The year came to a climax in the Ramsay Hall on Wednesday with Speech Day and the presentation of awards for excellence across all year levels. The Assembly opened with a visual montage of the wonderful opportunities that have been presented to the boys throughout 2014 and the way that they have embraced them. Thanks are extended to Mr Greg Skeed, whose creativity and talent capture these moments and present them in such an animated fashion. Special guest for the occasion was Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, who presented some compelling insights into the plight of refugees on Christmas, Nauru and Manus Islands, which collectively accounts for the internment of approximately 5,500 asylum seekers, which includes 789 children. While Professor Triggs spoke with great passion and eloquence on human rights, she implored the boys to be forever mindful of and grateful for their freedom to live in a democratic society, and to have access to the education that is provided at Riverview. Neither should ever be taken for granted.
Special congratulations are extended to the boys who were the recipients of major awards on Speech Day. These young men across all year levels have set goals and worked assiduously towards them and they deserve the deep satisfaction that comes with aspirations of excellence and the commendations that come with them in the public domain. It is fitting, in an Ignatian school, that due acknowledgement is given to those who hold the torch of scholarship and burn it brightly; something that is deeply embedded within a tradition that spans 450 years.
A rare honour was bestowed upon Mr Peter McLean on Speech Day as he accepted an Insignis Medal presented by Fr Ross Jones for distinguished service to the College over 31 years. To Mr McLean, his wife Sharon who is also retiring, along with other members of staff who have made significant inputs to the College and are leaving, a statement of gratitude is extended.
Scenes around the grounds of Riverview over the weekend gave cause for pause: before each and every game of cricket the boys donned black armbands and commemorated the loss of Phillip Hughes in a solemn and respectful manner. While the loss is so very tragic, it gives opportunity to reflect on the big issues in life – faith, family, friendships and futures. Christmas can be an emotional time of year, a time to look back on all that has transpired, to count ones blessings and to mourn loss. It speaks to a rhythm of parenthesis when the liturgical year, the school year and the calendar year come to a close and when the anticipation of a new year beckons but has yet to arrive. In the case of the former, there were so many points of growth – so many highlights and achievements throughout 2014, but there were also missed opportunities and the loss that is inevitably part of the very large community that Riverview is. And so, as we like so many others convey our condolences to the family and friends of Phillip Hughes, we participate in the process of reflection that is synonymous with Ignatian spirituality as we recognise our own graces and move forward into the opportunities that will open up across the summer and into 2015.
As the school year comes to a close, many different tours and immersions head off overseas to carry the story of Saint Ignatius’ to different hemispheres of the world. Four separate immersions leave Australia just after Christmas bound for India, Cambodia, Nepal and the Philippines. These young men, their teachers and Old Ignatians will work alongside marginalised and disadvantaged communities for three weeks in the faith through service program and experience the inimitable gains that are part of it. Students in the senior secondary are also headed for Europe and the United States to engage in sporting competitions with other Jesuit schools, strengthening the international character of the Society of Jesus across the world. There will be much to report back on in the new year.
It is my genuine hope that the boys have a well-earned break over the coming weeks. In so doing, it is important to reflect on the central significance of Cristes moesse, ‘the mass or festival of Christ’, the first celebration of Christmas that took place in Rome nearly 2,000 years ago. Even in pre-Christian times the period between 25 December and 6 January was considered a special time of observance, one that has intensified since the nativity story and the significance attached to it. Christmas is a time to break from the routines and schedules of busy personal and professional lives; it is a time to encourage the good in the world and promote a rich sense of community. It is a time to be at peace with each other and with God.
Best wishes for the festive season and I look forward to the challenges and rewards of 2015 with enormous hope and encouragement.