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I have recently returned from our Year 12 Retreat; two days of connective activities, reflection, team-building, and most importantly, time away from the intensity of study for our Year 12s. And for some, believe me, even two days felt like an eternity away from their books!
On our first night on retreat, we had a candle-lighting ceremony. The purpose of the ceremony was to offer a candle to anyone in the Year 12 cohort, staff and students included, as a message of hope, love, apology, forgiveness, or any other unspoken message that needed to be given silent voice. And that was exactly the challenge of the ceremony; that there be no words spoken. That whoever you were giving your candle to, or receiving your candle from, could trust that you knew what the message was. It was safe, poignant, and incredibly powerful.
I remember sitting in the beautiful, wide glass-walled chapel at Nunyara in Belair and taking in the beauty of all the lit candles flickering against the evening darkness. I could see the Adelaide lights in the background, and the sounds of magpies singing their final songs. The chapel lights were off, and the candles cast illuminating glows over the faces of our Year 12s.
There was a pause of uncertainty and fear at the very start of the ceremony; nobody wanted to be the first, to be the one watched as they traversed across the room, all just a little unsure and afraid. I also remember knowing exactly who my candle would go to, and that I would absolutely be one of the few staff members who would stand up and walk over to the student I was delivering my candle to, rather than waiting only to receive them.
My candle was always meant for a student by the name of Anthony. A giant, strapping young man who struggled with family life as much as he did school, whose every interaction with me involved either shaving, uniform, smoking, being late, dodging teachers, backtalk, and assessment dates. I love this young man, but I also knew, deep down, out of all my 23 tutor group students, he was the one that I wasn’t a perfect fit for. And no matter how I framed my words, he needed someone different to me to care for him.
But he got me, and in the 3 years we have been together as a tutor group, we have inched towards a grudging understanding, an uneasy and slightly volatile truce. My young man Anthony, I wish that you could have had the tutor teacher you needed, someone you could talk soccer with, and who would have that easy authority and humour that would inspire you into action. I want you to know how much you are loved and valued, despite the clashes we have had.
I stood and began walking, and felt the eyes of a whole Year 12 cohort of students and staff following me, across the falling dusk, tracking toward Anthony. I could see him react: Sure she’s not coming over to ME with her candle? I stood deliberately, humbly, and gently in front of him for a moment, looking him squarely in the eye, before I held out my candle. He looked at it curiously, and for a moment, I wondered if he was going to accept it, or swat it out of my hand in retaliation.
Slowly, gently, he wrapped his fingers around it and took it from me. And then he offered me his own. We shook hands. And then I walked back to where I had originally come from, my solo flight done, tears beginning to rise up spontaneously.
The incredible thing was this; I was thinking only of myself at that moment in time: This is something I need to do, this is something that’s between myself and Anthony. I had no idea the ripples it would cause, and the effect it would have on the rest of my tutor group, and the rest of the Year 12 cohort.
A number of my Year 12s said that the moment Anthony took my candle was the moment they began crying, and didn’t stop for the rest of the ceremony. Others said that the fact that I, a staff member, was the second person walking across the chapel in full view gave them courage to do the same. Many more in my tutor group said that they weren’t going to do the “risky handover”, looking for safer options, but my example gave them hope and a sense of responsibility to take the risk.
One of my Year 12, when giving me her candle, said to me: “This one’s for you, Ms Kwok. For the courage it took to give your own candle away, not just to Anthony, but for to all of us on a daily basis.”
I didn’t anticipate crying, but I did, steadily, through that ceremony. And through the silent tears, I remember looking at all these beautiful young men and women, the Year 12 Class of 2019, traversing that chapel like fireflies, carrying messages of hope, courage, forgiveness and light to their rightful destinations.
Accurate representation of how Year 12s navigate Year 12.
I’m using this to open my Year 12 presentation lecture this year. 🤣
The first time I watched this, I was in total agony. The music! The drama + suspense! The tragic music at the end! 😳 But it DOES have a happy ending. 😅
And the parallels are just too good:
“The perfect drop. And a controlled launch!”
