Thursday, November 12, 2009

time to celebrate

I felt really privileged recently to be invited to a school in Albury to speak at their student leadership day. I came away excited and invigorated by the energy and creativity of these year 11 students who created the space to discuss what leadership meant to them, their school and their community. I was struck by the wisdom and thoughtfulness present in all discussions. There were many occasions when I heard a desire to understand others in their community. At one point the group was asked how they would respond to a simple situation as a leader: what would they do if a student arrived at school and wasn’t wearing their uniform properly. The answers given were not reactive or interested in exerting power. One student said “I would ask how their morning was. There could be something really bad going on for them” These students constantly showed a deep understanding of the whole person. I look forward to spending more time with this group of young adults. I think they are going to teach me a lot about respect, creative thinking and wholeness.

These reflections of inspiring young adults are not the pictures we often see painted in our mainstream media. I always get upset at this time of year, as the media gets stuck in to school leavers, calling them everything from “unruly” to “unethical”. People everywhere seem to sigh “oh, the youth of today, they are so (insert derogatory adjective)…blah blah blah. ..” Little space is given to reflect or ask questions of the education system or the wider community. Every year, it seems, another fear campaign is launched against young people. This article in the Age tipped me over the edge and I had to respond:

I find it fascinating that the press continues to portray school leavers as one narcissistic, heaving mass. There are countless stories of young people from across the country planning creative and sustainable experiences to celebrate the end of their schooling. Last year a group of school leavers volunteered in East Timor during Schoolies and next year, in 2010, school leavers from across the state will participate in Schoolies With a Cause, an alternative schoolies program which will take young people on exposure trips to Indonesia, Cape York or Grampians National Park. Volunteers across the state also support school leavers in their local communities by driving shuttle buses, hosting free bbqs and making sure people get home safely.

Why this constant shallow reporting on end of year celebration stories? It is clear that this is an important time for young adults. We all need rituals and celebrations to mark out milestones in our lives, to grieve what has gone and welcome what is to come. Many year 12 students are celebrating this particular milestone in respectful and caring ways. And we can join them. What are we afraid of finding out if we were to get to know the school leavers in our community and ask some deeper questions? I am excited that our community has the opportunity to join with these young adults in celebrating their 13 years of schooling.

(This post is only partly to plug the Schoolies with a Cause program that we are working on for next year and mostly born out of a desire to celebrate stories of young people)


  1. Great post Sarah.

    It's unfortunate that the only things that get reported on are the negatives. A few hundred making a mess are always guaranteed a write-up. The many thousands who manage not to get arrested or hospitalised get ignored, even on a slow news day.

    Maybe you should do a spotlight on some young people doing worthwhile things.

    BTW, I like your photo:

  2. Thanks Nethy. (particularly for pointing out that extremely hot photo of me!)
    It's really exciting to see some good press about schoolies this year:
    On Saturday, The Age profiled a group of students heading off to India this week: And even the Herald Sun has put a positive spin on things "praising school leavers"

  3. A great article by Jane Fynes-Clinton from the Courier Mail which elaborates on my point:
    "Leave the Schoolies celebration alone. Stop presuming all participants are louts bent on self and public destruction."