International College Hong Kong
Apr 19, 2018

Student Agency and Self-Empowerment

I must have blinked. Surely it was only a moment ago that we were gathered here, to wish last year’s graduates the best of luck and bon voyage. They say it’s a function of getting older that time speeds up and years flash by. I remember when the passing of a year really meant something; now it just seems to happen each time I turn my back.

Still, I also realise that, if the compression of time and the experience of years blurring one into another, is a problem for the old, it’s not a problem for most of you sitting here. And I am quite certain that for the students who we have just welcomed into the hall, this has been a truly significant year – and a memorable one. For all of them, Year 11 and 13 alike, it has been the second year, the culminating year of their respective examination programmes.

The GCSE students are challenging themselves to attain the results that open the door to the next stage in their school careers; the IB Diploma students reach an even more momentous milestone – for them this is a genuine rite of passage. After their exams, they will never go to school again. Imagine that – you will never go to school again. Unless, of course, you become a teacher – in which, welcome to the profession.

I would like to reflect further on that milestone, that threshold moment. Leaving school for university, and becoming a fully autonomous student, someone genuinely responsible for their own learning, someone taking true ownership of their performance, that transition can be a turning point in your life. It was for me.

After years studying at a school where I didn’t feel at home and didn’t feel that I was taken seriously, where life was frankly one-dimensional and painted mainly in shades of grey, I arrived at university and discovered the absolute excitement and joy of learning for its own sake and not for the sake of others. I studied Film not because I thought I would work in the film industry, which I never did, but because I was bewitched by the stories that films tell and fascinated by their art of telling them. I went to lectures and seminars not because attendance was monitored, which it wasn’t, but because the promise they held of discovering more, discussing more, analysing more, revealing more, was as exciting a use of my time as I could imagine. And when not in seminars or lectures, I was playing in a band, turning out for local football teams, reading and researching for pure self-enjoyment, and hanging out with friends engaged in some of the most stimulating conversations of my life.

And as I recount all this – as I speak of the revolutionary change that University brought to the ways I spent my days and the person that that allowed me to be – I really, really hope that this is not your experience.

Well, that seems a bit harsh, you might be thinking. Not to say evil. But let me explain.

I do not believe for one moment that you need to wait for University to experience the joys of learning, the excitement of the intellectual chase, the pleasure of self-governance, the ability to forge your life in sustainable, healthy ways that mix sport and hobbies and socialising and academic learning and just chilling out and watching your thoughts form as the world goes by. In fact, I believe it’s a tragic fact of many young people’s lives that they so often do have to wait until University, because the adults in their lives can’t help engineer for these things to happen earlier.

And I hope, I fervently hope, that the adults here at ICHK, the adults seated amongst you in the audience now, in other words, the teachers here at your school, are of a different calibre. I hope we are not those ordinary adults. I hope that we have been succesful in our attempts to create for you, to create with you, and alongside you, a different kind of school, with a different kind of vibe and a different kind of ethos. One that has truly encouraged you to grow, to be passionate, to enjoy each other’s and our company, to play on teams that matter to you and perform in plays that carry the freight of your souls, to discover literature that speaks to you and knowledge that frames and reframes and challenges your sense of who you are and who you might become.

In short, I hope – and I’m speaking not only to the Year 13s now, but to all of you, every single ICHK student in all years – I hope you have led, and, for those who remain with us, will continue to lead, a school life at ICHK, that means that when you find yourselves enjoying the first term at University – as a self-governing, self-directing, self-motivating, self-aware, self-esteeming learner – you will discover it no great revolution at all, you will wonder what all the fuss is about, you will feel completely at home, completely in your element, completely equal to the experience of challenge, to the experience of meeting challenge, because of the person you have had the chance to grow into at ICHK.

That is the school we hope ICHK to be – and I would like to thank our Year 11 and 13 students, some of whom leave us now, for helping us make it a reality. For the rest of you, I look forward to continuing the mission in the time ahead.




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