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Nau mai, haere mai, talofa lava, malo e lelei, bula vinaka, kia orana, warm greetings

Our students affectionately have a value that we refer to in good times and bad, and that is “Manawa”. It is best described as the breath of life… a lifegiving gift from God, the moment shared in hongi, a reminder we are still moving, that big gasp of air when we need to dig deep, stay strong and find strength. It is a value that is earned. 2020 can be only described as a year in which we have all needed our unique STC Manawa.

Tonight is a celebration of the year all of our achievements as a community, it is also a night of farewells and a night of remembrance. Twelve months ago we gathered here in this beautiful facility, we would not have imagined what lay ahead ahead of us, words that have become normalised like pandemic, lockdown, quarantine, zoom meetings, covid-19, Ashley Bloomfield, live stream, hand sanitiser, alert levels, the list could continue. We tragically lost our good friend, Brad Milne, who was an amazing man that stood for so much we are proud of at St Thomas’. As we have learnt the hard way in Christchurch, out of adversity comes opportunity, and most often it is an opportunity for us to express our character. This year the character of our community has been called to question numerous times. As I reflect on 2020, I could not be prouder of the character and soul of our community, we were tested over and over again, we had so many moments throughout the year where different groups within our community had to lift others. I have always believed we aren’t a school we are much more than a place of learning; we are a community of people who all contribute equally, no one is more or less important than anyone else. Whether it be staff putting together a funny video during lockdown to lift the spirits of students, or our parents providing food parcels for boys to eat at lunchtimes, we have seen everyone contribute to this wonderful community this year. One of the more powerful examples came in a time of grief and shock at the passing of our great mate, Milney. The way our community came together to support Brad’s family in the most tragic circumstances was something I won’t forget. I also wanted to acknowledge our wonderful young men during this time. The first Monday back at school, as a staff we were all struggling to come to terms with our loss, to witness the impact our students had on our staff that day was astonishing. Young men, you are special and you have so much to offer this world. Don’t ever forget that.

I would like to acknowledge some key people and groups who have contributed so much this year.

I would like acknowledge tonight the presence of the Christian Brothers, Br Joe Lauren, Br Bill Dowling, Br Frank Perkins…. thank you for your legacy, I hope we can do it justice. I thank you for the trust you have imparted on our teaching staff to keep the Edmund Rice story inspired by Jesus Christ alive, and in action within our young men, I feel honoured to be part of your legacy.

I would like to acknowledge the leadership of our Senior Leadership Team, Mr Brendan Biggs, Mr Hamish Barclay, Mr Andrew Auimatagi, Mr Hamish McCombie, Mr Stephen Kennedy and Mr Daniel O’Brien. Our community is very fortunate to have you leading our school into the future, you are incredibly hard working, innovative, and have an absolute understanding of our mission. I thank you for your patience, the passion you share for our school and, most importantly, your sense of humour!

I would also like to thank our staff for all they do in the development of our students. We are very lucky to have a hard working group of staff who understand we are more than a 8.30am to 2.30pm school. Our staff understand that by coaching, mentoring, tutoring, travelling and the pastoral care helps develop the whole person. We are unique to have so many staff make themselves available to work with our students in so many different settings, well into the evenings and throughout the weekends.

I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of our BOT which is well led by Andy Steel. We are so fortunate to have a hard working board that represents our community so well, and truly understands the mission of an Edmund Rice school. The building program that our college has undergone is transformational and holds up as one of the best in the country. The facilities that our young men get to learn and grow in are absolutely top class. I thank our board for their passion in wanting our school to deliver a world class education and experience.

Our PFA has worked tirelessly all year raising much needed funds to contribute towards the facilities here at St Thomas’. Schools continue to be under funded and without the much-needed support from our hard working parents on the PFA, our boys would be without much.

I would also like to acknowledge our parent community. It is not an easy job raising teenagers in the 21st century, our students are so fortunate to have a group of parents/caregivers who are hopeful of their sons experiencing as much of life as possible, whether it be through mentoring days, evening events, fundraising, transport, psychologist, chef, the list goes on.. but it is fantastic to work in an environment whereby we are all working together to raise good young men who are able to fulfil their potential.

As a school we have worked so hard on ensuring the academic performance of our students ensures our young men are able to fulfil their dreams. We have planned, set goals and resourced many innovations and initiatives over the last three years where now our NCEA results are amongst the best in the country. Last year we produced over 90% of our students achieving NCEA Level 1 and 2 and our predictions for this year are showing an increase for 2020 with Level 1,2 and 3 achieving over 90% pass rates. This is quite incredible given the year we have all been confronted with. It is very pleasing to achieve our lofty goals we set about to achieve three years ago.

It is also very pleasing to see the students who were our trendsetters in Years 7-9 who implemented our Junior integrated curriculum. These students are now current Year 11,12 and 13. To see the academic results in the senior school of such high quality based on a key competencies, skills and character based approach in our junior curriculum coming to fruition, is something we are all very proud of.

Our sporting and cultural pursuits took a hit this year due to covid cancellations but when our students are called upon to perform they always make us proud and give plenty of Manawa. Sport and culture are some of the last bastions of opportunity young people have access to grow and develop their character. Watching our boys perform, whether it be the variety concert, the production or band performances. In the sporting sphere we saw many tremendous victories. Watching our 1st XV beat St Andrews at home was one to remember and who could forget the Sycamore Lane supporters crew or Dan Fogarty’s commentaries.

I want to personally acknowledge the contribution of our Year 13 students, in what could have caused you to give up and become despondent in your final year the constant road blocks. But you took these road blocks as challenges and came up with innovative ways to re-invent our many events and traditions. I am proud of your contribution in this most challenging year. To our Year 13 leadership team, you set yourself the goal to create an environment of “brothers together, brothers forever”. We weren’t to know how important that statement would come to be, you have left a legacy that will live on. To our College Captain, Kole, your leadership has shone through, you have lead in your way, you had a passion and dreams for 2020 and you achieved them. True leaders stand up in the most adverse situations you have lead your brothers in a time of trail.

Year 13’s be men of Edmund, be a voice for those without one, have the courage and conviction to stand up when called upon. It has been a blessing watching you on your journey, all the highs and lows along the way are the experiences that have come together to form you into the men you have become. You have each in your own way left a legacy for those to follow, let the seeds that have been planted here at St Thomas blossom and grow, go leave your mark on this world.

None of us know what 2021 will hold, but what we do know is our ability as a school to develop resilient, innovative, connected, emotionally aware staff and students is critical. When we focus on developing the person and their character particularly their strengths we create an opportunity to build limitless capacity in each other. In 2021, we have created a new role unique to our school, a Director of High Performance and Wellbeing. I am delighted to announce that Old Boy, Mark Hammett, will fill this role starting in 2021, focused on working with our staff to oversee and assist in the high performance and wellbeing of our staff and students. We aim to lead a program that supports, develops and genuinely cares for all in our STC family. We wish to be the benchmark for schools throughout NZ, in the way we develop staff and students to be high performers. We are very excited about the future and the possibilities that lie ahead for us. I warmly welcome you back to St Thomas’ Mark, and look forward to working alongside you in this innovative and forward thinking role in education.