True and long-lasting joy

The following is the speech I presented at the College Awards evening on Sunday.

Each year, for the past three years, this address has focused on one of the attributes of the CBC gentleman. Derived from the College Journey Document, the attributes of the CBC gentleman explicitly detail the aspiration we have for all our graduates. In my experience, this is a rare thing in schools. Many schools have an aspiration for the results of their graduates in the areas of academic, sporting, artistic, etc. Important as they are, and they are important, with time the knowledge component of your school days wanes. I can still remember the disbelief I felt in Year 11 that my Chemistry and Physics teacher who had studied Maths II and III could not remember about derivatives and integration.

What makes CBC Fremantle a special school is the fact that we partner the primary educators, the parents, to help form the best possible young man. The attributes of the CBC gentleman are well known, or should be. Over the past three years, Mr Kenny has touched on consideration for the other, accountability and we all remember last year's moving speech on Gospel Values and the story of Johnson Evans, the little Kenyan boy who, having received a sandwich from Mr Kenny, proceeded to break it up into little pieces and share it among the throng of his peers who had gathered around him.

This year, I would like to talk about the fourth attribute: the CBC gentleman is selfless by nature and is able to form positive, mutually-beneficial relationships.

At enrolment interviews, I discuss with families the importance of this attribute in the context of a Rite of Passage. Rites of Passage aim to do three important things. Firstly they aim to provide a deep and profound sense of belonging; secondly they provide challenge and celebrate its success, and thirdly move the boy from a child psychology to an adult psychology. It is this last aim that requires a young person to replace himself with others at the centre of his life and is the focus of the selfless attribute.

In order to emphasise the child/adult psychology difference, I tell a story at enrolment interview. The first part of the story is true, the second part I hope never comes true. The story involves my beautiful grandson, Sebastian. On Fridays I often head out to Attadale to visit my daughter and grandchildren. Inevitably, Sebastian will ask "Nonno, can I please sleep over?", to which I reply "Of course bello, but Nonno wants to watch the football, so pack your blocks and pack your pencils and anything else you need to occupy yourself whilst Nonno watches the football." "No worries Nonno," comes the reply. "You watch the football and I'll play with my toys." Suffice to say, the commitment of a six year old counts for nought, because as soon as we get to Fremantle all bets are off and I'm watching six hours of ABC Kids. All is forgiven because when a child places himself at the centre of his life, it's cute and forgivable.

Fast-forward 12 years, Sebastian is now 18 years old and I'm an old man. This time it is me asking the favour: "Sebba, Nonno's not feeling too well, can you come and help with the back yard this Saturday?" "Not a problem Nonno, I'll be there at 12noon, count on it. Make my favourite lunch and we'll spend some quality time together!" On the Saturday noon comes and goes. So does 1.00pm and 2.00pm. My heart sinks by 3.00pm and by 4.00pm I know he's not coming. This time the failure of my grandson to meet his commitments is not met with the same reaction as before. What is cute as a kid is ugly as an adult. Selfishness can be excused in a child, it is never appropriate in an adult. To place others at the centre of your life is what CBC Fremantle is about, and the basis of all healthy relationships.

I am not an expert on selflessness. I'm not sure why some people have it and others don't. I'm not sure why it comes naturally to the one, yet with others it grows over time. Whatever the genesis, I have lived enough life to know that it is pivotal to having healthy relationships; healthy relationships are pivotal to happiness, and happiness brings optimal health benefits. I want to conclude by sharing a story of a special moment that I shared with my beautiful wife a few years ago. She had long wanted to visit Eastern Europe, in particular Budapest. I was always hesitant until I read somewhere about the Vass Shoe Company based on the banks of the Danube in that wonderful city. Suffice to say, once I knew about Vass shoes, the trip to Budapest was sealed. I guess I've got a bit to learn yet about selflessness.

Whilst in Eastern Europe we took the opportunity to visit a few other places. One of the places we both wanted to visit was Auschwitz, but not for curiosity, not for voyeurism and certainly not to take tourist pictures. We sought it as a pilgrimage destination with the hope that seeing first-hand the inhumanity of what occurred there, we might come away from that place inspired to live, to love life and to be lifted by acts of bravery, indomitable spirit and survival. Auschwitz for those of you who don't know consists of a number of camps, the three main ones being Auschwitz I, II and III. Auschwitz I was started in 1940 and intended for political prisoners. Auschwitz II, known as Birkenau, was constructed in late 1941, eventually becoming the extermination camp that killed between 1 and 2 million people. Auschwitz III was basically a factory camp where slave labour was used to supply the Nazi war machine. In January 2013, Antonella and I took the bus from Krakow to Auschwitz I and II.

Auschwitz I is famous for the Arbeit Macht Frei gate. It consists of a number of huge barracks, each once used to house prisoners, is now filled to the brim with either shoes, spectacles, children's toys, suitcases, human hair and other reminders of the magnitude of what had happened there, just 15 to 20 years before I was born. Each corridor was lined with photo after photo of the prisoners, their details, the dates of their arrival and of their death. You can imagine the experience is very moving. Towards the end of the barracks was Block 11. This was the notorious 'punishment' block. When I entered this barrack, the sombre mood created by the rest of the camp became even more depressing, but I felt something drawing me to the end cell. It was here that I found a small shrine to a Saint, and it was here that I experienced as pure an example of selflessness as I could imagine possible.

Like many of you, I was aware of the story of Maximillian Kolbe. I knew there was a school named in his honour. I knew vaguely of the story of his death, but now I was standing in the place of that moment and on the spot where he died.

