Today, we come together to celebrate the installation of our 2020-2021 Prefects, a group that has already this year, both collectively and individually, demonstrated why they were chosen to fulfill this important role.
This ceremony is a time to affirm our school’s commitment to leadership – a commitment to leadership by young women and for young women. I want to acknowledge specifically the important role that gender plays in our school community because far too often and for too many years women were expected to emulate leadership models that emphasized toughness, competition, and hierarchical power structures that rewarded success at any cost. We were taught to believe that our advancement might have to come at the expense of another – and that other was often another woman because society told us in so many implicit and explicit ways that there were very few chairs for women at the table.
What we weren’t taught was the price we paid for accepting a style of leadership that was not of our own making. We weren’t encouraged to consider the part of ourselves we left behind when we fought to push open the traditional doors of power. But over time and because of the intrepid and determined work of women (and men) who have come before you, the model of leadership we hold dear today is one that recognizes you in your entirety, that encourages you to lift others up as you, yourself, strive for growth. It is leadership grounded in wisdom and compassion, in bravery and self-examination – a leadership that recognizes there is strength in fostering the collective health and wellness of our community.
Let me give you an example of how you young women have already demonstrated leadership. This service is typically held the first Friday of the school year, yet here we are, in our second month back. And the reason for this delay is your commitment to one another – your decision to wait until you could all be together to celebrate this moment as a sisterhood united. In these days of Zoom, no one would have faulted you for wanting to hold a virtual service in order to don that white blazer sooner than today. But you recognized that leadership does not rest in the trappings of what you wear but in what you carry within your heart.
We come together today in a way that is much different than in years past. We come together outside in chilly weather, as a small group with loved ones watching from home, separated by distance with masks that cover your beaming smiles and the proud smiles of those sitting beside you and standing in front of you. We come together in this way because we, and more specifically you, are leaders – leaders who put the well-being of those around you ahead of your own desires, leaders who value academic integrity and respect the science that guides our actions through these challenging times. And you young women, in particular, are leaders who are rising to an unprecedented challenge and modelling how to show grace, maintain humour, and act with the resolve needed to get things done.
Today in Assembly, we paid tribute to singer and songwriter Helen Reddy who passed away last week at the age of 78. Although I suspected that none of you likely knew the anthem that made Helen Reddy a household name in the 1970s, I asked you to listen to the song, “I Am Woman” and reflect on the question: Do those lyrics speak to me today?
You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul
Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman
To the young women before me today, I know you will lead us throughout this year with strength and deep conviction. You have shown us already that you are prepared to meet the challenge of these times with creativity, compassion and sound judgement.
Thank you for the service you will provide this year as you follow in the footsteps of the many Trafalgar Castle School prefects who have come before you.