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Sweeping the Sheds

With the access to the world at our fingertips, we are constantly bombarded with images and stories that seem to paint the young people in our world in a not so glamorous light. As an older person, I am aware that sometimes teenagers are misunderstood and the availability of social media has led to adults getting a biased view of today’s youth.

The apparent aloofness that is seen in screen time addiction, has also helped to create an unfair appraisal of today’s younger generations. When I hear ‘older’ generations critique the young, I often feel that amnesia is a growing epidemic. It is a shame that as we get older we seem to lose perspective of our own younger years.

No we did not have the opportunity to be immersed in a cyber world, but I recall countless hours in my room spent listening to excessively loud LPs thundering out – being a little older I suspect than most of our parents, heavy metal was my distraction of choice. I recall that the adults of my generation seemed to shake their heads and think that the young of my generation seemed distant and distracted by too much time in front of televisions – I vividly recall that colour TV was widely available just before my teenage years. I recall thinking how incredible colour TV was – almost unbelievable.

I have often remarked that the younger generations I encounter fill me with great hope for our future. Their adventurous streak that scares many adults, excites me for discovering a future that is beyond the grasp and capacity of most adults. Young school leavers today we are told will have, on average, six career changes in their working lives – not a change of jobs but changes in career direction. As a one occupation journeyman over the last forty years, I don’t know if this challenges me or scares me. The young teenagers I see today in general have strong values and importantly a strength of character to stand up for what they believe in. They are, much to the dismay of some adults, people of action. Sadly a minority will portray an image of these young people of action in a negative light. As a school teacher I see, and choose to see, this concept of young people of action in a positive light. The majority of young people I engage with are positive and committed in their actions and they are making a difference in our world one small step at a time.

Over the last couple of weeks I have experienced a couple of events that have shown me that our young people fill me with hope. On Saturday I watched our Year 10B soccer team compete against St Edmund’s College up at Tivoli. I don’t think I am being unfair in saying that as a team, they are not the most skilful soccer players. But a lack of skill does not stop them by any stretch of the imagination. They compete, they enjoy their soccer, they show great team spirit, they keep on persisting, they are optimistic, they have fun and they are proud young men. On Saturday the game brought a tear to the eye of many spectators. Our Year 10B team has as one of their proudest members, Bobby Pate. Bobby loves his soccer and is every bit a member of the team as everyone else. Bobby has Downs Syndrome but this does not limit him. With the help of his team mates, Bobby is an integral member of the team. I suppose an objective assessment would show that the team would be potentially stronger if Bobby and some of the other players who weren’t as skilful didn’t play or had limited game time. But for the Year 10Bs this is not their lived reality. Being part of the team is open to everyone and playing the best you can with all members competing is the sole objective of the season.

While this in itself is a great objective, last Saturday’s game went a step further. The Year 10Bs St Edmund’s opponents on Saturday went above and beyond. In a close game with ATC up 1-0 at half time the referee advised the ATC team that the St Edmund’s team had decided that they would like to assist in giving Bobby a chance to score a goal. I suspect that as the last game of the year, they thought that Bobby probably doesn’t get the same opportunity as most to live the moment of scoring a goal. About fifteen minutes into the second half Bobby’s persistence of following play and toiling away was rewarded with the opportunity to put the ball into the back of the net. While it did take a second attempt Bobby was able to put the ball past the keeper to score a memorable goal. The excitement of Bobby and both teams was generous and genuine. The fact that the St Edmund’s team and their coach Josh, made this decision is uplifting. There was no collusion from our team or supporters, this was their decision. I suspect they just wanted to be a part of the inclusion game. The atmosphere on the sideline from all adults, ATC and St Edmunds, was a joy to be a part of this special moment. It is times like this that gives me such hope for our future.

Later I caught up and relayed this story to their Principal Diarmuid O’Riordan. Diarmuid was similarly filled with pride. He told me that they have a push at their school to encourage their young men to be ‘Kind Men, Strong Men, Gentle Men, Eddies Men.’ I certainly experienced this today, young Eddies men showing kindness, strength and gentleness. When we say we are a part of a group of schools who operate under the banner of Catholic schools in the Edmund Rice tradition we don’t often get a chance outside our own community to experience a wider sense of what this means. Saturday certainly made me feel proud to experience such a moving occasion with a fellow EREA school.

