Scotch College 2002 Valedictory Dinner Speech

A little blast from the past; this spiel was delivered by Peter Collier now the Hon. Peter Charles Collier MLC BA, Dip.Ed. Minister for Energy; Training and Workforce Development; Indigenous Affairs – was then my son’s Politics teacher – how appropriate to be taught by a genuine political aspirant http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Parliament%5CMemblist.nsf/WAllMembersFlat/Collier,+Peter+Charles?opendocument

Peter’s speech was exceptional!

To the Headmaster, Reverend Syme and Mrs Syme, the Chairman of Council, Dr Lloyd and Mrs Lloyd, Jan Hunter, President of Mother’s Auxiliary, parents, my teaching colleagues and, most importantly tonight, School Captain Tom Moir, Co-Vice Captains Jamie Beadsworth and Jonathon Snowball, Head of Student Council Luke Nelson and the leavers of ‘02 –

I would like to begin by thanking Tom and the boys for giving me the opportunity to address you this evening.  I must say, with as much genuine sincerity that I can muster, that I have thoroughly enjoyed working with this particular group of boys from every capacity.  My Politics class was, without question, the most enjoyable group that I have taught.  In addition, the limited interaction that I had with the boys in Tennis was, all the same, a vehemently positive experience.  While Tennis may not have been the main sporting discipline of Belamy, Ben and Neal, they embraced the First VIII and the responsibilities of being the senior members of the team with commendable passion.  And, of course, there’s the group of 12’s from the mighty Ross House. What a fine group of young men. Finally, there has been the daily interaction with a  broad cross-section from this group of boys – on each and every occasion, I have been nothing but impressed. I have thoroughly enjoyed your company gentlemen, and it’s a privilege to be able to speak to you this evening.

I ask for a little self indulgence at this stage, as I reflect upon my graduation year – 1976, at Eastern Goldfields Senior High School (affectionately known as E.G.) with the express intent of sharing with you some pearls of wisdom from that era.  Dare I say it, EG was a little different to Scotch. While we were denied the privilege of marching into assembly each Friday, it was a co-educational school which brought it’s obvious advantages. I took Linley Liddicoat to the Year 12 ball and we did the Barn Dance and the Pride of Erin to music provided by Kevin Denis and the Country Club – and guys, if you think that this wasn’t cool, I’d like to inform you that Kevin went onto bigger and better things as Kevin Bloody Wilson! I actually listened to one of his CDs the other day – boy they breed them rough in Kalgoorlie! Needless to say, he didn’t perform Kev’s Courtin’ Song… or Living Next Door To Alan for that matter at our ball. Afters was a milk shake at the Peter Pan Milk Bar with a tremendous group that remain valued friends today.

It was a time when the boys really did wear flares and had long hair and the girls wore …‘frocks’. Life was pretty much uncomplicated and relaxed. We only got television when I was eleven years old so family activities took prominence in those early years. We would never shut our back doors, let alone lock them. It was roast on a Sunday and a Wednesday and the only take-away was fish and chips. Smoking was still advertised on television and was actually quite fashionable. It was a time when Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Queen and a host of legendary musicians wrote good music.

It was a time when Saigon finally fell to the communists, a peanut farmer was in the White House and the Governor General sacked the Prime Minister. I handed out my first how-to vote card at the Kalgoorlie Town Hall at the age of 16. They were good times – they were memorable times – they were times that will live with me, fondly, for the rest of my life.

Yes, Hotel California was my album… the Deer Hunter was my movie… Whitlam and Fraser were my Prime Ministers … I lived in the ‘70s with Skyhooks … the ‘70s was my decade.

And now, over a quarter of a century later, I find myself teaching at a wonderful educational institution called Scotch College. Interestingly, while so much has changed in the world over this period, so much has stayed the same in the life of a budding graduate. The challenges facing the ‘02 leavers bear an uncanny resemblance to those of ’76.

While life may appear uncomplicated, of course I am sure that the familiar territory of pressure has been a partner of yours for at least the past two years. There have been the pressures of a rapidly expanding society and the associated expectations. Society has a set of prescribed values that you must have felt almost compelled to adhere to. A new and adventurous social life has been revealed and presented you with an array of wonderful new opportunities – no doubt never more vividly on display than your recent foray to Rottnest. Essentially a similar comparison of the ingredients of this social agenda with those present in 1976 can be made – although, fortunately smoking is now deemed more as an exception than the rule. Ironically though, cannabis use, a hanging offence in ’76, is now just a Legislative Council vote away from decriminalisation – a sign of the times I suggest, but not, I hope, a sign of social acceptance.

