If you are a keen social observer as I am, it has been an interesting few weeks with enough for schools to think about on the eve of end of year 12 valedictory celebrations and young people on the cusp of a very significant right of passage. School leaders still brace themselves for what can be a testing time with some young people (not all), pushing the boundaries of community expectations. Many schools have found the right balance for this time of year however, but nonetheless it is still one in which many hold their breath and hope. (I am resisting the urge to use the antiquated term ‘Muck Up Day’ but it may well come up later).
Firstly, what does the Prime Ministerial revolving door in Canberra with now a seventh leader in 11 years, and most of society rightly asking “why” say to young people about truth and trust or the accountability of our elected leaders to deliver responsible government? Subsequently, much has been written about the pervading culture of bullying among politicians both here and abroad. Overseas, we witnessed the petulance of the US President refusing to lower the flag over the White House on the death of decorated war veteran, former Presidential candidate and Senator, John McCain with eulogies delivered by McCain’s daughter and former Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama offering stinging rebukes of the current leader, all without mentioning his name, reminiscent of Lord Voldemort who was also never to be named. Closer to home, like a well worn script, NRL footballers were at it again, sinking to repeated lows with Mad Monday antics despite warnings to the contrary.
So where do schools turn if they want to sell a message of meeting appropriate standards to young people?
Lessons from politics? Maybe not
When in the space of a few weeks the former deputy Liberal Party leader warns of appalling behaviour, another female Liberal MP resigns because of it, a female Liberal senator threatens to name and shame tormentors, a female Labor MP quits because of what she terms ‘slut-shaming’ and a female Greens senator claims to have endured the same for over a decade, surely enough is enough.
Lessons from Mad Monday? Neither
The NRL CEO Todd Greenberg felt it necessary to personally warn all clubs to ensure there were no Mad Monday incidents which would bring the game into disrepute, in much the same way that many school Principals and Deputy Principals issue the same edict with respect to the final days of Year 12. Why is such a warning still required in 2018?
The vast majority of society has moved on from such behaviour with almost zero tolerance for it in 2018, whether it be Mad Monday or Muck Up day festivities (I tried not to mention it). As sports journalist Paul Kent correctly said, the old argument of “boys will be boys” is outdated in today’s game but let’s go one step further - it is outdated in society in general.
Lessons from John Millman? Possibly
Who, I hear you ask? Well you could be excused for asking exactly that before the unassuming Queenslander defeated Roger Federer in the fourth round of the US Open recently, surprising everyone including himself. How refreshing it was to see the underdog win without any over-the-top celebration and speaking so highly of his opponent, acknowledging that Federer was clearly was not at his best. Certainly Millman’s tenacity and perseverance are worth bottling and are wonderful exemplars to young people.
Lessons from Serena Williams? Yep! Until the US Open Final that is...
I, like many, have always admired the talent and exuberance of Serena Williams. She has been the dominant female tennis player of our age and has been responsible for the female tennis circuit being given its due credibility. She has dealt with immense racial and sexist adversity all her life both in private and in public and yet been willing to tackle it head on. Needless to say though her outburst at the US Open final has tarnished her legacy. Or has it? I admit to not quite knowing how to form an opinion over what occurred. Was it justified; was it unwarranted; was it calculated? Did the chair umpire act appropriately; was he unjust in his treatment of her? I’m still deciding.
Time will tell just how much damage has been done. Will young people, in particular young women, who previously looked up to Serena now choose to seek out other role models? Perhaps, but it is important for us not to overburden individuals with expectations of flawlessness. None of us are perfect. All of us have moments of regret. I suspect this will be one for Serena too. The question is - what lessons will she take from it and the message for young fans who perhaps feel let down right now is to watch on with interest as to whether indeed she will be a better person as a result of what took place on Centre Court.
Lessons from Johnathan Thurston? Now we’re talking
Finally just to prove that not all footballers are boorish oafs, let’s turn to a good news story instead and an example to all young people that is worth celebrating - that of Johnathan Thurston.
My sense is that Thurston’s greatest legacy is yet to be felt. Retirement gives him the opportunity to turn his attention to working with indigenous communities and young people in particular and my sense is this is where Thurston will make an even greater mark, quite an ask for someone already labelled an immortal in the game.
His simple act to collect his kicking tee and return it to the ball boy irrespective of the result of the kick led the NRL to issue a policy request some years ago for all goal kickers to follow suit. Such is his standing in the game that opposition teams have feted him at every opportunity this season in the realisation they are farewelling an immortal of the game.
A final message
Perhaps the best message to Year 12 students, male and female, this September is not to follow the example of our politicians or neanderthal footballers (or the American President for that matter) and to judge Serena for her contributions throughout her career rather than one moment of madness. I’m not prepared to give the same benefit of the doubt to the footballers though. What a different story it would have been if the Mad Monday celebrations were seen as an opportunity to give something back to the fans; to celebrate in moderation and then spend the rest of the day or week working with underprivileged or marginalised community groups, doing something really special for someone else.
The same can be achieved during the last week of Year 12 and I applaud the many schools that will focus the week’s activities on similar service opportunities. Is it really that much to ask to think of others before yourself? After all, last memories are often lasting memories.
An unedited version of this article appears on my LinkedIn page.
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