Friday 21 May 2021

Friends Listen

For the last six years, the College has assigned one assembly each year for a pastoral purpose that is considered to be special and noteworthy. In 2015, the College Captain Xavier Eales inaugurated this tradition and spoke about his challenges with mental health. It was a powerful and courageous statement about a person’s private struggles with depression and anxiety in the most public of domains. His intention was to support other boys who experience mental health difficulties and to encourage them to seek help. Two years later, another Year 12 student, Finn Stannard, spoke about his sexual orientation – something which had been the cause of marginalisation and alienation during his early adolescent years. Different stories, but ones that are not uncommon as boys grow into men. There has been much in between – boarders who have addressed the difficulties their families have faced with drought and floods, boys whose cultural background has been cause for discrimination and vilification, boys who have struggled with learning difficulties, and the list goes on. Why is there such a forum? To recognise that there are many diverse causes of difficulty in our world and that the courage to share a problem invites others to recognise their own vulnerability and be encouraged to work through it. It requires enormous trust, great fortitude and deep respect for such matters to be a point of disclosure, and to rely on the ‘infinite arms’ of the community to offer support and assistance to those who, for whatever reasons, find themselves alone.

The Friends Listen Assembly which was held on Wednesday profiled two very special young men – Jack Farhat (pictured left) and Tom Hamer. Jack is a member of the Inclusion Program. He enrolled at the College in Year 7 and is completing his graduation year. Jack’s challenges, and those of his family, have been manifold and particularly acute over the years. Jack has a disability that has seen him undertake the Life Skills course rather than HSC studies. From the earliest age Jack has encountered difficulty with his learning but has persisted with great endeavour to achieve on a level fully commensurate with his ability. Through his leadership, his genuine concern for other boys and his modelling of school values, Jack was elected House Captain of Southwell House. It is a role he has fulfilled with distinction, embracing the values of the College in a most distinctive way. Jack spoke with great passion about the support he has received over the years – from his friends, his family and from those who have responded to his learning needs and his psycho-social challenges.

Tom Hamer is currently College Vice Captain (Day Boys). Like Jack, he is a person of enormous integrity and character who fulfils a highly visible and demanding role. Tom’s challenge, particularly in his younger teen years, has been to manage deep anxiety and mental health struggles. In the early years Tom felt alone and alienated as a young man, before he took the step of approaching his family to share his problem, revealing to the community in a very public statement that “a problem shared is a problem halved”. Tom elaborated on his challenges over the years with the encouragement for any boy who is feeling down, confused or uncertain as to where to go, to reach out, to access the support bases that involve significant adults, friends or professional services. This has been instrumental for Tom in dealing with life’s challenges and circumstances.

Both boys received a standing ovation from a packed assembly auditorium. This was a moment of great humility; one that held such disarming honesty that had to be felt to be so profoundly experienced.

Jack and Tom’s stories will live on in the hearts and minds of those who heard them. The Friends Listen Assembly will remain for me, personally, a highlight of the year for it not only gives young men of courage, integrity and depth an opportunity to share their life experience, but it creates space in the school community for it to be heard and respected. It is an insight into many things:

  • The importance of a community that can become sensitised to, and respond to the needs of others.
  • The importance of diversity in schools, of how shared experiences can promote understanding and ‘education’ – in the broadest and richest sense of the word.
  • The pre-eminent role of student leadership. Both Jack and Tom are significant leaders in the College and the witness that they bring to their position is exemplary.
  • The role of courage, integrity, trust and humility as building blocks of community.

On behalf of the entire College community, I offer a statement of deep personal thanks to Jack and Tom and their families for their generosity, their wholesome sense of virtue and their commitment to the cause of the greater good. These are men for others, men to be proud of, men who stand tall in the public domain through their conviction and their courage.

Dr Paul Hine