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Speech

St Cuthbert's College, Auckland

Issue date: 
Friday, 27 February 1998
Speaker: 
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

Mrs. Caughey and members of the Trust Board, Mrs. Reid and your school family, staff and girls, parents and friends, Miss Holland, Mr. Compton and Miss Johnson.

Thank you for the invitation to come to St Cuthbert's and to share this exciting day with you. Because it's such an important day, I thought I would put on my new chain of office. It's not only a fine piece of craftsmanship, it is truly symbolic of our nation. It alternates the New Zealand Coat of Arms, a heraldic device that dates back to early Western Europe, even earlier perhaps, with the koru, the Maori symbol of new life and hope. I think people should have the opportunity to see it.

Because your new Information Centre hasn't been officially opened yet, I haven't seen it. But I was sent a copy of your last College magazine, that has some drawings of what it was going to look like, and I'm sure that now all the work is done the reality is even more splendid than the drawings showed.

One thing is certain, and that is that with this new building, with the auditorium, the library, the technology classrooms and computer laboratories, and everything else that is in the Information Centre, St Cuthbert's is one of the most superbly equipped schools in the country. You have so much, such huge advantages over most other schools in New Zealand, that you are truly fortunate, really privileged, to be here.

"Information Centre" is quite a name to give a school building, but it's a very appropriate one for what has been achieved here: a truly tremendous achievement, for which everyone responsible deserves the highest praise and the warmest thanks.

Of course, "information" is a buzz word these days. This is said to be the information age. Everybody wants information, anybody can get it. In fact, we're inundated with it. It comes in books and magazines, in newspapers and bulletins, on television and radio, on the Internet. Much of it is very superficial, often slanted. Some of it is immensely detailed. There was once a small boy who wrote a book review and said: "This book tells me more about penguins than I want to know." It's a bit like that with some information. We really have to learn to discriminate between what is useful and what is not, to be selective, and discerning. Above all, we must not let all these means of information think for us. We must not let them destroy the creative instinct that is within each of us.

I am so pleased that your Information Centre strikes a balance, that alongside the technology there is the library; and that alongside the library there is the auditorium. The computer screen is a wonderful tool, and the Internet a marvellous resource. But they can never replace books, because in a book you can turn over the page, and turn back the page, and sense the flavour of the words and the illustrations. The screen is at best a transient image, while books are friends for life.

The other day I came across an announcement. It was headed "Technological Breakthrough in Information Retrieval." It read : "Announcing the new Basic Open-standard Organised Knowledge Device; acronym BOOK; commonly called BOOK. BOOK is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: no wires, no electric circuits, no batteries to be connected or switched on. It's so easy to use even a child can operate it. Just lift its cover Portable, durable and affordable, the BOOK is being hailed as the entertainment wave of the future." I am sure it will remain so.

Some people spend all their days sitting in front of the screen, seeing nothing beyond it, hearing nothing, communicating with no one. What an appalling existence. Talking to people, sharing ideas, debating issues, reading aloud, listening to poetry, acting in plays, playing or listening to music, singing, these are of the essence of our humanity And so very properly, you have your auditorium, where you can do all these things. What a very happy combination this Information Centre is.

But of course splendid buildings and the most up to date equipment do not, by themselves, make a good school, do they? You can have a very good school indeed without them. What makes a good school, a great school, is what happens to the people who come to it, and also the sort of people they are after they leave it.

Along with the College magazine I was sent a prospectus that had a form for me to fill in so that I could apply for enrolment - I haven't sent it back because I wanted to see for myself first, and looking around this great Hall I think there could be some problems if I were to send it back - and I was also sent a report from the Education Review Office. I should like to read out its conclusion:

"The students of St Cuthbert's College are well served. They receive a high quality education, which enables them to achieve the highest standards of personal excellence in their academic, social, cultural and sporting endeavours. They have a learning environment which is richly resourced and a school culture which nurtures their development within a tradition of excellence."

That's high praise indeed, and a tribute to your Principal, and to her distinguished predecessors, and to the staff, and to you all. It is very fitting that parts of the new building are to be named after two remarkable women who made a memorable contribution to this school.

The report used the word "excellence." I am a passionate believer in excellence. But we have to be careful with that word. It doesn't mean that we are all expected to be intellectual geniuses, or sporting greats. Sometimes parents and others create too many expectations of that kind, and cause a great deal of unhappiness as a result. The report talked about personal excellence, and that word personal makes the point that each one of us has our own particular abilities and talents - they mightn't be at all special or spectacular, but they make us special - and life at school is all about discovering those abilities and talents, and developing them to their fullest potential; and then working out for ourselves how best we are going to use them.

Buildings, libraries, computers, sports grounds, all these things are there so that you can do just that.

But why? To what end, to what purpose? The school motto answers that, especially the last word: "By love serve." Those words sum up the life of St Cuthbert, the shepherd who became a bishop, after whom your school is named. We who call ourselves Christians have a special calling, to love one another as God has loved us, and to show that love, not by expressions of pious sentiment, but by serving. That means using those talents and abilities that God has given us, and that we come to school to sharpen and develop, using them not just for our own benefit, so that we can be well off and comfortable, but also for the good of others less fortunate than ourselves, using them to make this community, this city, this country of ours, a better place for everyone.

Can I finish by telling you a story? It comes from Russia, and it's about a very poor peasant who lived with his wife and many children in a little hovel with an earth floor in a small village we shall call Pinsk. Life was hard. He worked from early to late and barely earned enough to feed and clothe his family. One night he had a dream. He dreamt that far away, beneath the bridge on the further side of the river that runs past the splendid city of St Petersburg, a great treasure was buried. He believed in dreams, as we all should, and so the next day he told his wife he was going on a journey, and he put a few things and a little food in a bag and set off.

It was a long, tiring walk, but finally he came to the river. There was the splendid city on the other side, and the bridge. But there was a guard on the bridge, and the soldier told him he could not cross it. The poor man was brokenhearted. He was within reach of the treasure that would let his family live in comfort and now it was being denied to him. The soldier saw his distress, and asked him why he wept. The poor man told him how he had walked all the way from Pinsk in answer to his dream, to find the treasure he so wanted for his wife and his children. The soldier listened to him, and smiled and said that he too had had a dream, and that in his dream he had seen a little hovel in a small village called Pinsk, where a poor man lived with his wife and their many children, and that buried under the earth floor was a great treasure. So the poor man hurried back to his home, and when he got there he dug up the floor, and there he found buried a very great treasure indeed. And, of course, they all lived happily ever after.

Now every good story has a moral, doesn't it, and the moral of that story is that the real treasures in this life are to be found close to home, within us, and within those we love and serve.

This I know is the truth that lies behind all that you do here at St Cuthbert's, and that has inspired the Trustees to provide this wonderful new building for you girls and those who come after you to use and enjoy. And which I am shortly to declare officially open.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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