A Principal's graduation speech

Educators are in the business of developing the best human beings on the planet.

The best human beings on the planet are individuals who reflect and evaluate their behaviour, with a constant focus how they can do better. They apply the highest level of effort in whatever they do. They work independently and collaboratively. They never give up. They embrace challenge with solutions focused responses.

Ultimately, amongst a long list of life lessons, one of the most important is about how we navigate ourselves in the face of all the obstacles ahead and remain on course to reach our destination. 

Because, the ship that will not obey the helm, will have to obey the rocks.

To be at the helm is to hold responsibility and to be in control.

How do you know what you are capable of if you never really try?

What worlds are out there for you to explore or conquer, if you never take the first step?

Who could be the right guide and support to you, if you never meet?

The Helmsman Project is a vital initiative that answers these three key questions through experiential, service learning.

We often acknowledge that children are our future. We rely on them to hold the answers to what ails our society and our planet. 

And now that we are well into the 21st century, there is more need than ever to prepare the keepers of our future for such heavy responsibilities as well as we can. In order to do so, equity of opportunity is key. No matter how much we believe society has advanced there is so much evidence of the vast divide between one child and another in our very own country. Many of the barriers are financial and yet, there are just as many barriers that are social and political. We need to open up as many possibilities as possible. We need to ensure that the soft skills necessary for success in the community and workforce are developed, refined and applied.

And the best way possible for schools to do this, is to work with external partners who can provide the real world applications, introduce and connect schools with the right mentors and most importantly, open up the world and what is in it, to our students who have mostly led sheltered lives. The Helmsman Project does these very important things and as a result, offer one of the most relevant and impactful leadership development programs on offer.

Every single student who has ever participated Helmsman has developed a deeper understanding and engagement with themselves, self-regulation, self-perception and confidence in capacity.

Whether they have been sailing, hiking or camping, they have achieved so many firsts.

The students that are selected to participate in Helmsman have varied profiles. Some have never held a leadership role or been chosen to participate in a leadership position before. They may never have been first in class or even picked first. Others are well known and into everything. Once in the Helmsman, none of it matters, what is important is what lies ahead. I have never known a student who attends the Helmsman activities not to come back changed. At the very least, they have learned what life is like for five days without a phone. But most return with an overwhelming sense of achievement and newfound discovery of what they can achieve if they set their minds to it. Their community projects are thoughtful, well planned and reveal insight and consideration of the needs of others. Many of the students involved reveal their spark.  

I am the proud Principal of Birrong Girls High School. But I have been involved in Helmsman for over 4 years across a number of schools. I could not wait to introduce Helmsman to Birrong Girls, having seen repeatedly how such an authentic leadership activity changes the lives of individual students. Helmsman delivers exactly what we tell parents and students the program delivers every year without fail. It holds up a mirror of possibilities to each student and allows them to see what they are and what they could be in the most illuminating and inspiring way.

On behalf of all schools participating in the Helmsman Project, I extend gratitude and appreciation to the Helmsman team, including Charmaine, Leon and all the coaches that have given so much to all our students. Our commitment to Helmsman is unfailing and we look forward to our ongoing partnerships and building upon these crucial foundations of service learning.

Zena Dabaja

Principal, Birrong Girls High School

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