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Peterhouse Boys

Peterhouse Boys Speech Day 2021 - Guest of Honour's Speech

It is a great privilege to be here this morning in this storied chapel. There are so many old friends and faces amongst you and I would like you to know how deeply I admire and respect your courage and tenacity in the face of the adversity that you have faced and overcome as a community this year. I also admire your history and traditions and feel a great sense of pride to be associated with you today to serve this fine institution and the principles and values that it represents.

I am wearing my St John’s College Old Boy’s tie today not as an act of defiance but as a mark of respect to pay homage to the decades of fair and favourable competition that have been shared by our schools. It is my privilege to be here today to serve you as my brothers.

Graduating class of 2021 I would like to address you directly this morning.

Good morning Nation-Builders,

It is my honour to stand before you to charge you with the call to arms as you take your place in the grand narrative that is unfolding around us.

You have an irreplaceable role to play in HIStory, the lights are on, the stage is set and this is your cue. What you have learned about yourself and your role will guide you as you begin to engage.

As William Shakespeare said, “all the world’s a stage and all men merely players.” So what kind of a tale is this and what part will you play?

You can see by watching young children play what is written on their hearts as desire reveals design.

We have a one-year-old and I am such a proud dad he recently passed the “rugbyness test.” As a former rugby guy when you have a son that starts crawling you have to do the test because I don’t want to force my love for rugby onto him but of course I’m kind of secretly hoping that he loves what I love.

So you place a soccer ball and a rugby ball on the ground a few metres away from the child and then place the child in front of the balls and see which one they crawl to. I was nervously standing by, biting my nails and saying to my wife, “ let him choose, let him choose, it’s fine.”

The theory is that if the child crawls to the rugby ball you can be relieved because they clearly love rugby. If they crawl to the soccer ball, then you can be relieved because they are going to be a fly-half!

Infinite Game
Like most games, rugby and soccer and tennis and chess, are finite games – they have a beginning, a middle and an end. There is a winner and a loser.

In a finite game there are rules that we all agree on and we all abide by the rules or accept the penalty when we default.
Most people play life like any one of these games, and always have their eye on the scoreboard. The scoreboard is often one of the four B’s – brains, brawns, bucks or babes.

We define ourselves by how smart we are, or how strong we are, or how much money we have or how successful we are with the opposite sex.

Life is NOT a finite game. There is no scoreboard, there are no rules that we all agree on. The game of life cannot be won or lost, only played.
As Walt Whitman said, “the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.”

We are playing an infinite game.
Although as school leavers you now enter the big-wide-world, your moment has come but this is not the beginning of the story. You know that something was happening and had been happening for some time when you arrived on the scene. It is also highly likely to continue long after you are gone.

Your time at Peterhouse, although central to your life and memory and identity, from this point forward is now confined to the annals of history. It existed way before you arrived and will endure long after you have left. So what have you left here and what will you leave in the next chapter of the infinite game that we are playing?

Maya Angelou said, “people will forget what you did. People will forget what you said. People will never forget how you made them feel.”

What is your effect on the people around you? Do they long to be in your presence because of the joy and life that you exude as you encourage and inspire them or do you bore them with tales of your own prowess and glory? Do you serve them and make them feel special and loved or do you condemn them with criticism and complaining?

Growing up at a Private School in Zimbabwe like most of you I had one perception of the world and my role in it. I wanted to be the first team rugby captain and play Zimbabwe schools rugby and waterpolo. I achieved these goals at St John’s College and thought that I was winning the game of life.

I was awarded an academic scholarship to university in Texas and captained the Texas Collegiate All-star rugby side. I became Homecoming King of the university and dated the Homecoming Queen – did you hear the 4 B’s – brains, brawn, bucks, babes?

Herb Score says, “when the world makes you king for a day just go to the mirror and look at yourself and see what that man has to say, for it isn’t you father or mother or girlfriend whose opinion upon you must pass; The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life is the one staring back from the glass. You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years and get pats on the back as you pass. But your final reward will be heartache and tears if you’ve cheated the man in the glass.”

I was faking it, no matter how much I drank the night before I always woke up thirstier the next day. No matter how good the party was it always ended.

After a party one night with the rugby guys I climbed onto the back of a motorcycle at 1am, drunk and high and the driver went 100mph. He lost control and were both flicked over the handlebars. I was not wearing a helmet or leathers and landed head-first before skidding 100m into the bush.

I was in a coma for 5-days and lay on my stomach for 5-months.

I had everything that the world tells us is abundant life and it almost killed me.

I spent the next 9-months in a wheelchair discussing the amputation of my rugby kicking leg, I was a flyhalf, and learning to walk again.