On Sunday morning in driving rain our U14 and U16 AFL teams fronted up in trying conditions to take on division leaders in both of their games. The U14 Moreton Bay opposition team towered over our young men, they had probably 8 or 9 players taller than our tallest player. Their athleticism and skill was similarly far in excess of our team. For our U16 team the story was much the same. The under 16 team has been ravaged by injury and yet they man up each week knowing that victory is not a strong likelihood. Both teams on Sunday were soundly down on the scoreboard, but each of them stood tall in terms of their commitment and competitiveness. I was enormously impressed by their dogged determination and willingness to put their bodies on the line. I suspect both individual and team pride drive them to achieve this. As adults our experiences have allowed us to realise that our greatest opportunities for learning come through adversity. I suspect that the young men of our U14 and U16 AFL teams have already worked this out and they are certainly standing taller through this season.

At our recent Year 6 Mass, Erin Moffat our Year Coordinator addressed the boys around the theme of the Mass on servant leadership. She spoke to the boys about what the All Blacks do to leave a legacy, to leave the team and the spirit of the All Blacks in a better space than when they first came into the team. Erin said “I was recently given a book called: Legacy – what the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life. In the first few pages, it mentions the Kiwi rugby mantra: ‘make sure that the place we go to, we leave it in as good, if not better shape, than we arrived’. One of the legacies established within the All Blacks is called Sweeping the Sheds. After matches, it is the senior players – the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter that stayed behind after everyone had left and swept the locker rooms. The thought of the most successful captain in the history of the sport, and rugby’s greatest ever point scorer, together sweeping out mud, tape and rubbish from a change room underscores the humility behind these men. This ritual is the true embodiment of “servant leadership”. You will hear this notion of ‘servant leadership’ in our scripture today through our ultimate model of service; Jesus – who proclaimed a message of service, justice and leading with our hearts. It is also the feast of Saint Philip Neri who was known as the Italian reformer. He was a missionary who worked tirelessly with the poor and marginalised with a sense of gentleness and humility. His legacy, like Jesus was one of human relationships where putting others first was always at the forefront of their minds … So how do we become servant leaders? It begins with character, and character begins with humility. We quietly and unassumingly put our hand up and not out. We put the interests of others at the centre of our decisions…(think of 3 others and then yourself) Legacy is what stays long after you have left. Today Year 6, I challenge you to start your legacy and make sure you leave the Junior School in as good, if not better shape, than when you arrived. Little things count.”

A couple of weeks ago we conducted a Formation Evening for families of our Year 7 2018 cohort. This involved both continuing and new students and parents. The aim of the evening was to begin the formation of next year’s Year 7 community. For our returning parents and students they played an important welcoming role. As custodians of our community ‘feeling’ parents and students were the face, voice and presence of the community we value. What is often not understood, or at times understated, is the impact of our contribution to this important process. I know that I have had a number of comments passed onto me by appreciative new families. The underlying theme has been one of genuine thanks for the evening and in particular the warm sense of welcome they felt from the night and the real feeling of community that was shared by returning families. Without embarrassing one of our students I would like to share part of an email we received following the Formation evening. It is often not realised how simple caring gestures make all the difference.

“I just wanted to pass on my thanks to the staff and students at ATC for providing such a great start to our relationship with the school. I’d also like to say thank you specifically to a boy who is currently in Year 6, Elijah (Harris-Loft), who made such a positive difference to my son Tom’s start on his journey at ATC. Tom was understandably a bit nervous because there are no other boys from his current school who will be starting at ATC in 2018. He didn’t have a built in group of mates and it can be tough to break in when kids already know one another. Neither my husband or I are from Brisbane originally, … so we don’t have many connections to the area who we could put Tom in contact with. On top of this my husband was unwell last night and so he couldn’t attend the Formation Evening, which left Tom and I hanging out together as ATC “newbies”. Without perhaps knowing it, Elijah has made the biggest difference to Tom’s outlook on transitioning to ATC. He was inclusive, introduced him to existing friends and made him feel welcome. It was just the start Tom needed and now he’s full of excitement about next year. … I would like to acknowledge that the seemingly small gestures can make the biggest difference to people and to say thank you.”

I have a great hope for the future, today’s young people are no different to older generations, they are just growing up in a different world to the world we grew up in. The young men I encounter in my work as a teacher fill with me with pride and hope. The average young man I share our ATC experience with is thoughtful, compassionate and resourceful. To be the young men that we want them to be, they need our support, our positive encouragement and our nurturing guidance.

I would ask the College community to please keep Noah Wood (Year 9 B) and his family in your thoughts and prayers following the recent passing of his maternal grandmother. We hope that the passage of time will allow the pain of her passing to ease and that there can be a real sense of celebration for the joy that she brought to all their lives. Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord, May perpetual light shine upon her, May she rest in peace. Amen.

With best wishes,
Michael Senior