“This is as good a descent as is possible to make.”
“It’s parents are there to meet it. A little dazed, perhaps, but all in one piece.” 😂
Plus that fact that is David Attenborough commentating just MAKES it.
Cleaning out my phone + from the vault: Class of 2017 get their revenge. 😂
The Wrapper-er gets wrapped. 😄
“JUST REMEMBER WHO’S MARKING YOUR SOLO PERFORMANCES!”, I kept yelling sporadically.
These are MA POSSE. My gorgeous Year 12s, Class of 2018.
Love them to bits.
They are such a mixed set of personalities and abilities, but they care deeply for each other, lift each other up, and are learning to out-nerd each other with each passing day.
There are been tears, laughter, and immense amounts of coffee + chocolate consumed.
They inspire me to be my best teaching self, because of their sheer commitment and determination to be THEIR best selves.
p.s. As much as I’d like to think that I look like a student, that’s me in the red, nicely towered over by my crew. Don’t they look great?!
So I’m trying to make lemon butter right now and my phone is having an epileptic fit in terms of notifications + messages as my Year 12 Music kiddies are getting in touch to let me know how they all went. Abandoned lemon butter “gel” on the stove, salvage it later, I’m right in the middle of all the hustle, excitement, nerves, and celebration of my Class of 2017 musos. I keep telling myself each year that this is the year I won’t get so over-the-top nervous + involved in all of this. But that’s a load of BS and I know it.
Class of 2017, my little United Nations of such different personalities, all so much loved by me. Congratulations to you all. You’ve truly made it over the finish line.
Love from a proud Mama Kwokkie.
I have loved this quote forever. But this week, I had the extraordinary and unsettling experience of really living this quote. I thought I understood it, I’ve shared it with my students, I have it written in my journal. But when you actually walk through the very essence of this quote, my goodness, you cannot help but feel full and lifted up to overflowing.
I was preparing a special medley of pieces for the Class of 2017 Valedictory Dinner. My Year 12 Music class and I shared a lesson of laughter sorting through songs that best represented their cohort last term, where they each threw their suggestions into the ring. The most cringe-worthy, memory-stirring, funny, and meme-riddled top 10 numbers were chosen. Over the holidays, I crudely “frankensteined” them together on Sibelius and the Year 12 Valedictory Medley, in all its cringe-worthy glory, was born!
In recent weeks, my poor Year 12 Music class have been madly scrambling to get themselves ready for their final performance moderations. And I have been unrelenting as a teacher. Gone is the Mama Kwokkie, and in place, is “The Smiling Gestapo Kwokkie”; as one of my students fondly describes, “Ms Kwok in this state is like a Disney princess who can ninja kick your ass to the curb.”
Yet despite the intensity of preparation and the lack of time, every single one of my gorgeous Year 12s was invested in this medley. So we made rehearsal time. We scrimped and scrounged 15-minute and 30-minute time-slots when we could miraculously get the crew together to practise, and my 12s came in over weekends, during the holidays, and before and after school to make up the time they missed in lesson with me. To see them come together like this just made my heart double in size.
Putting this score together cost me 15-20 hours of my time over the holidays, but I love arranging, and was glad to take on this special project for this very special crew.
Our challenges started when we weren’t offered a spot to play. Now granted, just because last year’s Year 12 Music class performed as a band, didn’t guarantee us a spot. No worries, go speak with my Head of Performing Arts, ready for it to fall either way, yes or no, take it on the chin. The support was basic at best; go and negotiate with the organiser of the Valedictory Dinner of Head of Senior School and if it’s a yes from them, you’re on. No worries, go do that, and done, done, done! We are on the program.
But somewhere along the line, communications broke down not once, but several times, and there were problems and roadblocks to our musical performance, over and over, through no fault of anyone. So I kept making noise and negotiating, restating, recalibrating. How much could a musical item take from me, and one that I wasn’t even sure was going to be a hit with the Year 12 cohort?
