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Head Girl, Kirsti Leaf - Final Speech 2018 (EDITED)

I first arrived at St Mary’s in Grade 8 which was the year 2014. The transition between Primary School and High School is daunting enough but I decided that I would, on top of that, like to be a boarder. My Mum packed the car and then repacked the car and ticked boxes making sure that I had everything I needed. I remember that moment so distinctly because it felt like my world was spinning and instantly I understood that it was synonymous with transition. [Now leaving St Mary’s and] that feeling is present not only within me but within the matrics, more than ever.

As a matric group we decided to focus on working together as a team to achieve a sense of respect and understanding of cultural diversity. This year I was met with challenges regarding diversity across the spectrum; including diversity within race, gender and cultural backgrounds. As a leadership team we have seeked to promote a culture of open discussion in order to tackle difficult conversations and as a result, aim to eradicate stigmas which could have divisive effects. I am thankful to [Head of High School] Mrs Kinsey, [Executive Head] Mr Manley and [Deputy Head: Academics] Mrs Hansen for providing us with the platforms to conduct these discussions such as The Forum and The Diversity Box. I firmly believe that we need to equip our girls with a depth towards social awareness due to us living in such fragile times in South Africa; a time where communication is key. I hope that through the channels we have initiated as a matric group that conversation will develop further regarding how we can promote and celebrate individuality. On behalf of the Head Girl Team- we are so thankful for the overwhelming support that we have received from the girls in all our endeavours; from Africa Month to spontaneous Friday Fun Days. It is safe to say that with the support of the school, no challenge seemed too big or too small regardless of the task thrown at me. I am beyond grateful for the relationships I have formed throughout the High School. My favourite part about my role has been my interactions and the development of my interpersonal relationships. Being away from home has never been easy during an extremely stressful season but the strength and beauty which I have found in each girl whom I have come into contact with has been beyond enriching and comforting. Through the girls at St Mary’s, I have learnt the power of sharing stories and the imprint which we have the ability to leave on the lives of others. The constant reminder of my faith and God-centered approach to all tasks carried out at St Mary’s has been an aspect which I have relied mostly on this year. Due to these very reasons, I believe that I am walking away from St Mary’s having gained much more than I could have ever anticipated. For that I’d like to thank the St Mary’s community. From the parents who support us, to the staff who guide us and to each girl who invested in our school.

I would like to give a vote of thanks to the boarding matrics, and the boarding staff for all their love and support over the years and for moulding St Mary’s’ boarding establishment into the home that it is today. To Mrs Wagner, Ms Ngubane and Mrs Jeffery, working with you this year makes me confident in the fact that boarding will continue to grow exponentially.

It is no secret that at St Mary’s we have been blessed with teachers who go above and beyond their job description. The emotional support I have received from the staff this year serves as testament. Teachers, thank you for all the words of encouragement and the many “open door policies”.

Mrs Kinsey, in particular you have been a role model for me this year. Even though the landing strip to your office is worn down after all our meetings; the time which you have given up to listen to our ideas, no matter how crazy or scary, has meant the world to me. I have so admired your leadership and it has been a pleasure collaborating with you to improve the personal experiences of everyone who passes through our campus.

To my gorgeous group of matric girls. Growing up with you has been one of my greatest treasures. There have been so many moments where I have looked at you individuals, in awe of the women whom you have grown into. I have been blessed to have been around such brave, resilient and inspiring young women.

We walked into this year filled with expectation. Expectations of what our year should look like- from our academics to our results on the sports field to our social lives- you name it. Armed with only the information from the girls in white jerseys who came before us, little did we know, our year was to be defined by three words, “improvise, adapt, overcome.” There were not enough Pinterest boards, no intricate-enough Lou Harvey diary nor a calendar with an inspirational quote for each day to prepare us for what was yet to come. The D&D gala, which took place in March of this year was however the catalyst in assisting us with grasping this coping mechanism. D&D is the highlight of the year for many obvious reasons; the hair-raising echoes of 500 odd Saints, the adrenaline from not wanting to mess up a blazer routine to avoid dealing with [Spirit Leaders] Tyla and Zoleka later and lastly, the pressure to check the scoreboard.

There are so many reasons we should celebrate that night, my favourite being the unforeseen circumstances we faced. We’ve been attending the D&D gala for years now and of course in our year the organisers of the event decided to place us in different seating from what we have come to know. A spell which was to transpire over 10 levels, which took weeks of perfecting, changed to 7 levels in just over an hour. Despite the Swimming Team’s great victories that night, what stands out above all victories and impressive war cries, was the ability of our Spirit Team and the matrics to stay focused in a situation which seemed to be impossible to handle. Yet, there we were… Improvising. Adapting. Overcoming. It was this strategy which has served me well during my term as Head Girl and after looking at our achievements and growth as the class of 2018 we did more than just overcome moments of trial, we dominated them.

Rupi Kaur reminds us to remember the body of your community in a poem entitled Honour the Roots. She says, and I quote, “breathe in the people who sewed you whole. It is you who became yourself but those before you are a part of your fabric.” Finally, to the Matrics, as we go out into world, no matter what tries to shake our confidence- may we remember the principles of being honourable women which has been instilled in us from our first day at St Mary’s. May we remember that we should protest against anyone who looks down on us because we are young. May we remember that we are women, and in Mr Manley’s words, because of that, there are no adjectives needed.

To [the Head Girls of 2019] Sphe, Shannon and Jennifer, your time has come. I cannot wait to see the new heights St Mary’s reaches under your leadership and I have no doubt that 2019 will be a phenomenal year with the Grade behind you every step of the way. To the girls who remain, treasure your journey here. In the wise words of Black Panther Party member, Angela Davis, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I can no longer accept.” Continue to be a body that fights for equality and strives to celebrate others.

St Mary’s, serving you has been my greatest honour. Thank you.

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