Academically, you have come through what will be one of your most challenging periods. I trust that you followed the path of your heart and went with your strengths. I do hope that you made the most of the unique opportunities that you were presented with at Scotch. Over the past year in particular you have been old enough to see the wisdom of your actions. I trust that you set your own agenda with your academic and cocurricular pursuits.

No doubt you will also leave with numerous memories of your teachers – as they will have of you. In fact, I took a little time over the past few weeks to gauge the opinions of some of the teachers of the Leavers of ’02:

Mr Doney was most complimentary, declaring that the Year 12 members of the Aths team proved themselves to be outstanding leaders – both during the season and on Aths day. He said that they led by example and related particularly well to the younger members of the team.

Mr Mattingley also bestowed accolades upon the Leavers of ’02, labelling them a terrific bunch – with even the recalcitrants being great boys.

Mr Kerr spent a considerable amount of time on his submission, commenting at length on each and every one of the members of his Art class. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to recount each narrative but I will share with you two of his most choice memories –

“Chris de Cuyper displayed a unique talent for taking any topic or theme, no matter how obscure, serious or abstract and somehow miraculously relating it to surfing”.

and,

“Lachlan McDonald spent a great deal of time researching why people kiss and produced a painting of fragments of a male and female osculating. It is rumoured he also spent a great deal of time doing a great deal of practical research”.

Mrs Davies said that all the boys in her Biology class thought that Ben Donisi was her favourite. She said that she was conscious of this and that she had to try so hard to show them that they weren’t right – but she couldn’t.  I can understand that – what a fine young man.

Mrs Norris said of her Senior English class:

“Rob Good worked extremely hard and was very pleased to pass an English subject and therefore most grateful to his Senior English teacher”.

and,

“Nobi Kobayashi was an excellent badminton player…he also worked extremely hard to achieve his success in Senior English”.

Finally, Mr Foster…yes well unfortunately I have had to censor Mr Foster’s contribution, suffice to say, Oscar Buttsworth, Tom McFarlane, Tim Marshall and Tom Blake…you are extremely lucky young men!

Personally, as previously mentioned, I will reflect fondly upon the ’02 Leavers. I will miss Big Bird and Broken Nose and Constant Pest  and Benji and Jacqueline and Lewie de Fly and Jono and Tom Thumb and Lucus and Jeremia and Vilhelm and Sammy and…..all of you. I will miss your humour, I will miss your energy, I will miss your innocence…

I do hope that you hold a similar regard for your time at Scotch. No doubt you, also, will have developed friendships  which will be lifelong. Remember, according to Plato, and something that I overwhelmingly endorse, true wealth is defined by one’s friends. In addition, I like to think that you leave with some affection for the institution itself. That in years to come the very sight of the boys in their scout uniforms or the sound of a bagpipe will resurrect a degree of affection – that it wasn’t so long ago, regardless of the years past, that Scotch was such an essential component of your life.

And now, to move on, I would like to offer you a personal commentary on several other areas that I feel will hold relevance in the years ahead –

As Head of the enormous Politics Department at Scotch, I feel that it is both appropriate and necessary for me to make a brief comment on the political challenges facing you in your new world. Contrary to Jan Hunter’s comments, I won’t be attempting any recruiting!  The fact is though guys, you really are in a fortunate position from a political perspective. Don’t forget that there are almost two billion people on this earth that want to vote but cant…that there are hundreds of millions of people that can vote, but don’t. However, Australia is one of the few countries in the world that compels it’s citizens to vote – each and every one of you will be eligible to cast a ballot in the next state and federal elections. That in itself delivers you a considerable responsibility. You can directly impact upon the decision making process.

