International College Hong Kong
Jun 15, 2018

Third Annual Science Fair – Head of School’s Address

Those of you with long and faultless memories may recall that last year I used the occasion of the Science Fair to reflect on the nature of tradition and to confirm what a privilege it was to be playing a part, if only a presiding one, in the establishment of an ICHK tradition, which, now in this its third year, the Science Fair is well on the way to becoming.

It is a valuable tradition to build and I hope your experiences this evening are evidence of that.

This year, I would like to draw attention to another dimension of the attractions that have been available to you as visitors to the Fair. In doing this, I am neglecting still further attractions – the choir, the art – and I apologise for that, but bear with me.

I hope that, as well as sharing in the experiments and explorations of our budding scientists, you have also taken the opportunity of viewing the various short movies that were screened in celebration of our students’ filmmaking skills. If you were not able to watch them, keep an eye on our website because, in due course, we will upload some of them there, as they deserve a wider audience.

There is one film in particular that I want to reflect on for the next few minutes – let me explain why. The film in question was made by two of our IB Diploma students as part of their Film assessment portfolio. The students in question happen to be twins and they happen to be fairly recent arrivals to ICHK. They came to us at the beginning of Year 12 because, as we find with a growing number of children enrolling with us throughout the year, they were not very much enjoying their time at their previous school.

Chloe and Sabrina, for so they are named, joined ICHK and from the outset proved a distinctive and welcome addition to our community. They are interesting characters, strong-willed, thoughtful, opinionated and principled, and in addition to these excellent qualities, they added a sense of sartorial flair and aesthetic playfulness to our community. I will miss their outfits, their hairstyles, their joie de vivre, their artistry in the performance of themselves. Giving students an opportunity to engage in this kind of imaginative self-exploration is, I believe, an important part of what school should be about and I am glad they took it.

But right now I would like to concentrate on the six-minute film that they made as part of their coursework. It was brilliant. And I mean that – I choose my words carefully. It was brilliant. The best IB Diploma film that I have seen and, in this and previous schools, I have seen many. I speak as a film graduate myself. My first degree, some 35 years ago, was in Film, and I’ve taught media for twenty odd years, so I say with reasonable authority – the twins’ film was brilliant.

Why do I think it was brilliant? Because it was funny and witty and knowledgeable and knowing. It was beautifully timed and made with a perfect pitch appreciation of its audience. It was carefully, delicately, skillfully composed. It was expertly edited for pace and rhythm, its tempo was faultless and its cadences spot on. It used sound innovatively and ironically. The soundtrack, composed and performed by another of our students, was judged and executed to perfection. I can say this: nothing in the film was accidental – colour, framing, mise en scene, camera angle, performances, sound design, script … all beautifully judged and uniformly sustained throughout the movie.

Why does this please and encourage me so much as to share it with you now? For two reasons. First, because making a work of art, which is what the twins’ film was, is among the highest achievements available to humankind. It exalts us as a species and adds to our stock of mortal marvels. Second, because, in an age of increased automation and ever-diversifying robotic solutions to human problems, it seems to me that a worthwhile future for our species – lived both as individuals and as a collective – depends on our accessing and rehearsing those elements of ourselves that are uniquely human. Our sense of humour, our sense of irony, our appreciation of the minds and desires and needs of others, our capacity to collaborate in the name of something that strikes a chord and speaks to the ineffable, elusive heart of humanity.

At its best, science, which we celebrate here this evening, is a force for great, almost inestimable, good; a force for our shared empowerment towards a better future. But without art and without what underpins art – without an appreciation of the essence of the human condition, without an appreciation of the human orientation towards transcendence and meaning – science is a lever with no fulcrum against which to gain purchase. Or, more worryingly, a lever working on the wrong fulcrum to the wrong purpose.

Our great hope must be that art and science combine in an authentic understanding of our common good and of the means of achieving it. That ICHK is equipping students with both an artistic and a scientific perspective on life is truly vital – and I am delighted to see it borne out in the strength of the scientific experimentation and the artistic expression we have had the chance to enjoy tonight.

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