Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Gary Sylven
Principal's Address

Grade 12 Grad 2015

Good afternoon to everyone that can hear my voice. I am honoured to share this special celebration with you this afternoon, and even more humbled by the opportunity to speak.

I’m usually reluctant to speak, as I was advised many years ago that one should speak only when one will improve the conversation. So I’m really trusting that my words will provide some value to you.

Here we go. Let me start with the wall outside of Mr. Goettel’s classroom. Our graduates know only too well the quotes that are pinned on the bulletin board there. Some classics are Jimmy Dean’s quote, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to reach my destination.” And even a quote from Big Sean, “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, it’s green where you water it.”

My message here today stems from one of those quotes on the wall. Actually, it might not ever have been there because I looked for it the other day and couldn’t find it. So maybe it came from somewhere else, but that doesn’t matter. The point is, it stuck with me.

Here’s the quote: The way you do anything is the way you do everything. Again, the way you do anything is the way you do everything.

It has kind of an eastern, philosophical, Zen-like feel when you first hear it, and the intuitive part of your brain seems to buy into it right away. Mine did anyway.

After a while I got more curious and spent a little time trying to find the exact origin of the phrase, but there was nothing conclusive that I could find. It might be a thousand years old from India or just the title of a business self-help book.

And even the interpretation of the phrase seems to differ among people. The way you do anything is the way you do everything?

Is the meaning of the phrase about building proper habits? Or perhaps paying attention to detail? Or else being genuine and authentic all of the time. Likely it’s a combination of these.

Yet when I look for real life applications of the phrase, it actually falls apart.

How you do anything is how you do everything is not true when you think of the kind man in church who then rudely honks at a car on the way out of the parking lot.

Or the mindful yoga practitioner who leaves her yoga class and rushes to the change room while distractedly checking her cell phone for messages.

It doesn’t make sense to hear about the talented young athlete who brags about being able to eat a bag full of hamburgers from McDonald’s just before going into the big game.

Or even the artist who preaches about creativity and expression, yet comes off as judgemental of others’ work.

No, there is definitely something askew in the phrase, and I’ve calibrated a version that makes better sense to me.
That phrase should be: If you want to be successful, you should do everything in the same way you do anything.

Think of the these successes that were experienced at Rundle this year. You’ll see how the people involved consistently did anything and everything so well:

  • The excellence in the detail of every performance at November’s Remembrance Day ceremony, perhaps the most moving ceremony I’ve ever seen in my 20 years at Rundle.
  • The ongoing focus on harmony required to produce the amazing music of Rundle’s band, whether marching on the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras or at last night’s concert.
  • The relentless months of training and sacrifices of our championship basketball team leading to their provincial banner.
  • The way that successful students must practice calculus day after day in order to do well on the exams.
  • And even the character Atticus Finch, from the drama production of To Kill a Mockingbird, living by his principles every day despite the hardship it causes him.

Anything and everything.

Let me ask each grade 12 student to reflect on this question now: Which teacher has had the most impact on you over the years?

Does that teacher show excellence on some days, but not on other days? Or great character in most situations but poor character at other times? No, I would bet that you are thinking of a teacher that showed excellence in anything and everything, consistently and reliably.

Moving from the past to the future, Grade 12s, let’s see how this phrase might work for you.

Imagine yourselves in the near future, just a few months from now, walking into one of your classes at university.

Will you walk into class on time, or be the one that rushes in late?

Will you greet the professor personally, or not make the effort?

Will you choose a seat where you’ll be engaged in the class, or sit at the back and check your Facebook?

Will you settle into that seat and take out the materials you need to start, or search for a pen at the bottom of your backpack as junk spills onto the floor?

You can sense the message I’m building here. By being mindful and doing your best with the details in everything, you will set yourself up to be excellent in anything.

To the Class of 2015, I celebrate your future success in anything and everything. Grade 12s, I dedicate to you the applause you’re about to hear.


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