This is the story of a group of young people who are about to leave our community as the better men we always knew they could be: the Class of 2019. This year, our school community has been focussing on the pursuit of excellence. For many, the focus tends to be on the product: the excellence, and this grad class certainly has a lot of that. Thousands of dollars in academic scholarships will be celebrated at Grad in June, many top athletes will go on to star in their sports at the university level (Chris, Adam, Noah and Owen in football, John in soccer, Nick and Lukas in lacrosse, to name a few), while others have been selected to some of the top American art colleges (Felix and Bruce, for example). But every graduating class seems to have a pervading personality, and, if you ask their teachers, this group would be simply described as a bunch of nice guys. However bland or beige that moniker may seem, I would argue it is exceptionally difficult to be so nice, so kind, so empathetic of each other, in our post-modern world of social media diatribes, a society that celebrates nastiness, makes memes out of meanness.
So I will share with you a few of their stories; not an exhaustive list, simply an illustrative one, that shows a little of their character. I’ll start with Kelly, whom I had the pleasure of reminiscing with recently as he reflected on his last few weeks here. On the outside, Kelly looks the part of the ideal VC grad: captain of our first-ever Provincial soccer championship team, basketball star, confident public speaker at our recent Grad Dinner, the kind of guy who always has a smile on his face and a lighthearted spring in his step. But he has had his struggles: academics, especially math, has not always come easy to him and he has had to face those challenges head-on. In his elementary years, long before he became an athletic leader here, he was diagnosed with a rare disorder, Legg Perthes, that literally hobbled him and made him vulnerable to teasing. He never forgot that lesson, and actively sought out those most vulnerable to bullying in his grade throughout middle and senior school. It is no wonder that he is now universally liked and respected by his peers and teachers alike.
Then there is the story of Ryan. When very young, Ryan was diagnosed with a brain-based disorder and medical experts said he would never write, read, or even talk. Now sporting a nearly 90% academic average, Ryan overcame those limitations, showing incredible determination in the face of early diversity. It is not surprising that he was able to translate that strength of character elsewhere, as over the past few years he has won several major Track & Field awards, and is one of the highest ranked high jumpers in Canada. But despite this exceptional success, you will never meet a young man who is more humble or kinder. I have witnessed him, every day over the last three years of his Senior School career, shining a little light in everyone’s life through his daily positive attitude; as he says himself: ‘That is why when I walk down the hallways at VC, I smile or greet people, because I want Vancouver College to be not just a meaningful experience for me, but for everyone else.’
Then there is the story of David. A popular classmate, strong academic student, and soccer star, he was a front-runner for Student Council president last year, but lost a close race. Rather than dwelling on this failure, he has turned his senior year into one of true servant leadership. He led an Encounter group of his peers in October, and inspired his group (which included me) with the depth of his reflections and his gently effective leadership. More notably, on more than one occasion this year, he has sought out an adult in our community because of his concerns about vulnerable, hurting members of his class. His teenage empathy and wisdom exceeds that of many adults I know.
Finally, there is Sean. When he entered Senior School, he was one of the first students I met at Vancouver College, as he asked for a meeting with me. It was an unusual one: rather than asking for a specific need, he wanted to talk because he wanted to be sure that he could become the best version of himself and make the most of his high school life. And he certainly has: more than any single student in his fabulous class, Sean has come to typify excellence and service to others. Always one of the top students academically, he has now become the undisputed voice of the grad class, visibly as their Student Council President but more deeply as their advocate and example of excellence every day. He is a top provincial-level decathlete and solid cross-country runner. He spearheaded a student-faculty exploration of the House System (think Harry Potter) as it would pertain to Vancouver College. He has delved into our campus ministry program, leading our first Encounter retreat in October, and participating in, and later becoming a spokesperson for the marginalized he encountered on, our immersion trips to Brownsville, Texas, and the South Bronx, New York. These were transformative experiences for him and for all those he interacted with because of his openness and willingness to grapple with the deep issues and intensely personal situations there. There is no doubt that he is met his goal set at our first meeting: he is truly leaving here a better man.
Sean and one of his after-school care ‘buddies’ in the South Bronx
This list could go on and on - these stories only serve as a sampling of the outstanding character and deep empathy that resonates through the Class of 2019. I am proud to stand with them this June to celebrate their pursuit of excellence, but more importantly, their pursuit of goodness. I’ll end with an apt quote from Sean, featured at the closure of this year’s graduation video:
'This grad year is special because we are all pretty real...guys know who they are, and so they get along. They’re not trying to put up ‘weird’ images of themselves, but are pretty real and honest with themselves. As a result, there are good connections between everyone.’
Congratulations to the Class of 2019!