Headmaster's Weekly Address

25-May-2017



Last week I spent two full days in Marysville with Catholic Principals from across Victoria. The keynote addresses were delivered by a remarkable English Dominican Priest, Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP. I have read many of his articles in ‘The Tablet’ across the years and seen him interviewed on screen. He did not disappoint my high expectations. With deep intellectual rigour and humour, Fr Timothy used scripture and the philosophical questioning style an Oxford don has within his quiver to fire arrows with true direction and tipped at their arrowheads with ‘truth serum’. His topics included, ‘Touching the Imagination: the Adventure of Faith’ and separately, ‘The Adventure of Teaching’. Whilst appropriately recognising the challenges and mistakes of our Church, as evidenced by the Royal Commission and knowing we have some political and financial conundrums to be sorted with regards to funding, it was great to be able to nourish the soul. We are, after all, a faith-based school first and last.

Two of Fr Timothy’s books I recommend are, ‘Why Go To Church: The drama of the Eucharist’ and, ‘What is the Point of Being a Christian?’

May I add my congratulations to those Year 9 students who received the sacraments of First Eucharist and Confirmation at St Ignatius. Our boys were well-prepared by Mr Roberts and I so enjoyed the Mass atop Richmond Hill.

It was good to catch up with many from last year’s VCE class at the Old Collegian-hosted function early last week. Those with whom I spoke were settled in their post-school studies and enjoying life. One of their cohorts not present had done not only his family and school proud, but the nation. Luke Macaronas competed in the 2017 International Public Speaking Competition in London and won. To be Australian Champion was in itself remarkable; to out-speak the best of the best across the English-speaking world, simply extraordinary!

The Art Show opens this Friday night. The Russell family will be there ‘en masse’. Do take the chance across this weekend to visit the show.

The following speech was delivered to students at a Heyington Assembly on Monday 15 May by Dante Di Paolo, one of our Deputy College Captains. The message is a wonderful one for all of our boys to hear; and, we wanted to be able to share it with the broader St Kevin’s community.

Good morning, Mr Russell, staff and boys.

To take to the lectern following a man who is as good with his words as Mr Jones is no small task, even for the most skilled speaker. In an attempt not to pale in comparison with Mr Jones, today I’d like to talk about a man whom, I’d argue, rivals our great Director of Studies in his ability to use words; that is, the Grammy Award-winning rapper, Kendrick Lamar.

Kendrick Lamar has it made. He’s now had three platinum-selling albums, meaning that three of his albums have sold more than a million copies each. At the age of 29, he is worth about 35 million dollars and in his recently-dropped album titled ‘Damn’, which attracted thousands of listeners in just hours after its release, Kendrick speaks freely and easily about coming from poverty on the streets of Compton, California, to being proclaimed as a ‘visionary’. It is easy to see why many kids of our age aspire to ‘be’ like him.

Personally, I wouldn’t wish Kendrick’s life on anyone. Whilst on the surface, it seems as though he does have it all and his life is perfect, it doesn’t take too much digging to discover the struggles he has gone through, and continues to go through. These struggles aren’t those typical of a gang-member-turned-rapper; they are the same struggles that we face every day.

Even though the themes which are all-too-common in rap music are still present in his tracks, Kendrick’s music goes much deeper than what we might expect from hip-hop. He talks about his battle with his own mind and feelings in a way that is straight and easy to understand. To give you a sense of exactly what I’m talking about, I’d like to give you a pretty hard-hitting example. In his song titled ‘U’, Kendrick Lamar talks openly about his struggle with mental illness. He talks about the low point of his life: sitting in a hotel room during his first tour – a time at which he should have been ecstatic – alone, screaming aloud because he ‘wasn’t happy with himself or how his life was going.’

Now, I’d argue that all of us have felt a bit annoyed at ourselves like Kendrick did at this point, and I’m here to tell you that it’s normal. If mental health issues can affect a man as successful as Kendrick, they can most definitely affect us.

The song continues to explore in painstaking detail Kendrick’s weaknesses: his lack of will to go out and socialise; his stress; and, Kendrick even talks about his dark struggles with depression and alcoholism. In the songs ‘Swimming Pools’ and ‘The Art of Peer Pressure’, the singer deals with the pressures exerted on him by his mates, or ‘home-boys’ as he calls them. This is something we all know about – we’ve all been in a situation where we do something that we really can’t even believe we are doing, just because it’s the done thing. Lamar goes to prove that these things are OK and normal, and that they are issues that aren’t exclusive only to him. They are issues that are here in our school, in us and in our mates.

Some people might say that Kendrick is ‘brave’ or ‘courageous’ for airing his plight so openly like this. Others would argue that it should be the norm for any bloke to talk about what’s going on in this way – and I would agree with them. Everyone acknowledges that there is some sense of unease around mental health, around talking about your feelings, and around actually seeking help when everything goes pear-shaped – it’s undeniable. But, has anyone here ever actually questioned why there is a stigma around these things? Essentially, I feel that we are restricted from speaking about our feelings because it isn’t the ‘manly’ thing to do. Being a man and having emotions historically don’t go hand in hand. But despite this, Kendrick talks about his issues like they are the most normal thing in the world, and it is due to this openness that his words are being used in TV ads and by psychologists to describe what having a mental illness feels like. In fact, Kendrick uses these insecurities to his advantage: he turns them into songs for us that help to normalise all these things that are going on, but he is also able to rake in ‘fat stacks’ – as he calls them – for himself in the process. Kendrick proves that it is possible to be a man and still be vulnerable, and shows us that it is alright not to subscribe to ‘masculinity’ as most define it.

What seems truly funny to me here is that I’d say that most of us, myself included, know more about the mental state of celebrities like Kendrick than that of our mates. In my last speech, I talked about brotherhood and today I’d like to call on it again: imagine if everyone could talk like Kendrick at St Kevin’s, if we could all say exactly what we felt without the fear of judgment from anyone else. It might mean that we get a fewer ‘intellectual’ comments from the ‘speak-before-you-think’ operators, but ultimately, talking about what’s going on in your life is good for everyone’s wellbeing.

Let me assure you of this, boys, if poor mental health doesn’t affect you, it most definitely affects at least one of your mates. Remember that whatever people have going on in their lives doesn’t make them strange, or different, because it can happen to anyone. Mental illness, just like the flu or any other type of sickness, happens. It is how we get around one another when things are grim that truly defines us.

Headmaster’s Study Awards
Year 9 English Shaun De Monte 
    Jamie Miller
  History
Finn Davern
    Thomas Fernando
    Joshua McClelland
   Japanese Marvan Adams
    Fabian Battista
     
Co-curricular Appointments
Cross Country
Captain
Ned O'Brien

Kind regards,


Stephen F Russell
Headmaster

St Kevin's College will assist all students to achieve their potential academically, culturally, physically, socially and spiritually.
(from the Mission Statement)