Of course things have changed considerably on the political front over the last quarter of a century. In the seventies there were essentially two parties – the Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party…sorry Keys House…we also had the Country Party. Regardless, politically, Australia was pretty much a two horse race and people voted accordingly. Voting day was a very pleasant occasion…

The women polling booth workers got out their gloves and pearls and lippy and the men their Stetson hats and braces and they would arrive at their allotted booth at five minutes to eight for an eight o’clock start with their thermos and sandwiches, set up the card table  under the closest tree and wait for the voters. Today’s elections are not quite as staid. Booth workers from a vast array of Parties, ranging from the two stayers to the ferals at the extremes of the spectrum, often camp out the night before to get the best possible position. Verbal and physical abuse amongst Party workers is almost common place. Politics is alive!

This is where you come in guys – no doubt you will hold similar views to your peers in the general community with regard to such issues as the environment, defence, asylum seekers and so on. What I would like to say to you in this regard is to encourage you to get involved – to have your say. You have the capability to change the direction of public policy. You have the capacity to influence the voting patterns of your elected representatives. You have the opportunity to become a part of one of the most vibrant liberal-democracies on earth.

Statistically, there is every chance that at least one of you will one day hold public office… there is even more of a chance that a number of you will become active members of a political party – and it is a certainty that almost all of you will use the franchise provided by the founding fathers of this nation to shape the political landscape for years.

The Churchill’s, the Mandella’s, the Gorbachev’s fought so hard to achieve something that we regard as commonplace. I encourage you, at the very least, to be conscious and appreciative of what we have here in Australia, and at the most – to become involved in the process. I think that Winston Churchill basically got it right when he said:

“Democracy means not criticising your government when out of the country and never ceasing to do so when at home”.

As I said guys, get involved – politics can be dirty, it can be ruthless, it can be devastating – but having the opportunity to make a difference is inextricably linked with a level of reward and satisfaction that you wouldn’t consider possible.

To remain with a similar theme…

As previously mentioned, there certainly were events which shaked our conscience and confidence in the 1970’s. While there was the Munich massacre and the increased prevalence of hijacking as a means of negotiation, Vietnam and all that it represented impacted upon us most significantly. I remember the feeling of vulnerability at the sight of those helicopters being pushed off the decks of the aircraft carriers in the Tonkin Gulf to make way for the distressed and traumatised South Vietnamese as they escaped the encroaching Viet Cong in 1975. I was convinced that the communists would eventually make their way to Kalgoorlie. Ironically, I argued constantly with my then History teacher, Paul Murphy, that his notion that it wouldn’t happen was rubbish. The politics of the situation is irrelevant, the point is – it definitely had an impact. And, while Vietnam is no longer a concern, each subsequent decade has revealed it’s own issues. However, I feel that the global challenges of contemporary society – your issues – are vastly more confronting than those that we  – your parents and teachers had to deal with.

The world, dare I say it, over the past two years, is a different place. You have born witness to a significant shift in global attitudes and values. I would be surprised if any of you were not affected by the events surrounding September 11 2001 and October 12, 2002. To a degree these events symbolised the end of certainty for all of us, but, I would suggest, more so for you – young men in the formative years of your lives. I vividly remember the day following the September 11 attacks, and the profound impact that these events had upon the boys in my classes – which of course included many of you. While the world is full of much unnecessary human hardship – the terrorist attacks in New York and Bali stand alone in terms of their impact.

I do hope that devastating events such as these haven’t shaken your faith in destiny – in the fundamental good of mankind, for, while I am certainly not qualified nor sufficiently learned to offer you spiritual advice – of one thing I am sure – and that is, that in God’s eyes, whatever your perception of him might be, our period on this earth is but a blink of his eye. Everything does follow a natural progression – and while things don’t necessarily always work out the way we would prefer, we should never be constrained by what ‘might be’.  I hope that, rather than reflecting negatively from recent events, you accept the notion that we are very much a part of a global society and that there is a grand plan of which you are an essential component. The world really is lying there, waiting to be conquered – don’t be reluctant to travel…to explore…to experience different cultures and lifestyles…to marvel at the wondrous natural and man-made features across the globe. I encourage you not to be constrained by events beyond your control.  Remember guys that survivors in the adversities of life almost always emerge as achievers.

From another angle guys, while in the ‘70s we thought that television and then television in colour no less was phenomenal, that all seems so Neanderthal compared with the technology of the 21st century – your technology. DVD’s, mobiles, computers and of course the internet. I am sure that you are aware that you are a part of the first generation to draw from the benefits of the internet. Copious quantities of information on any conceivable subject is available for you at the push of a button. It is just so easy to befriend that monitor because it provides easy access to your every demand…without answering back – assessment items, chat rooms, trivia…you name it.

