from wrong. We are confident but never arrogant knowing that in humility comes strength. Above all we are men of character who understand values, principles and the need to ensure our, often perceive privileged education, becomes a tool to bring about a better world for all. We have ridden stormy seas, we have suffered from lost opportunity, we have had to reassess our expectations and goals but, in all of this, we recognise that we are Peterhouse men. We see challenge as an opportunity: we see discomfort as chance to reflect and most importantly we believe in God’s wisdom and in whom we place our trust.

So in speaking to the broader audience, particularly those who could not be here, I would like thank you for all sharing, with us, this celebration of 2021.

Mr Jon Trafford