Next week marks the start of the first external exams for the Year 12 students of Queensland.
What have we learned this year? And I use the word “we” because while Year 12 (and the other students across the School) have learnt about Physics, Art, English, Mathematics, Design, Creativity, (et al) we all have learnt more about ourselves, life and the world around us.
Some of the things we might all say we have learnt include:
- The word “unprecedented” has been so over-used that it has lost its meaning.
- Life is fragile. All we know and take for granted can be upended in a moment.
- We share one planet with all peoples. We are now so interconnected that what happens in one city can quickly spread across the entire globe, affecting us all.
- We are incredibly lucky to live in Australia. There is nowhere else I would rather be at this time.
- Resilience is vital: to be able to cope, grow and thrive.
- What really matters in life are the things we do often marginalise. It isn’t work, materialism, holidays, travel, nights out, or even a great ATAR, but relationships, family and community.
If the Apostle Paul, for whom our School is named, was to write to the graduating class of 2020, he might say something similar to the words penned in his letter to the Romans (5:3):
“we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”
If there is one thing that we have all learnt this year, it is that life can be difficult, and without hope, we languish in fear and self-pity.
I am not sure how you felt, but when I first saw the images of people falling ill in China in January this year, just after the worst bushfire season Australia has ever known, I felt alarmed. I didn’t believe all the images or stories that I was hearing on the news. We certainly haven’t seen people dropping dead in the streets here, as some of the overseas images led us to believe, but I did begin to worry that something would spread quickly across the globe. We had always been warned that a pandemic was humanity’s greatest threat.
Suffering as a result of the pandemic has befallen all of us. We have had to respond to our own fears and emotions. We have had to make adjustments to how we live. We have had to obey the various restrictions placed on us, often seemingly unreasonable or contradictory restrictions. But I know that my personal “suffering” is nothing compared to those who live in countries with inadequate health care systems, and those who have lost work, become ill, been in intensive care, or lost a loved one. I have been incredibly lucky. I have just been inconvenienced (and ran short of toilet paper for a while!).
Apostle Paul wrote many letters to different communities around the then known world. He wrote a lot about suffering and life, and he knew a thing or two about suffering. He was shipwrecked, bitten by a deadly snake, was stoned, gaoled, and had a chronic and painful illness that plagued him every day.
Disappointment, sickness, hurt and death are all part of life. How we choose to respond to those crises sets us on a path to despair or hope. Paul’s letter to the Romans, to us, is a great encouragement because it reminds us that perseverance produces character and character gives rise to hope.
This year has been particularly challenging for Year 12 students across the entire country. It has not been the final year of School that they expected, but I know they have learned far more about life this year than any other. It has been a year that has brought tremendous opportunities to learn more about ourselves.
Our students have persevered. They have bounced back from the many disappointments they have had to bear. They have realised that life is far more than the things you gather, the grades you achieve, and the achievements you make. It is about people, relationships and community. Through their perseverance, they have become men and women of character – and character produces hope.
On behalf of the St Paul’s School community, we wish all Year 12 students the very best, not just for the exams next week, but for the next chapters of their lives.
Dr Paul Browning