While I would never deny the attributes of this revolution in information technology, I would like to recommend that you give it a miss every now and again and that you allow time to ‘smell the roses’. That is, don’t forget to communicate through words occasionally – the art of verbal communication mustn’t be lost on you. Listen, talk, read and communicate – express your feelings, your ideas, through words, through eye contact – the message that you send through this manner will be vehemently more effective and sincere.

Next, I would like to turn to an area  which is dear to me – the family. I guess that you can take the boy out of Kalgoorlie, but you can’t take Kalgoorlie out of the boy – my family means everything to me and I am convinced that this stems from those wonderful childhood days in Kal. Needless to say, the nuclear family has changed somewhat over the past quarter of a century and, based upon recent legislative changes, will no doubt change further in years to come. However, parents will remain the focal point of any family. And guys, I am sure that you don’t need me to tell you what an essential component of your life your family is. However, it is just so easy to lose sight of the role of your family, particularly your parents, as your priorities shift.

I remember as if it were yesterday the night of my final exam in Year 11. It was a typically balmy November night in Kalgoorlie. My parents told me that my beautiful mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. It is difficult to describe the emotions one feels when faced with the prospect of losing someone you love, suffice to say that every living second for what seemed an eternity in the following weeks appeared pointless to me – my exam results, my horse, my tennis, Christmas – it was all so irrelevant. The following months were harrowing with my mother enduring a lengthy operation followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. My folks sold our shop and moved to Perth for my mother to receive ongoing treatment. I spent Year 12 with my sister and her new husband. While it wasn’t a perfect environment to complete my final year of schooling, my primary concern was the welfare of my mum. Even a dose of rheumatic fever didn’t shift the balance, because, while physically debilitating, I knew that my condition would heal – the same certainty didn’t exist with my mum.

I can’t tell you how much it means to me to be able to tell you that, despite a recurrence ten years later, my mum proved them wrong! Through her tenacity and, I am sure, the grace of God, she proved them wrong! As she prepares for her 70th birthday and 50th wedding anniversary next year both she and my dad are essential components of my life.

I tell you this story to emphasise the necessity of nurturing the bond between yourself and your parents and of the need to avoid taking them for granted. They are your greatest admirers and I hope that you never forget this. I am sure that on numerous occasions in the past, particularly during the last two pressure driven years, you have convinced yourself that you and your parents are simply ‘not compatible’. And guys, I can assure you, there will be dozens of occasions in future years when you will feel exactly the same. However, these times, as they have been in the past, will be ill founded and superficial – they will be ‘flesh wounds’ not ‘wounds of the heart’.

I can’t encourage you strongly enough to take advantage of the strengths of your parents.  Don’t forget guys, they too are individuals. They probably rocked, they probably smoked, they probably wagged school on occasions, they probably even went to Rotto once or twice after exams…..they might even have had the odd alcoholic beverage or two in their time – you know mums and dads – Ben Ean Moselle, Star Wine, Cold Duck sparklie, the odd flagon or two –  look at them guys – are they smiling? If they are it’s YES to all of the above. I think that you would be amazed at just how much you and your parents have in common if you scratch beneath the surface. Yes, they have been through everything that you have endured and survived. They have opinions on music and movies and politics. They have been hurt and rejected, they have felt inadequate and defeated. They also have some wonderful memories and achievements – of times at school and possibly university…professional accomplishments…of parties…a wedding…of holidays and of course, …the birth of their son…Why don’t you take the opportunity to ask them about these times in the next few months guys…ask them.

Don’t waste this opportunity guys. As you prepare for a new era in your lives, remember that your greatest attributes are sitting by your side.

And now guys, to you – what about you? You see this is where, no matter how much things change, they really do stay the same. The fundamental challenges regarding your future are basically the same as those facing the leavers of the 1970’s or the 1980’s or the 1990’s.

With this in mind, I wonder just how you are feeling right now? No doubt more relaxed than you have done in living memory. And deservedly so. Savour the moment because before long there will be another round of decision making to be done. Yet somehow this time it will be different – the decisions will fundamentally be yours and yours alone. This will be virgin territory which will involve risk taking and asking you to remove yourself from your comfort zone. You alone will be asked to make decisions relating to your career choice, your relationships and social habits and of course your political persuasion!

