Recently in an Assembly presentation, I commenced by asking what the following words mean:
Awesome? I mentioned, in my opinion, that this had been somewhat diluted compared to the original connotation.
Hero? Again, perhaps eroded from its original status.
Extraordinary? So far, this term appears to have retained value and meaning.
I mentioned that it was the word extraordinary that I would focus on and link to the importance of cairns.
Recently, I commented that we, as partners, all play a role in making a school special. Parents, teachers and students. However, in this Assembly, I wished to focus on the role of students in this partnership.
I then posed the question: Beyond the obvious academic achievement and progress, what values or character traits am I looking for in students from our school?
I listed the following: Confident, authentic, respectful, balanced, accepting, empathetic, sincere, true to yourself, proud and generous.
My Assembly then turned to the word cairn.
So, what is a cairn?
A cairn is a wonderful Scottish word. It refers to a pile of stones, predominantly found in the mountains. These stones are used, to this day, to mark a path or some interesting location.
As a traveler, it is also traditional for you to add a stone to the cairn – in appreciation for those who passed before you. By adding a stone, you also show gratitude for the guidance and direction that the cairn has provided.
One example of a cairn, that not many know about and is so significant, is a cairn that provides an opportunity to stop, or in this case stumble, to take time to remember, are the Stolpersteine plaques in Salzburg, Austria. These are actually made out of brass, but the literal translation of Stolpersteine, is stumble stone.
They are slightly elevated in the concrete of the pavements to cause pedestrians to stumble. The plaques are dedicated to the Jewish residents of Salzburg who were murdered during the Holocaust during the 2nd World War.
This initiative was started in the 1990s and since then there are 1000s of these commemorative plaques in Europe. Each is a “cairn” if you may, to keep alive forever, the memory of innocent victims.
Memory is important. As students and teachers, we need to be custodians of school memories, but also be in a position to guide future generations along memory paths which have been left behind.
So how can The Bay Academy be a cairn? How can it guide you to “take the right path” and others to follow?
Despite many difficult challenges, the school as a community has endured and even grown, if not in numbers, then in significance.
I wish to repeat my latter comment:
“The school has grown, if not in numbers, then in significance.”
The school has become more significant as it has grown as a cairn. A proud beacon of what it means to endure, to be accepting of others and to act as an example to many other schools. This is highlighted by
our bespoke mode of teaching, the international academic rigour and the informal and accepting environment that nurtures students to be themselves.
To support our iconic school culture, we must protect our shared values of respect, kindness, and accountability.
As an extraordinary School let us be the cairn. The students in being who they are, are extraordinary. This encourages the students to take up the mantle of responsibility of protecting values. To simply make a difference. To be a custodian of values that are important. To each be a cairn to guide others within and beyond our gates on what is right or wrong.
I mentioned that I will start a cairn on the garden path to the science laboratory. I invited students to place a stone there when they feel the time is right. This will be when they have been guided or been guided to do the right thing. This cairn will grow in size and significance in acting as a guide for a student to pause and consider their compass, their path and their choices, as they move past.
As students depart the school at the end of Grade 12, they will also be able to leave a stone. This will allow them to always feel connected to the school and when they visit their alma mater, they can revisit the cairn and reflect.
I concluded the Assembly with the following words:
“Students, be proud of your school and who and what you represent. You deserve to be so, as you are, extraordinary.”