International College Hong Kong
Jan 04, 2023

End of Term 1 Assembly and Awards Ceremony Address

What a pleasure it is to be able to assemble once again in person to mark the end of a challenging but ultimately rewarding term.

As I look out on the sea of young faces filling the hall, I am aware of quite how novel an event this is for you all. 

For the Year 7s, this novelty is nothing so very surprising. Secondary school is full of things that you are doing for the first time. Coming across new experiences is part of your everyday life at ICHK. But in fact, in the normal course of the school year, you would, by the end of your first term, have attended one assembly already. 

That missing assembly would have been held during the first week of term. My predecessor, Roy White, who was our school’s founding Principal, introduced a ritual a decade ago that, up until the onset of the pandemic, we were able to observe each year. It has become an ICHK tradition. Roy’s ritual was intended to offer a proper welcome to those new to our community and to mark the importance for any team or organisation or institution of the regular infusion of new blood and fresh talent to its ranks.

Roy’s tradition, which has been in abeyance since 2019, invites the new Year 7 cohort to commence their careers at ICHK by being applauded into the hall by a congregation of students and teachers who are already members of the community. In this way, they are formally welcomed into the family.  

It's a tradition that gives the Year 7s a chance to feel highly self-conscious and a little awkward, and you may feel lucky that you avoided it. But you’d be wrong to feel that way, because despite the initial self-consciousness as you first walk in, the overall effect is one of great empowerment and strength. It’s a fitting start to your journey as happy, confident, intelligent warriors. A symbol of your transition to a new kind of learning. 

However, all that said, that you missed your welcoming ceremony does not seem to have done you any harm. I can tell you that your teachers are delighted by the start you have made and urge you to keep up your tremendous efforts. Without giving away any secrets, I can also tell you that a good half dozen of the termly awards to be presented in today’s assembly will be going to Year 7 students. That is highly encouraging. 

Turning now to those in Year 8 - for you today’s gathering is a novelty that is much more surprising. Not to have attended an assembly after two years of secondary school. That’s unheard of. You have attended many online assemblies, of course, but you have not previously sat alongside your classmates in a single space and experienced the feeling of belonging and camaraderie that arises on these occasions. I hope that you can sense the difference and that it reminds you of why the social dimensions of school are so important. 

As I wrote in last week’s bulletin, teamwork is humankind’s super-power. Being able, as an individual, to add to and gain from other people’s potential is perhaps the greatest human gift and the surest sign of a truly rewarding life. Leadership is often extolled as the quality that schools - and especially international schools - should promote most enthusiastically in their students. But we should be clear that leadership is never a matter only of personal vision and strength. Rather it is the ability to get alongside others and persuade them of their own fitness to meet a challenge - and to support them in finding reasons to try. Forming a conviction of your own worth and your own true values, committing to a vision of yourself as embodying these values, and then translating that into a willingness to take the risk of leading others who share your commitment, is a journey of growth that, by definition, cannot happen in isolation. Humans need other humans to take steps along this path, and it's the classmates you sit among today who can support you as fellow travellers, and whose journeys you can support in your turn. 

And then, finally, here before me is Year 9. Well, you must be suffering an odd and cloudy deja vu - ransacking your memories for the source of your misty flashback experience. Let me help you. The last time you were sitting in an assembly like this, you were right at the front, not at the back of the hall, and you’d been part of the ICHK community for just a matter of months. You were 10 or 11 years old, and still coming to terms with “big school”. You weren’t wearing masks or practising social distancing. The very idea would have struck you as bizarre. And yet here you sit today, fully habituated to masks, sanitizer, RATs, and endless temperature checks. For you, Year 9, I have particular sympathy. Too much of your high school life has been spent under what we adults call “sub-optimal conditions”. Which is a technical way of saying, you’ve had a pretty lousy time of it. But, in the last week, the ways in which all of you have contributed to the Christmas Carnival and Sports Day and Touch Rugby, shows that it’s done you no long term harm and that your part in ICHK’s story is ready to be played. Well done for hanging in there. Let’s hope that masks and RATs and temperature sheets are no more than an historical curiosity when we sit here in twelve months time, celebrating Christmas in 2023.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Back to today. I’d like to finish by saying a few words about the centrepiece of this assembly - the announcement of the latest winners of the three ICHK termly awards, bestowed for Growth Mindset, Courage in the Learning Zone, and Support of Peers. Those of you who read the weekly bulletin will know that I have written a short series of articles explaining why, of all the different awards that we might choose to make, it is these three that are the categories that we choose to recognise. I won’t repeat now what I have written there, but I would like to provide a brief summing up of the articles, which considers them not separately but as a combination.

It’s my view that being a good human is a formidable challenge. We are a highly unusual species - and a species that is still coming to terms with exactly what it is that makes us so unusual. Something that I find myself pointing out constantly to the HT classes that I teach is that much of the knowledge that we’re engaging with in our lessons together has been developed only very recently, within, say the last fifty to sixty years. 

Now, to students at high school, sixty years may seem an impossibly long time, but believe me, it’s really no time at all when it comes to the tricky business of a culture assimilating and coming to terms with new knowledge. And this is especially the case with knowledge that questions its previous assumptions and challenges its prejudices. The truth of the matter is that humanity remains very much in its infancy. The transition to something more adult, more grown-up, if it’s going to happen at all, is dependent on our collectively achieving a frame of mind that, judging by the current global situation, seems to be in fairly short supply. 

What frame of mind should we be hoping for? One that is genuinely open and authentic in its readiness to be stretched and surprised. One that, despite knowing its own limitations, is confident of one day learning more and brave enough to try. One that understands, too, that life is a team sport, and that selfless teamwork is its own reward. 

A frame of mind, in short, that is dedicated to growth, is determined and courageous, and that views other people as confederates and collaborators, not as competitors. 

In a moment we will welcome on stage students who have won awards for achieving just such a frame of mind. And let me say that for every one who receives a certificate today, there were another ten or twelve who were shortlisted. 

Were you one of those ten or twelve? You will never know - but the mere fact that you honestly believe that you might have been is what really matters. 

Not everyone can receive an award, but everyone can make themselves eligible for serious consideration - and for that to happen, for that to be an authentic prospect, for those habits of growth, courage and support of others to have taken root, means you are on your way to being - what was it that I said at Sports Day …? - that’s right, to being the holy grail of self-help gurus, the best version of yourself. 

Copyright © 2023 ICHK, All Rights Reserved