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POTCHEFSTROOM COLLEGE VALEDICTION & PRIZE GIVING
SANLAM AUDITORIUM, NORTHWEST UNIVERSITY Saturday 13 October 2012 Address by Brigadier General McGill Alexander, SM, MMM The Master of Ceremonies, Mr Swanepoel; Headmaster of College, Mr Van Vuuren; the Chairman of the Governing Body, Mr Jikkels; the President of the Old Boys’ Society, Mr Wally Hopton; Chairman of the Old Boys’ Society, Mr Athol Weddell; staff of the school; members of the Governing Body; other Old Boys; parents of the boys of College; other dignatories and guests; but most importantly, the boys of my Old School. The awarding of prizes is a time-honoured practice for recognising hard work and ability. I extend my congratulations to all those who are receiving prizes here today. You serve as an inspiration and an example to others, showing that honesty, respect for others, hard work and perseverance are rewarded. But those attributes will produce rewards of a different kind if they are focused on the wrong things and honesty and respect are left out of the equation. I recall one afternoon at Milton House when a group of boys caught a donkey that had wandered onto the rugby field (in those days it was not necessary to have a security fence around the school, so donkeys could wander into the school grounds!). With a great deal of hard work and perseverance they dragged the poor beast into the hostel, into the downstairs bathroom and managed to lift its front legs so that they were resting through one of the windows. Of course, they had done this with a very definite purpose: just then one of the masters came walking down from Buxton to the school, and as he passed Milton he heard a gruff voice calling him by his first name and saying, “Hey! Where do you think you’re going?” Turning angrily to the hostel building and the direction from where he’d heard the voice, he was astounded to see a donkey leaning out of the window and smiling at him! Now I can assure you that those boys, despite their hard work and perseverance, received a reward that they would rather not have had. You see, pretending that a donkey was scolding a teacher was hardly honest, was it? It may have been funny, but it was also rude and disrespectful. So what do you, the boys in front of me today, focus your efforts on? Do you focus on those things that will benefit others, or on those things that will hurt or disadvantage or humiliate others? When I was in matric at College, the school celebrated its Diamond Jubilee – 60 years old! At the time I thought that 60 was REALLY old; our school was a madala. But now, the school is 107 years old and it is more vibrant and more dynamic than ever; while for me, sixty years has come and gone and I am the one who is a madala. Most of my life lies behind me; but for you young boys who sit before me today, the excitement of a lifetime lies ahead of you. At this
2 crucial time in your life, choose wisely as you decide what to do with your life and how to use what you have gained at this great school. When I came to the end of my matric year and I prepared to leave Milton House, the hostel that had become my home, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a soldier. Not just any soldier, but a paratrooper – the best soldier I could be. And that is what I did. Today I want to tell you about a certain group of paratroopers who are considered the very best of the best. These are those who are known as the Pathfinders. To become a paratrooper, you have to go through a very tough selection course, where only the best are accepted. Only then can you undergo parachute training and learn how to go into battle from the air. Even then, the selection continues, as you are tested both psychologically and physically; tested for your balance, your coordination and your ability to work with other people as part of a team and how you handle heights. Once you have qualified as a paratrooper and have earned the right to wear the coveted parachute wings and maroon beret, and once you have built up some experience, you can volunteer to become a Pathfinder. But this means you have to be even more highly trained and that you have to acquire very specialised skills, so you undergo another and even tougher selection. Paratroopers will normally jump into combat in large numbers: 100, 500, or even 1, 000 or more at a time. They will jump from as low as 800 feet (250 metres), to get to the ground as quickly as possible, ready to start fighting immediately. But Pathfinders jump in small groups of only five soldiers. Their job is to go in ahead of the main force of paratroopers and to reconnoitre and mark the dropping zone that the others will jump onto. This means that they must not be seen when they arrive. So they will typically jump at night, from a height of 25, 000 feet (7, 750 metres) or even higher. Therefore they have to jump with oxygen breathing apparatus, as the air is too thin to breathe at that altitude. They also have to have all their equipment, such as weapons, ammunition, radios, rations and maps strapped onto their bodies. They free-fall right down to 2, 000 feet (620 metres), open their parachutes and silently glide down to the same spot in the dark, all landing