By Osuare Atafo, Boarder Prefect, 2017-18
Excerpts from a speech presented at Upper School Prayers on September 29, 2017
If I could go back to the summer before Grade 9 and create an anti-bucket list (essentially, the things that I would never do before I die), the top two things on it would be attend an all-girls boarding school and speak in front of a group of more than 30 people. Both of which I’m doing at this very moment! I’m sure many of you who know me remember how socially and physically awkward I was in Grade 9. Not much of that has changed, but I’d like to think that I’ve developed a little bit since then. Grade 9 Osuare was extremely shy and had a great dislike for change. Those who heard my speech during the Boarding Welcome Dinner will remember that I was completely opposed to the idea of moving to a boarding school. And that I had some confused notion that boarding school was likened to a correctional facility. But not many of you knew that I had attended a total of 10 schools prior to Havergal, the longest for two years and the shortest for two weeks. I never truly understood what continuity felt like and that was something I desperately wanted.
Honestly, the whole process of getting enrolled and finally accepting the fact that I was here took several months. The reason why I was so hesitant to come has to be because at the time I believed that the fact that my parents were enrolling me here was the equivalent of them kicking me out and saying that they didn’t want me anymore. Which I now know wasn’t the case. Additionally, the friendships that I had made at my previous school were the longest I’ve ever had. For that to be ripped away once more was too painful. Fast forward through a bunch of attempts to persuade them to let me stay, fast forward through a bunch of crying and fast forward through a bunch of fighting; frankly it was a lot. But I found myself here and you know what? It wasn’t half bad.
A fun fact about myself is that I’ve always wanted an older sibling, but being the first child and grandchild on both sides, I soon discovered that there was no way for that to happen. The reason I wanted one, you might ask, is because frankly the world is hard; when you are teenager trying to navigate your way through the ever-stormy ocean that we call adolescence, you soon realize that you need a little help. Someone to advise you, someone to talk to and someone to hear experiences from in hopes that you receive a little bit a guidance. As some of the Grads here can probably attest, Grade 9 was pretty difficult, especially if you were still trying to figure out who you were and who you wanted to be. But within that same year I was graciously given 40 big sisters and, additionally, I got some of my very best friends.
At the time I didn’t really understand the weight of gift I was given, but now I realize that I was given everything I wanted, everything I had lost and a little bit more. Living here since Grade 9, I’ve made more than my fair share of memories. The Boarders are of the greatest assortment. There are the calm ones that I can have intellectual and philosophical conversations with and leave a discussion feeling like they are an ever expanding fishbowl of knowledge. And we have the other ones. The ones that can make you laugh hysterically about anything imaginable. The ones that run down the halls blasting music. We have the ones that you can tell anything to, that you always know are going to give the best advice possible, and the ones that you know will be there when you are feeling down. Boarding gave me those friends. Boarding gave me those sisters.
As I’ve gotten older, I realized that the ratio of friends to big sisters was inversely proportional. As the years progressed, the number of big sisters decreased, but the number of friendships and relationships I have increased. In a way, that signified maturity, independence and not having to rely on others as much. Lessons that I had been taught from the former have been so impactful in my life. I’ve already known what it feels like to be a big sister, but now as I look to the Grade 11, 10 and 9s, I see all their potential; they have so much to offer and yet still so much to learn. I hope to soon be close with all of them and to be that big sister to them as previous Grads were to me.
Grade 11 was a big year, with increased amounts of work, increased amounts of stress and decreased amounts of everything else. But in Grade 11 I had an epiphany. We are all working up to something. Whether it be university, internships or even self-actualization. Simultaneously, time is passing faster and faster each year, faster than most of us are accounting for. As the Social Science teachers might say, the only constant is change. But we live such fast paced lives that we are missing out on the important little things. Sure, the destination matters, but the journey is of greater value. We remember the lessons, the stories, the learning and the growth that comes along with it. But the only reason we remember the feeling of the success once we’ve reached our destination is because within the journey we were faced with trials and tribulations.
Picture this, I want to go to university and that is my desired destination. The journey to my destination takes me through Havergal and Boarding. I have faced many adversities and learned many lessons. I have made many friends along the way and I’ve been a part of a community in Boarding that uplifts everyone within it. Without this journey, I wouldn’t receive the skills I need to help me reach and be successful at my destination. We must value the journey. We mustn’t let time pass us by. Stop every once in awhile and smell the roses. Time won’t stop for us, but we have to make it count. If Boarding has taught me one thing, it is to take the opportunity to enjoy the journey and everything that comes along with it.
One of the biggest questions that I find myself being asked is, “wow, you are a Boarder. You must be from some exotic place, where might that be?” My dull response to that great question that deserves an equally great answer is: the suburbs of Milton, Ontario, about an hour outside of Toronto. It isn’t as interesting as many of the places that some of the other Boarders find themselves venturing from, but frankly I found that I still had such a culture shock coming here in Grade 9. Moving from the suburbs to the city really put a few things in perspective for me.
Cultural inclusivity has always been a part of Havergal’s values, but like many things, do we really understand the importance and significance of such values? I think a few of us understand that these values are crucial but don’t truly understand why. We comprehend the ethical importance of inclusivity and diversity in a community such as this school. But did you know that increasing our awareness about certain cultures might prove to benefit us in the long run as well? The fact that Havergal has had a Boarding school for well over a century signifies that we have always been aware that in order for a community to thrive, it must be equipped with the people to push it forward. This essentially calls for different backgrounds, perspectives and understandings that various cultures bring the table. Its required. Boarding is the place that has taught me that.
I’ve always been aware of other cultures, but that awareness was quite limited in and of itself. But I understand that culture is complicated—society taught me that. But sadly, it also taught me to hide my culture and try and assimilate as well. Moving to Havergal from a culturally uniform town was definitely a huge shift in perspective. I have met so many interesting people that were proud of their heritage and background, to the extent of allowing others to experience it as well, and that’s important. We need to have a better understanding of what it means to be proud and share in learning, experiencing or grasping what it means to be diverse. Havergal was founded with values of cultural diversity, but it is our duty to keep those values strong. Therefore, to be proudly Havergalian is to be proudly culturally aware and accepting, and that’s something we all need to improve on.
So in closing, I hope some of the lessons I’ve learned have taught you something about our journeys and cultural diversity. But also to take risks and understand that change is good. Without it, I might’ve never gone to Boarding, met my Boarding sisters or learned about culture. And those are things that I would never take for granted today. I hope you remember that in 2017-18. Thank you.