On the day of the Valedictory Dinner, I felt as if I had carried this musical item and my Year 12 Music class one by one through the whole preparation process. I had never wanted so much to throw the towel in and quit on this performance, and I have never quit on any performance. I felt like I had had to fight every step of the way to get this on the program, without actually wanting to fight at all. I am not someone who does things at the last-minute, I’m super-organised and love being that way, I always endeavour to be inclusive in my decision making, and I’m transparent in my teaching. For some reason, this preparation run for this performance felt like a battle the whole way.
But as I sat in on the final Year 12 assembly that morning and looked at the faces of that cohort, I could feel my heart brimming all over again, and the motivation rise up. Specifically, I looked at and for the faces of my beautiful Year 12 Music kiddies, the crazy and hilarious personalities, the big hearts and amazing souls I was working with.
Damn it, I was going to go through with this no matter what.
That evening, when I announced the Valedictory Medley to the Class of 2017 cohort + attending staff, I was shitting myself. My words were clear and witty, but my knees were shaking and I wondered if I’d get over to the keyboard in my heels without tripping over.
And you know what?
WE PLAYED THE ARSE OFF THAT PIECE.
It just went OFF.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen such a unified expression of connection, enthusiasm, and rowdy joyful singing within group of Year 12s, most of whom are not musos. I couldn’t help it. I was grinning like an idiot all the way through.
Come to the end of the piece, and the room erupted into applause, the joy and appreciation was palpable. My 12s also forgot themselves and were hugging each other, and hugging me, in pure joy and elation, while we were still on stage.
My moment – The Moment – came when I was called forward to collect the gift on behalf of the Music Department. Now, this job is NEVER meant for me, it’s always Head of Performing Arts, but I had done the work this time, so it fell on my shoulders.
So I walked up, with this incredible envelope of love and achievement around me, buoyant from the Year 12s around me, knowing I had gone against the tide and STILL we had performed and given such joy…and I felt a shiver of uncertainty shoot through me. I couldn’t smile. I wasn’t embarrassed or feeling small; it was the sheer amount of battle and adversity I had gone through that made me too exhausted to step into the light, my light. I walked up so serious and totally unlike myself. Why couldn’t I fully lean into this extraordinary moment?
And then I realised. I was at that moment afraid of my own light. It had become so bright through this moment, borne from adversity, that even I didn’t know how to handle such a brilliance.
I took a breath and kept walking, and when I turned around to look at the hundreds of faces in the room, I burst out laughing! I couldn’t contain the relief, the joy, the exuberance, myself, and all that blinding light.
That amazing light that was shining from me. That’s what it feels like to step into it and own it.
Own it like a boss lady.
I’ve had my Year 12s performing their Solo Performance + Performance Special Study programs to my Year 6s + 8s, and then hang around for a Q+A to mentor my junior kiddies.
Miss Year 8: “Do you have any advice for people who know they are going to go on and do Year 12 Music?”
Sir Year 12: “Whatever Ms Kwok asks you to do in terms of your performance preparation or assignments, just do it. Seriously. And do it BY THE DEADLINE that she asks for. Your quality of life will be SO MUCH BETTER if you do.”
Spoken like a survivor of war!
Actual footage of me trying to get my Year 12s across the line.
This is the front page of my Year 12 Harmony Revision booklet. For 14 years, each kid who studies traditional harmony with me has to come to the office window and yell, “Ms Kwok, can I please have my AAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGHHHHHH!” revision booklet, please!?
At Brighton, they used to gather in small groups and yell en masse!
I like these traditions. 😉
Sir Year 12 in Musicianship, whilst tackling a harmony paper: “Stemless 4-part vocal harmony. It’s like seedless watermelons, isn’t it?”
I naively thought they were called “semibreves”, but I’m happy to have my horizons broadened.