After the outbreak of World War II, which started with the invasion of Poland by Germany, Kolbe was one of the few priests who remained in the monastery he found himself at the time, where he organised a temporary hospital. After the town was captured by the Germans, he was briefly arrested by them on 19 September 1939 but released on 8 December. He refused to sign the Deutsche Volksliste, which would have given him rights similar to those of German citizens in exchange for recognising his German ancestry. Upon his release, he continued work at his friary, where he and other friars provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from German persecution. Kolbe also received permission to continue publishing religious works, though significantly reduced in scope. The monastery thus continued to act as a publishing house, issuing a number of anti-Nazi German publications. On 17 February 1941, the monastery was shut down by the German authorities. That day Kolbe and four others were arrested by the German Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On 28 May, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner 16670.

Continuing to act as a priest, Kolbe was subjected to violent harassment, including beating and lashings, and once had to be smuggled to a prison hospital by friendly inmates.

Prisoners at Auschwitz were slowly and systematically starved to death, the rations being barely enough to sustain a child. Each morning there would be a surge toward the rations being served; one cup of imitation coffee. In the evening, after a day's excruciating labour, the same surge for some weak soup and half a loaf of bread. However, despite suffering the same ravages of hunger as everyone else, Father Kolbe stood aside until everyone had had their fill, often missing out entirely. Despite this, in the harshness of this environment, Father Kolbe maintained the gentleness of Christ. At night he would seldom lay down to rest, but rather move from bunk to bunk saying, "I am a Catholic priest; can I do anything for you?" A Protestant doctor who had treated Father Kolbe reported that "He (Kolbe) waited until all others had been treated before asking for help. He constantly sacrificed himself for others."

At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting the deputy camp commander to pick 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, "My wife! My children!", Kolbe quietly stepped forward, took off his cap, stood before the camp commandant and said, "I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children."

According to an eye witness, an assistant janitor at that time, in his prison cell, Kolbe led the prisoners in prayer. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards wanted the bunker emptied, so they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Kolbe is said to have raised his left arm and calmly waited for the deadly injection. He died on 14 August. His remains were cremated on 15 August, the feast day of the Assumption of Mary.

Gajowniczek survived the war, finally passing away in 1995. He recalled before his death: "I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me, a stranger. Is this some dream?"

As I stood on the spot Kolbe died and contemplated this act of supreme selflessness for a stranger, I began to think. In a place devoid of humanity, where survival becomes the only priority and basic instinct, where all the strictures of good manners and grace are let loose, where the inevitability of death is only alleviated by the hope of life, if a man does this for a stranger, how should I, living in a first world country, with a wonderful family, job and lifestyle, treat others? What, and where, are the barriers for me in treating others well, selflessly and with respect?

The attributes of the CBC gentleman came together almost serendipitously. Each year that passes since their introduction, I marvel at how timeless and immutable they are. As I have often stated, and will no doubt state again and again, they provide a fantastic set of personal attributes that make for a better society. Selflessness does not have to be at the level of Maximillian Kolbe. It starts each day by looking for the good in others. The 'pleases' and 'thank yous' to those who make your lunch, drive your bus, serve you at the shops. Selflessness can be reflected by the way you offer you seat to another, open a door and let mum and dad know each day of your love and gratitude. Small gestures every day. To those known and unknown by name. For no expected return of the kindness. Goodness being its own reward. In my speech to the graduating Class of 2018 I challenged the young men to think of all those who had helped them to this point, and to focus their efforts on bringing joy to the lives of their mothers, fathers, family and friends. I now make the same challenge to everyone here with the reminder that the only true and long-lasting joy you will ever know is when you do something for someone else. Thank you.

Before I relinquish the microphone, I would just to take the opportunity this evening to offer a few thanks. Firstly to you, the parents. Our College is special primarily because you unequivocally support and partner us in the formation of your sons. As I often state, when we are lockstep we are invincible.

To the wonderful staff at CBC Fremantle. Your quality, endeavour and genuine care for your students is reflected each year in the Year 12 exit interviews where the words family, community and relationships form the most common adjectives when describing the staff at CBC. Thank you to Mr Greg Bruce and the members of the College Board; Mr John Atkinson and the Parent Auxiliary; Mr Terry Iannello and the CBC Old Boys' Association; Stephen Everett and the Music Parents' Group, and all the others who work tirelessly and selflessly to support our College.

Thank you to Dr Debra Sayce, the Director of Catholic Education in Western Australia. Dr Sayce is a big supporter of the College and married to a CBC gentleman. Her love for her work and for the thousands of young men and women educated in Catholic schools and her support and care for the staff of those communities is legend, and it is wonderful she joins us here each year at this ceremony.

Similarly, Mr John Aldous our School Improvement Adviser and Mr Shaun Kenny and Ms Catherine Greenley our EREA Regional Directors, have been towers of strength and fonts of wisdom. Their contribution behind the scenes to our College cannot be understated.

Penultimately, I would like to acknowledge the Chaplaincy of Father John Sebastian. Our College's history with the Oblates and with St Patrick's goes back to its foundation. We must always remember we are a faith community, a Catholic school in the tradition of Edmund Rice, and our best service to all our graduates is that they become Christ-centered in their lives.

In my final acknowledgement, on behalf of all the staff at CBC Fremantle, I direct thanks to you, the gentlemen of CBC. To those of you who are here tonight, and to those who have not made it on this occasion, on behalf of my colleagues I thank you and your peers for making us feel valued, loved and appreciated. I assure you that any act of kindness to a member of staff never goes unnoticed and is always uplifting. I hope this school and this community continues to serve and form you into the kinds of men who make a positive difference in the world; in small ways or grand, but always positive. God Bless you all!

Mr Domenic Burgio
Principal