It is hard to believe that the Sydney Olympic games was nearly 20 years ago! For those of you who were here, I am sure you will agree that it was a magical and memorable time. My family and I were lucky enough to not only attend some of the games and special events, but also to be caught up in the spirit and atmosphere during the weeks leading up to the official Opening Ceremony. We were able to witness first-hand the triumphant joy of the participating athletes, the smiling pride of the volunteers and officials, and the energy and excitement of the throngs and trainloads of visitors and spectators.
A few months later, when the city was returning to ordinary, everyday life, I was fortunate to see a photography exhibition by the award-winning Aussie photographer Tracey Moffatt. Included in the exhibition was her series of photographs titled “Fourth” – a collection of images that focused on the many Olympic athletes who had just missed, literally by nanoseconds, a place on the podium. Whilst all eyes were on the winners, Ms Moffatt had turned her gaze and camera to capture those contestants who had just missed out. They had surely worked as hard, demonstrated the same degree of grit, stamina, commitment, passion and perseverance as their competitors who stood just a handshake away, proudly wearing medals of gold, silver and bronze. The athletes were, understandably, in the most part numb, disbelieving, processing their time scores and overall performance. Only their families, coaches and support teams would naturally have been tracking their responses at those moments. Looking at those photos, as the new observers of their heartbreaking disappointment, we could only imagine how shattered, depleted and defeated they must have felt.
Tracey Moffatt wrote:
“Sadder than coming last because when you come fourth you have missed out on a medal. You almost made it, but you just missed out – fourth means you are almost good – not the worst, but almost a star!”
I have never forgotten that series of images, and I am often reminded of them as I navigate my way through my days, tracing the lives and journeys of our many students, most of whom began with us in the early years. From when children are as little as three years old, we expect them to be good losers, to be resilient, to learn from their life experiences, to bounce back. When they are able to do this, we commend them for their efforts and guide their next encounters. We do this because we know that in any lifetime, there will be moments of great accomplishment and moments of great disappointment. We want our future generation of children to feel a sense of true joy for their friend who wins the Young Communicators contest, or comes first in the Cross Country; we teach them to say Kol Ha’Kavod (literally translated to “all the respect”) and mean it. We help them to see the benefits in being able to do this – it is a gesture of good friendship and reflects well on them as a person, one who has a generous spirit and a genuine capacity to be happy for others. These are qualities that we anticipate will help them to be noticed, and considered a true mensch.
Our school is a place that constantly looks out for and hopes to grow leaders. A lot of thinking and planning happens in our commitment to educating and modelling leadership qualities; and when we find those students who demonstrate natural leadership qualities we keep our eye on them, we give them opportunities and new experiences that promote and enhance their capabilities. And we celebrate and honour these students – they are awarded special roles, privileges and responsibilities. And we know, too, that these leaders become leaders because they are part of a cohort – without whom, they may never have been identified or nominated. The majority of the children in their cohort often sense that those same leadership opportunities are out of their reach; instead they see their role as to enable the few who rise and shine. These students are usually also doing the best they can, working as hard (sometimes harder), the worker bees who facilitate the making of the next trailblazers, propping them up, shining the light on those who have been selected; these students are commended for their great attitudes, their support and loyalty, and yes, sometimes, their “almost star” qualities.
The positive message that has come from the existence of COVID-19 has been the celebration of the ordinary, everyday essential workers who have kept our country afloat. They may not wear medals of gold and silver, nor stand high on a podium waving, but they ensure those in leadership, or those with the responsibilities to advise and make important decisions, are supported and promoted, and able to eat, sleep and function. And so, at the end of the day, we teach our children that we are all important participants and that we all matter – whether you have the ability of an elite athlete, the gift of the gab, the ability to celebrate and look out for others. We become who we are because we are in relationship with others. And for me, personally, that means each child or educator or parent who shows up and participates is deserving of a medal, of being celebrated as a star. Your life is as worthy as the person standing next you, and you certainly matter as much.
In the spirit of acknowledging those who support and make possible the lives of others, I would like to pay tribute to my Personal Assistant Denise Hannah, who recently left Moriah after working with us in our ELCs for the past 20 years. Right up until her last minute with us, Denise was determined to make sure she had done everything she could to set us up for success. Denise will be much missed and always remembered as a fierce advocate for the early years, a champion of all our Centres and, of course, a devoted colleague and friend to all the educators who worked alongside her over the years.
About the author
Cathy Milwidsky is the Director of Early Learning and Development at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW