Like Lumberjacks of Old: December 2016

When snow-laden clouds hover over the world and the sun sets at an untimely hour as if sheltering from glacial gusts, we all need the warmth of the hearth and the love of family and friends. We yearn for light, any light, most particularly if we are confronted with unexpectedly harsh realities.

It is precisely at times like this when it is most important to reaffirm the four basic values that bind us together as a community: integrity, discernment, respect, engagement. We cannot tire of stating our belief in an education that, in addition to instilling academic ambition in our students, sets out to help them become principled young adults determined to play a role in the betterment of humanity.

This is indeed the kind of education I see when I walk our school corridors, as a profound sense of ethical citizenship imbues our teaching and other activities. In terms of our younger students, I recently witnessed a number of fundraising events in support of less fortunate children. During an assembly in November, our petits citoyens watched a trailer of Pascal Plisson’s On the Way to School, a film depicting the life of a number of students in Kenya, Argentina, Morocco and India, who have to walk long distances on their own every single day, and face dangers of many kinds, to do something as simple as getting to school.
The Remembrance Day Assemblies held in the Junior and Senior Schools as well as in the West Campus reminded us all of the suffering caused by war, and allowed us to show gratitude to those who fought to preserve our freedoms. Several conflicts were mentioned and victims were honoured. As part of the ceremony, senior students listened to quotations from a range of sacred texts emphasizing the importance of peace, they reflected on the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and then performed an act of remembrance. This was closely followed by our Holocaust Memorial Week, led by Bill Glied, an Auschwitz survivor who recently testified in the trial of a former SS sergeant.

Assemblies, mentorship sessions and exhibitions of different sorts are key to the education of our students as individuals and citizens. In this context, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Children’s Charter have been present in our school in a variety of ways this term. Some students discussed the right to food and shelter, to play and rest, to a proper education, to freedom of thought and speech, to democracy. The inalienable right to life. I am sure you will all be as proud as I am that a number of them wrote a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, asking him to sign the Safe Schools Declaration, which protects educational institutions from military use during armed conflicts.

As an example of artistic engagement, several mentor groups talked about Gord Downie’s Secret Path, an album and film focusing on Chanie Wenjack, the boy who met a tragic end when he tried to escape from a residential school in northwestern Ontario. Ultimately, it was indignation in the face of injustice that sparked Mr. Downie to action by rescuing this story from oblivion. It was moving to watch excerpts from the ceremony during which the Assembly of First Nations honoured the singer by presenting him with an eagle feather, a blanket and a spirit name, Wicapi Omani, which means “man who walks among the stars.”

The power of an all-round education is limitless. If Grade 7 students who stayed at the Windsong Peace and Leadership Centre in Arizona came back with incredible stories about environmental sustainability, I was no less impressed by what I heard about the Level II trip to the Amazonian rainforest in Ecuador, as part of a school building project. Indeed, education is about learning from books and from life. It is about math and French as well as about embracing gender equality and rejecting violence. It is ultimately about promoting global citizenship alongside intellectual and emotional development.

As the end of the calendar year approaches, we should all take stock of our lives and show gratitude for what we have. This was precisely the intention of my recent holiday card to the community, on which a beautiful view of our ravine was accompanied by a quotation on the particular meaning of love during this special season. The message inside was inspired by Louis Hémon’s early 20th-century novel Maria Chapdelaine, in which we witness the solitude of lumberjacks and their determination to find their way home again at the height of winter, even if this means putting their own lives at risk, just to be able to hug their loved ones and wish them well. 

We are all educators in deed and manner, so let us imitate those lumberjacks of old and concentrate on what really matters. Because what really matters at the end of the day is who we are and how much love we give. Next time the sun sets and the snow starts falling, make sure you provide your children with light, a lot of light, a glorious festival of lights. That is one important way in which we can hopefully protect them from unexpectedly harsh realities.
Within us, we have the flame of life and the warmth of love.

Dr. Josep L. González
Head of School