What a great period of your life – when you can make the decisions.  While the latitude no doubt varies considerably from family to family, things have pretty much been ‘cruisie’ to this point in the decision making stakes. The meals each night, the school you attended, when, where and the length of your social life, in some instances the company you kept, the hours you studied, how you dressed at school, how many training sessions you attended, the endless deadlines…etc…etc …etc.   Well how soft is that?  Decisions made for you!  Well no longer! No more excuses…no more pigeon-holes…no one to blame…time to use those rapidly broadening shoulders. This is decision time guys.

And, while my years of teaching and coaching have taught me a lot, I would never be so bold as to suggest to you that I have the panacea for success – that is, which decisions are right for you.

What I will say though guys, is that I have always made a determined and conscious effort to go with my heart…to go with my strengths…

And this philosophy has given me a tremendous amount of satisfaction and fulfilment – it is one that I recommend to you.

I remember the reservations articulated from so many around me when I resigned from PLC in 1988 to go on the tennis tour with one of my protégés, Jenny Byrne. While I was thoroughly enjoying my career at PLC, I felt so comfortable with my decision to give it all up – to relinquish a good income and stable existence. Basically, to move outside of my comfort zone. To compete with the best in the world and to wake up every day with my goals so clearly defined was a mantra from heaven for me. To watch Jen defeat two top ten players as she made the way to the final at Palm Springs,  or to sit in the coaches box at Wimbledon to agonise over a 6/4 in the third set loss in the final of the mixed doubles were experiences that will live with me forever. Ultimately of course I came back to teaching, and, while the tour was full of amazing and even absurd pressures, I never for a moment regret that decision.

Equally, no more significantly, the Scotch one game win over Aquinas to capture the Corr Cup in 2000 was a script that couldn’t be written. Every time that I see one of the boys that made up that team, there is a unique communication that words cannot convey.

And, every day, when I walk into room 70 and provide or receive knowledge from my students, I know that I am doing the right thing – I know that I’ve made the right decision.

From a political perspective, I have frequently been off-side with my contemporaries – as a very junior member of the Liberal Party in 1970’s Kalgoorlie and as a Liberal Student at UWA in particular. This of course was just the start – by so publicly nailing my commitment to the mast I have been open to abuse and criticism from numerous avenues.  However, just to clarify a point, and to act as an example that all student who pass through room 70 don’t emerge as fascists – I take you to the Nedlands Primary School Booth (MY Booth) at the 1996 federal election – four of my ex-students were, periodically during the day handing out how-to-vote cards for four separate parties – the Greens, the independent, the ALP and of course the Libs! Either I’d put off the first three so much that they chose anyone apart from the Libs – or they’d developed their own political conscience…I would suggest to you the latter. But I digress…again guys, the important thing is that, like those four boys, I feel comfortable with my political philosophy – I feel that I’ve made the right decision.

And now from your perspective guys – what I will say to you, is that every time you make a decision from here on in, particularly those that directly impact upon your lifestyle, you will be faced with challenges – some will be of an external nature, over which you will have little control.  Also, there will be verbal constraints from the envious and cynical – those who will strive to establish you at mediocrity to satisfy their own inadequacies. However, most challenges will come from within. The mind really is a battlefield and complacency and self doubt will be your two most potent adversaries. These two, along with unfulfilled potential, are amongst  the world’s most prolific character traits. It will become just so easy to treat life as a series of events rather than a series of opportunities.

I encourage you not to be afraid to move outside of your comfort zone – to take some risks – to believe in yourself –-you just might surprise yourself.

Finally, I speak to each and every one of you when I say to you that you are special – in the eyes of your parents, in the eyes of your teachers, in the eyes of God – you really are special. You, as an individual, have unique talent and strengths and as the days ahead turn to months and the months to years, you will be provided with endless opportunities to manifest these strengths… as a student or apprentice…as a batsman, a swimmer or possibly a musician…as a lawyer, a farmer, a teacher or an artist… as a son…as a husband…as a father.  Ultimately, it is incumbent upon you and you alone to utilise these strengths. Above all else guys, my message to you is simple……go with your strengths.

On behalf of the staff and your parents, I toast the valedictees.

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