COVID-19 can prevent the face to face event but not the celebration. A speech to Grade 7 students leaving elementary school to start secondary school.
My name is Ms. Carrie Froese, the very proud principal of David Livingstone Elementary School. I am honoured to be addressing our Grade 7 graduates and their guests tonight. This has been a year of change like no other. The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed how you have experienced school. It has changed how you socialize with your peers. It has changed how you connect with your family. It has changed how others interact with you. The Prime Minister has addressed Grade 7 students directly in a speech as you graduate from elementary school and move on to secondary school. A first! You are witnessing a tipping point where masses of people want to address the racism and discrimination in our systems of policing, health care and community life. You are seeing the backlash, as people wanting to hold tight to their preferred position or privilege, demonstrate blatant and deplorable racism. Then there is you. In the midst of it all. In a position to make real and meaningful change a reality.
You have heard me ask many times, who do you want to be in the world? Your power is in the things that you do and the things that you say. Many of you have already discovered that power. Early in the year, I was approached by group of Grade 7 students. They politely told me that when I said “Good morning, boys and girls” in the morning message, it did not make everyone feel welcome. They were able to identify the language was not inclusive and had the potential to make students feel “outside” of the group. They hung in there with me through slips of habit, to change my language to make everyone in the school feel welcome with a “Good Morning Livingstone School Community”. Little shift. Big difference in creating an inclusive and welcoming space.
Anna identified two things at the beginning of the year; A love of graphic novels by students in the school; A lack of graphic novels in the Livingstone library. Her initial goal was to “educate me” about the merits of graphic novels. I was sent home with homework and a fresh set of eyes. Her goal grew to include sharing her passion with other educators, parents, and students by presenting on a panel session sponsored by the BC Literacy Council. Her efforts resulted in a growing collection of graphic novels in the Livingstone Library and a nice connection with the librarian at Tupper who also shares her passion. We discovered that Tupper has the most well-developed collection of graphic novels of any school in the Vancouver School Board when the Tupper librarian attended the session.
Christa and Miki wondered about the Black Lives Matter movement, the horrific images on social media, and the subsequent protests taking place. They took the time to ask questions, and followed their learning to embrace questions about the multiple perspectives that exist in history. Our history. They learned about the historical and present day discrimination faced by our Indigenous people and other communities of colour in our own backyard. Then they looked for ways to use their voices to speak up for needed change by sharing their learning with peers, signing petitions, advocating for donations and setting out to discover a path forward.
Fundraising for the Yukon Trip took on a life of its own, as students in Division 1 and 2 set their sights a trip of a lifetime to the Yukon to learn about food security, Indigenous people and the northern environment. Then just when the funds were almost in place – the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the possibility. To say it is a drag is an understatement. However, students have been able to pivot and make spending decisions that indicate:
- the aspiration to benefit as many people as possible in the school community
- a gratitude for the Essential Service Workers during the COVID-19 pandemic
- gratitude and support for the Project Chef in-residence program and the powerful learning we experienced this year
- A concern for people who are struggling to put food on the table
- A desire to eradicate racism and discrimination
That is a strong voice filled with care, empathy, generosity and kindness that makes all of us proud. As you move on to secondary school, never underestimate the power of a clear, kind voice. Not laughing at a racist or sexist or homophobic joke. Naming behaviour for what it is. Supporting a targeted person. All those things have power. And when we act collectively, it is possible to change our society to embrace kindness and implement basic human rights for all people. As Margaret Mead says, ““Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
You have the power to choose who you want to be in the world. Be kind. Be curious. Ask questions. Read to experience different places and glean new perspectives and knowledge. Write to fine tune your thinking and share your ideas. You have the power to change the world . I feel very confident that you will. I am so glad that our paths crossed.
Congratulations and best of luck as your next chapter unfolds at Secondary School.