Wesley College Melbourne Australia
Wesley College Melbourne

Principal's Lines

8 December 2015

Two things recently encouraged in me ideas about how change is a constant in our lives. The first was some time spent reading and reflecting on a property inland in the rainforest of the far north Queensland coast, during a brief sabbatical. The natural world teaches us so much about change, simply through observation: on a beach where the water meets the sand, or the water mark on the sand showing the advancing and receding tide, or that point where the land meets the sky, each marks a world in perpetual motion. The biologist in me still gets excited by particular environments; while a landscape in front of the eyes looks to be rock steady, I know that underneath, usually imperceptibly, many changes are constantly taking place. The natural world is dynamic, and so, too, are individual lives. 

I was able to pick up again on these thoughts fairly soon after, in a more conventional setting for a Wesley Principal – farewelling our graduating classes from Glen Waverley and St Kilda Road at the annual Speech Nights at the Melbourne Town Hall. I wanted to send a message to these students about to embark on the next stage of their evolving lives that, like in the natural world, change is awe-inspiring and beautiful, and yet often intimidating too. I don’t doubt that, while all of them are, and were, excited that school days were over at last and the world beckoned, there was just a smidge of apprehension as well. Speech Nights deliver such a mixture of emotions – but again, I’m reminded how necessary these feelings are for truly understanding life in transition.

St Kilda Road Middle School musical Oliver
St Kilda Road Middle School musical, Oliver  
Girls Athletics - 2015 Premiers
Girls Athletics - 2015 Premiers

Leaving school is a rite of passage perhaps like no other encountered to this point in life. A young person is losing a certainty and the routine that has made life secure – or as secure as it ever can be. It’s daunting, leaving this behind finally, but paradoxically – and this was the core message – lasting security can only be found in growth through change. I hope that our students leaving us every year will see the beauty in what they have achieved in their Wesley years, but they also have to face the receding tide, the inevitable loss of familiarity each day. But a new tide will soon enough wash ashore. I have no doubt our parents were experiencing similar apprehension as they watched their sons and daughters launched into the thrill of the wider world. Life in transition is exhilarating and can also be unnerving, and this is what gives our Speech Nights their special character.

But it is also at turning points like these, in intense moments of change, that our values are tested. For it’s the things we believe in, the timeless values, that are so important in guiding us at times of significant change. Each of our students, throughout their Wesley life, will have absorbed messages about diversity, inclusiveness and social responsibility. These ideas are bound up with our traditional Wesley commitment to promoting social awareness, to serving the broader community, and to being welcoming of the diverse behaviours, thoughts and aspirations of others. Our human transitions are social and emotional as well as organic, and I have no doubt that, in leaving school respecting others, and embracing the different human faces we encounter, our students are able to flourish in a world of persistent change.

(L-R): Hon Christopher Pyne, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Graham Farquhar, Hon Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister. Photo credit: Prime Ministers Prizes for Science

(L-R): Michaela Young, Maeve McGarrity, Lucy Richardson, Tahlia Punter
at Glen Waverley House athletics


Wesley has always sought to help our students find the delicate balance between personal wants and social obligations. In serving others as well as ourselves we actually find the security that life in transition often seems to threaten.

And as biology has unexpectedly emerged partly as my theme, it is fitting that I should acknowledge a distinguished alumnus who has been recently honoured nationally. Nobel prize winner and Distinguished Professor of the ANU’s Research School of Biology, Graham Farquhar AO (OW1964) has been awarded this year’s Prime Minister Prize for Science. He was presented the award by the Hon Malcolm Turnbull at a dinner in October in the Great Hall at Parliament House. Graham’s work on plants has transformed our understanding of the world’s most important biological reaction: photosynthesis. His latest project will determine which trees will grow faster in a high carbon dioxide world. His work has also revealed a global climate mystery. Evaporation rates and wind speeds are slowing around the world, contrary to the predictions of most climate models. Life under climate change may be wetter than we expected.

And I am also thrilled that a friend, colleague and mentor, Dr Alan Finkel AO, has been appointed Australia’s Chief Scientist. He is presently Chancellor of Monash University and I have learned so much working under his leadership while serving on the Monash board. Alan, of course is a valued friend of Wesley, and past parent of Victor (OW2004) – our most recent Rhodes Scholar – and Alex (OW2007).

It’s been a big year. I am grateful to all who contribute so generously to this vibrant and loving community.

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