Since 2006, from the very first Leavers’ Dinner for Year 13 students graduating from Aquinas College, a parent whose last child is leaving Aquinas College, is asked to speak on behalf of the parents. This year, Monique Balvert-O’Connor was asked to deliver that speech, and here it is….
I have been to many, many parent interviews. Often on my own – which was a deliberate ploy so that when the teachers told me about my disruptive children who loved the chitter chatter I could say “oh, they are so like their father.”
In reality, their father, Michael is the quietest member of the family. I’m the talker, so you’ve got me up here at the podium today.
Good evening everyone. I am Monique, and I love that I can put my hand up and say I am the mother of Sam O’Connor. I am also proud to say I do know many of the fine young people gathered here today, and their wonderful parents (many of whom have become firm – or flabby even – friends).
For many families it’s farewell to Aquinas. I appreciate the honour of being asked to address you today and the only reason our family was selected over others was because… we have been here forever. Apparently, we hold the record for being at Aquinas college the longest. Ever.
We are foundation parents. Our eldest son, Jacob was an inaugural pupil, starting at Year 7. He is now 28, so by my reckoning we have had children at Aquinas for about 17 years. So, it’s the end now to an era that has spanned many years.
That’s many rugby, hockey, football, athletic events… many school musicals, choir practices, school masses, service days, fundraisers, representative rugby and hockey and athletics trips away… It’s a fair swag of performing arts nights, exams, detentions, school masses and prizegivings later.
There have been legendary pre balls too – how cool was it when Fraser Lellman, piped you guys on to the school bus after the pre-balls? In fact, those pre-balls were so good that the parents didn’t want to leave – we tended to still be at them long after our children finished their after balls!!!
Anyway, the Aquinas school years have offered plenty of time for us all to create memories that incorporate moments that have been celebratory, stressful, full of fun …poignant. Increasingly so.
Michael and I have four sons. Those of you who adhere to a stereotypical way of thinking may presume four sons equates to plenty of visits to the principal’s office and many calls from deans. I have to say that hasn’t really been the case…We’ve had the police visit a few times though… not as ominous as it sounds, I assure you.
Actually, one of the naughtier school things I recall was when our eldest son, Jacob, was in Year 13 and it was prank day. He and his best mate, Sam Lee (son of Marty Lee) decided to gather up the touchstones and hide them all around the school grounds. The staff then ended up on a bit of a treasure hunt, retrieving all except the touchstone “truth”. Jacob later told me that was because: “Mum you are meant to hold fast to truth. So, I held fast to truth a little longer”. The Truth touchstone was eventually restored.
Michael and I are very proud of our sons who are all doing fine, and Aquinas is a big part of that picture. When I talk about my boys here, please appreciate it is with the greater Aquinas picture in mind.
For example, one of the biggest things that has made my mother heart proud about Sam in the latter half of this year has been his commitment to doing his bit for Tauranga’s homeless. He cooks and delivers a meal once a fortnight. Similarly, I love how our third son, Blair (an architecture student) has volunteered over the past two years to visit schools throughout NZ with high Maori and Pacifica rolls, encouraging young people to continue their education. Our boys (who ironically pretty much eat us out of house and home) have all been involved with feeding the hungry programmes.
Where does this come from? It comes from a college where service is encouraged. Think service days with no financial recompense, the Fiji service trip, the Loaves and Fishes programme that involves our kids making lunches for children in low decile schools…
I perceive Aquinas College to be a school with a focus on service, kindness and compassion. These are big words. They are wrapped up in values great to carry out into the big wide world. Michael and I want our children to contribute in making our community better through service and kindness and the teachings of Aquinas are in step with that.
And of course, Aquinas is a college with an exemplary academic record.
I haven’t yet mentioned the staff of Aquinas. This is deliberate, as I didn’t want to simply mention them in passing. They deserve much more than that. Many personify the “go the extra mile” saying. A recent case in point is all the hours many have put in with after-and-before school tuition so our kids could give their exams their best shot. As a side note I think all my boys would have studied biology if they’d known was Mrs McManaway was putting on breakfast.
Our teachers are also fantastic at offering pastoral care. I still remember receiving a phone call from Isabelle many years ago, when our second son Adam was in his final year at school. Adam’s then best mate had just broken up with his girlfriend. Isabelle rang me and said “Monique, this young man is very upset, has left school to go home and I know there is nobody at home. Do you mind if Adam follows him and keep an eye on him?” I loved that.
When Adam left Aquinas he spent a gap year as a teacher assistant at a school in England. It was a very impressive school, with students being helicoptered in, some arriving with bodyguards. Children of royalty had studied there. So, what did Adam have to say after his year there in such a salubrious environment laden with wealth and opportunity? He said, “Mum, that school made me realise how much the teachers at Aquinas cared about us.” Pretty special.
Aquinas’ sense of family and caring warrants an excellence endorsement. A few of us here – the Meehans and the Schulers, my husband, for example – we’ve all experienced the deaths of parents over recent years and it’s a real heart tugger when you see Aquinas College students lining up for communion in their number ones, showing their respect at our parents’ funerals. I challenge anyone to argue with me when I say Aquinas is a school with a big heart.
There are things that have been in place for years that I have loved – like the Year 13 retreat love letters we write to our children (Sam, we’re still waiting for one in return). And there are evolving things that will further strengthen Aquinas – such as the introduction this year of a ceremony celebrating graduating Maori and Pacifica students. I also note a new emphasis on mentoring. Great stuff.
In summing up, I want to say to you, young people that you may be told your school years are the best of your life. I’d like to assure that’s bollocks. Regardless of how great your Aquinas experience has been, you have better years ahead. I want to symbolically gift you wonderful young people with my favourite touchstone… joy. Carry it with you.
And finally…Speaking on behalf of all the parents here I would like to say to you departing Aquinas students…
For all that you have done, for all you are. We celebrate you.
For all your potential, for all the good you will become. We celebrate you.
by Monique Balvert-O’Connor
Mother of Jacob, Adam, Blair and Sam O’Connor