I entered a deep depression and drank away $25,000 while I was still in a wheelchair. I stopped going to class and lost my scholarship, I lost my place in the rugby team and my Homecoming Queen girlfriend. I started smoking and gave up on life. I thought that I had lost the game of life.

And then a complete stranger left a book next to my hospital bed. I picked up the book and saw that it was a Christian book and threw it across the room. I was angry and if God existed then it was His fault.

Eventually out of boredom I started reading the book and couldn’t put it down. I remember thinking that if this is available why wouldn’t I want it? This was a second chance at life!

I saw that the author ran a camp in Colorado and I travelled up to attend that camp still in a full-leg cast and a crutch.

The author told us to go and ask God, “who am I?”

I didn’t believe in God and thought that was a little creepy but sat on the side of the Rocky Mountains in silence and asked the question. I thought that if God existed he would write in the stars or do a fireworks display or that I would hear a booming voice from heaven echoing through the silvered valley.

There was silence.

Frustrated with myself and irritated that I had been fooled and had come all that way and wasted all that time and money when God was really only a fantasy, I sat there feeling that familiar feeling of sadness sweeping over me.

Suddenly a feeling in my soul said, “what do you miss about rugby.” I thought I was just having a conversation with myself and responded eagerly, “I miss being part of the team. I miss leading my men into battle, being seen and loved and being part of something bigger than myself! I miss belonging and fighting for something that I believe in.”

That same feeling in my soul said, “that is who you are.” He answered my question!
“Who am I?” “That is who you are!”

Instantly I knew that God was real and I hungered for meaning in my life.

On the final night of the camp the author asked me what I would do if he gave me $1M to start a company doing whatever I wanted with my life. I couldn’t give the money away and I had to be involved 100% in the day-to-day operation of the company.

I said, “its back in Zimbabwe,” at that stage the fastest shrinking economy on the planet, “it’s working with orphans and equipping and inspiring young people to take a leadership role in their lives. It’s camps and rural and adventure and… something like that.”

He looked at me and said, “what are you waiting for, you will never be alive until you’re doing that. I’m not going to give you the money, but that’s what you need to do with your life.”

I went back to Texas, sold everything I owned and got on a plane to Zimbabwe. In my mind I was just coming here for 6-months to pay off my debt to the universe. I had been a bad boy and needed to pay my penance. I was going to stop drinking and smoking and doing drugs and serve orphans in rural Zimbabwe and live in a village and then I would go back to Texas finish my MBA, marry my Texas-oil-millionaire’s-daughter-girlfriend and live the American dream.

During that time, working as a volunteer in a rural part of Zimbabwe running an orphan life-skills camp, I had this moment when I was surrounded by these kids with literally no hope, no plan, no concept of the 4 B’s and they were gathered around me and I was punching my fist into my hand and shouting, “come on boys, this is our moment!”

I was doing everything that I loved and missed about rugby.

I was leading my team and inspiring them and equipping them to go and win. But now I was no longer trying to win a finite game on a rugby field. I was trying to help my team win in the infinite game of life.

Instantly a feeling washed over me. “I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life!”

And I’ve now been here doing essentially that for the last 16-years.

I have travelled to the deepest, darkest most hopeless parts of our country and continent and poured myself out, to bring hope and healing to a hurting world.
I haven’t changed the world.
But I believe that my life has touched someone’s world.
And it has meant the world to me.

Over the last 16-years I have sacrificed, I have served and I have searched for life.
I have loved and lost and I have learned that money and power, power and money, the 4 B’s, have absolutely no power to offer us what we really need.

Which is 3 T’s; to be seen and loved, to be brave and to belong.

If you give others these 3 things and help them to experience this, your legacy will endure. Do you see that we live in an upside down reality?

You have to give to receive. You have to play well with others to earn the right to remain in the game.

Theodore Roosevelt said,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

The only way to win in an infinite game is to keep playing. If you can stay in the game and keep showing up you are winning.

I have not succeeded in my life because I was the smartest or fastest or most fabulous, as much as I would like to believe that I was; I have succeeded in life simply because I try that hardest, and I have never given up.

When it comes to your dreams never accept no for an answer.
Never stop trying, never give up, never give in and in the end, you will win – play well.

Now at the half-way point of my life, I am not rich, I am not fast, I am not famous.

But I love my life, I love my wife and I wish you, my kind of success.

Thank you for your attention Gentlemen. I wish you the very best of favourable competition throughout your life.

May God bless you and may God bless our beautiful nation Zimbabwe.

Dr Matthew Mbanga