close together. They then have to check the area where the drop of the main force is to take place and once they have confirmed that it is safe, they set up markers and radio beacons, make contact with their headquarters and bring the aircraft in so that they will drop the main force accurately. They may even be required to also first reconnoitre the objective that is to be attacked by the paratroopers. All this requires highly skilled and resourceful soldiers. Today, we are not involved in a war, but South Africa is carrying out peacekeeping operations in many parts of Africa. These are in areas where there is conflict. If the situation deteriorates and the United Nations or the African Union requires immediate intervention, it is only the paratroopers who are able to get to a trouble spot anywhere, very rapidly. So you can see that the paratroopers have a vital role to play in keeping the peace on our
3 continent. However, they cannot do their job properly without the Pathfinders, their torchbearers. There is thus a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of those who carry the torch. It is the Pathfinders who show the way; it is the Pathfinders who ignite the light to guide the others to their destination. The badge of the Pathfinder is a flaming torch – the light that shows the way. Light provides Hope in a situation of darkness. Hope was the name of the man who founded our school, and it is no coincidence that the rainbow of Granton is the Biblical symbol of hope; the anchor of Milton is the nautical symbol of hope; the greenery of Buxton speaks of the hope that springtime brings of a beautiful summer; and the wings of Barnard symbolise our hope to rise to new heights. Soon the time will come when those of you who are now in matric will leave the secure environment of College and launch yourselves on the journey of life on your own. As you stand at this threshhold of your life, having been equipped for the journey by your parents and your teachers, there is a path that you will walk – will it be a path of light, or a path of darkness? The motto of our school, “Iustorum Semita Lux Splendens”, is variously translated from the Latin as “The path of the just is a shining light” or “The path of the righteous is a shining light.” Either translation is good, because a righteous man will always be just. The motto was chosen by the founder of our school, Charles Douglas Hope, who selected it from the Book of Proverbs in the Bible. There is a great deal bound up in that motto and its words form a foundation on which we can build our lives. It indicates that if our lights are bright, we will have a better idea of where we are going; we will be better able to set goals and to achieve them. But secondly, it implies that if you are holding up a light, you will be followed. People everywhere are looking for Light. They need Pathfinders to show them the way. Are you a Pathfinder for others in this world? Is the torch that you are holding providing that Light? Examine your behaviour and you will have the answer. It is what people see you doing that will reflect the light that shines from you. Our school motto tells us that wherever we are, whatever we do, people are watching us and we will be examples to them. Our behaviour, our standards, our values and our norms - the torch that we light - will determine whether we are good or bad examples. Now that motto urges us to be just and righteous if we want our lights to shine as good examples. That means to be fair in all our dealings with others; to be humble in our attitudes towards others. There is no place for arrogance or rudeness in those who are righteous and just. Your abilities and your hard work may have resulted in you receiving a prize today, but that does not make you a better person than those who did not. They may have other talents, which have just not yet been developed. Yet by your example, if you show the necessary humility, you could inspire them to develop their own unique talents. There is a responsibility resting on your shoulders not to let your
4 achievements go to your head. If you do, you extinguish the light you are carrying and you fail as a Pathfinder, leading to disaster for many others. Take a look at the school badge on the pockets of your blazers. The Springbok horns were chosen by C.D. Hope as the school badge long before the South African rugby team adopted the Springbok as its symbol. There are two horns there, but they are the same, despite one facing left and the other facing right. One is not better than the other, and the Springbok needs them both for its defence. At their base they are joined to form one set of horns, just as all of you, all of us, are joined by the base that College provides to form one community in which we all play an important part. I leave you with this thought: we are all part of a community, and everything we do affects that community. How do you affect your community? How will you affect your community in the exciting life that lies ahead of you? Just remember this: Iustorum Semita Lux Splendens – The Path of the Just is a Shining Light. It has been a privilege to address you today. Thank you for the honour.
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