Home Headmaster HM Newsletter-27 Feb

Dear ParentsHM 2011

It’s like a slow puncture on a bicycle…pphheeeew!” the animated teacher exclaims. Quite frankly, after seeing pupils lying around on the floor, stretching this and stretching that, turning their head from side to side, lifting their hands above their head and being asked “Do you see the back of your throat?” I would be beyond a slow puncture – more like a major blowout!

And this is only the start to a Grade 8 Clubs and Society singing lesson! What happened to the “good old days” in the summer of ’65 when us “old ballies” simply pitched up in our prep school music class and immediately started singing “Sarie Marie” accompanied by a grumpy old musician playing a honky-tonk piano?

At the first opportunity I make a lame excuse, shake hands and leave together with my croaky singing voice that has placed me in a position of embarrassment amongst these talented young men. The Art Centre seems to be a more familiar haven and I enter quietly not wishing to disturb the focused concentration of young masters hard at work adding the finishing touches to their “wildlife egg-cups”. Although deep in concentration, they are keen to engage in conversation and supply me with much excited chatter about their creations. I notice a rhino that has lost its horn – is this a sign of environmental awareness or poor workmanship? I believe that it is the former as I leave the smell of paint and thinners behind,convinced that we have both talented staff and newboys of incredible potential. I am reminded that we are not only the moulders of egg-cups but also the moulders of their dreams, but this is another story as I hurry to an early morning meeting.

On my cell-phone, I receive an emailed poem from a person not even related to the school that takes me back to English 1 at University in Port Elizabeth in “the good old days”. Before nostalgia sets in, I quickly remind myself that my days are now even better than they ever were as I read the words by WB Yeats:

My fiftieth year had come and gone,

I sat, a solitary man

In a crowded London shop,

An open book and empty cup

On the marble table top.

While on the shop and street I gazed

My body of a sudden blazed;

And twenty minutes more or less

It seemed, so great my happiness,

That I was blessed and could bless.

“I so enjoyed your newsletter”, this stranger writes, “that I had to send this poem to you”. A stranger, so interested in what we are doing at Hilton – bad news travels quickly, but good news travels far on the digital highway and has greater impact. Ann Rake interrupts my reverie to remind me to get to the Theatre for the launch of the John Dube Foundation – I make it with seconds to spare.

I sit in the back row observing the sea of khaki clad boys as a diminutive past parent, Zamani Jali, the Chairman of the John Dube Foundation, steps onto a box to peer over the lecturn and address the boys. Despite his age, he is filled with the energy and passion of a prep schoolboy as he fervently launches into the life and times of John Langalibalele Dube. Many of you would have flown out of King Shaka Airport which is at the centre of the Dube Trade Port named after John Dube who was a founding member of the ANC. Zamani painted a stunning kaleidoscope of the achievements of John Dube who was a phenomenal leader and who, by the age of 31, had established a school and a newspaper. In the enthralled audience is great grandson, Sizo Jali, an Old Boy of Newnham House. The boys ask probing questions regarding the ANC stance on issues like Malema and nationalisation. At tea, this pocket-sized man with the heart of a lion and the determination of Alexander the Great says with honesty “We could not have chosen a better place to launch our Foundation – your boys and their behaviour are a credit to our country and we cannot fail this opportunity to re-establish the school that John built a hundred years ago!” We shake hands and I am reminded of the poem of WB Yeats.

Back in the office, a “cc’d” email rocks me back in my chair – it stuns me with its simple sincerity, apologetic tone, a plea for assistance and solid assurance to make amends. It surprises me as this is not from a boy who has openly bucked the system or been a discipline problem. The note is from a matric pupil who has simply not used his opportunities, and it is sent to all his teachers.

“I have shied away from the necessary help that is around me. My parents have encouraged me to go to extra support lessons yet I still don’t attend them. You have all tried hard to help me and I have been ignorant to see that and I am greatly sorry. This is my final year to show my true colours and potential. I only ask and hope we can start afresh and I will try my very best to work hard and consistently from now on”, he writes amongst other undertakings. I lean back in my chair and imagine if every one of our 556 Hilton pupils wrote a letter of undertaking similar to this to his teachers – I would suggest that we would out-perform every academic record set over the past 140 years of our history. Imagine if every pupil in South Africa had to write a letter like this to his teachers and applied himself to the task – this would be an awesome educational miracle! Our boys are certainly up to the challenge to nail their colours to the mast, and send a comparable note to their teachers. If one brave Matric can do this and blaze the way, many can actually follow. The challenge is there for young men at Hilton College to write the letter of intent and then deliver more than promised!

I met with the matric boy a few days back. What impressed was the sparkle in the eye and the words, “Sir, with help I am going to do this!” It sounds a touch contrite, like a sports shoe advert, but it touches the heart and to his credit, this chap has realized what many only realize once they leave this amazing residential campus of excellence – we are blessed beyond measure!

I keep an eye open for the next inspiring human story to unfold.

Have a great week!

G Thomson