Awards for Excellence at St. Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando

October 14, 2014

Protocols…

 

It is with pleasure and some nostalgia that I stand here at this year’s Awards for Excellence Ceremony.  Nostalgia, because this was where the first such ceremony took place in 1994, if I remember correctly.  Let me tell you a story about myself. 

 

I went to school at St. Joseph’s Convent, St. Joseph from the age of three and a half, all the way up to Sixth Form, then taught briefly there.  But the particular story concerns an Awards for Excellence that was going to take place at the school, the first, and for the rest of my years there, the last. 

There were three of us attending school at the time, and both my younger siblings were going to get awards, and I was not!  You can imagine!  So I complained at home, and something got ’fixed’ and I was told that I would get an award for punctuality.   My mother said she should receive that award since it was her efforts that got me to school on time every day. 

So that experience made me hate Speech Days and Prize Givings etc.  But the staff prevailed upon me to establish the custom here, and took up my challenge to find a range of categories wide enough to give the maximum number of students the optimum chance at excelling.  We can reflect on today’s proceedings to assess whether we are succeeding at that.

 

 

Because you see, it is essential that we cultivate a habit of excellence, note, I say a habit, because excellence is not a single point of arrival. 

 

Excellence is a way of being and acting in the world.  

 

Excellence is not a common word in today’s society.  Think about it, when last did you hear talk of excellence?  Celebrities, yes, icons, yes, but excellence?  No.  except in “Centre of Excellence” or “Excellent Stores”.  And what is the excellence for which they are to be noted?  Architectural excellence?  Excellence of sporting achievements?  Of service to consumers?  And us here today, what is the excellence that we are celebrating?

  

If we stop at past achievements, outstanding as they are, we will have failed to understand what we mean when we speak of excellence in the context of St. Joseph’s Convent.  In this context, excellence is a process, a way of conducting the journey of life, so that the world will be better for our having lived in it, and we will, each one of us have attained the level of human and spiritual maturity for which we are destined. 

 

It involves a well developed sense of social responsibility that recognizes our connectedness with one another and with the planet, so that respect and service are characteristics of a life lived excellently. 

 

It requires diligence, practice, so that virtue becomes a way of life, so that our gifts and talents can find their fullest expression. Greed, selfishness and laziness, therefore, are not characteristics of a person living in the way of excellence.  On the contrary, the pursuit of excellence implies a healthy sense of oneself and one’s gifts, and a corresponding responsibility for developing as holistic a personality as possible. 

 

This demands discipline, humility, sustained effort - hard work- but the fruit of such a lifestyle is a sense of balance, of harmony, of joy born of having an understanding of one’s place in the universe and of the significance of one’s contribution to life.

 

Excellence, therefore cannot be an individual pursuit, it flourishes in a community in which care, compassion and mutual assistance are part of the way of being with one another.  It flourishes in a home in which authenticity and integrity are valued, and practiced, and in which forgiveness is the oil that lubricates relationships.  It will flourish in a school where each member of that community - student, teacher, service provider, is acknowledged as an equal before God, created by God and precious. 

 

In these environments, the weeds of meanness, violence and gossip are recognized for what they are and not mistaken for exotic blooms.  In these environments, healthy bodies are nurtured so that healthy minds may find free expression.  So we pay attention to what goes into our mouths and even more, what comes out of them.  We pay attention to our eyes and ears, we guard our thoughts and our hearts so that only what is true, noble, good, honourable and pleasing to God will be entertained.  Persons on the way of excellence have no room in their lives for junk - in food, in entertainment, in conversation, in actions.   

 

We are God’s work of art, already marked out for excellence, all of us.  Our task is to actualize, to make present that potential for excellence.

 

Before we sigh and decide all this is just too much, especially as it is not the climate of the prevailing culture, let me tell you another story.  This one I heard at an Assembly at school here.

 

A certain emperor in China had an only child, a daughter.  It was time to get her marrried and His Imperial Majesty issued a proclamation across his vast empire to announce that he was seeking suitors to marry his daughter.  Any man of the kingdom could present himself as a potential husband of the princess - if she accepted him, the kingdom was his.  If she rejected him…he would be beheaded!  Suitors flocked to the palace, and heads rolled.

Far away in a remote province of the kingdom, a maker of masks, hard, calculating and mean, with a face to match,  heard of the challenge, and for a laugh, created a handsome noble mask.  He then decided to put it on, and he liked how he looked.  So he decided to present himself as a suitor for the princess’ hand.  He was selected.  It was love at first sight, he was the noblest, most handsome, most desirable of all who had presented themselves so far.  He was her choice. 

Imagine his consternation!  How could he now escape?  So he begged for time, one year, just to be able to put his affairs in order and to take leave of his people in that remote province.  With reluctance, the princess conceded, and he returned home.  But he was a marked man, the princess’ beloved, and there was no place to hide.  He had to keep on the mask and act the part.  He had to become his mask for the year until he could return and tell the princess the truth and accept his fate.

 

The moment came, he asked to be alone with the princess, he told her his story.  You can imagine her anger.  Finally, she screamed, “Let me at least see what you really look like!”  He took off the mask for the first time since he had begun wearing it.  She exclaimed, “But your face is the same as the mask!  Is this some kind of joke?”

 

No joke, his actions had changed his face and his whole personality.

 

The same will happen to us if we practice the way of excellence every day, in every circumstance.  It is our responsibility as members of the family of SJC.

 

I thank you.