Mr McMullen’s
Graduation Address

Year 12, the past few days have been a great time for your year group to celebrate completing your school years. Breakfast on Tuesday was perfect on the G block lawn, a relaxed time for teachers and students to mix. I want to congratulate you on your resounding victory in the staff vs Year 12 soccer match. I would also like to congratulate staff as they took out the netball and volleyball. Both sets of teams were gracious in victory and defeat.

These events are a wonderful part of our graduation celebration for Year 12. And yet, more importantly, how we do these events together encapsulates so many of the great things about William Carey. It demonstrates that for Year 12, the staff become more than just a set of teachers, and that you recognise your teachers as coaches, mentors and some of your greatest supporters. We are all here with you – your fellow students, your teachers, your parents, family and friends.  A crowd of supporters gathered around you to cheer you on at this stage and to urge you onto a strong finish.

I want to briefly acknowledge the role of parents and family in your ongoing support of our Year 12 students. The sacrifices of time, energy and resources that has been made for the benefit of your children, our students. To have an HSC student at home often means the whole household experiences the highs and lows of the HSC.  Navigating this year well is very much a whole family endeavour. So families, I thank you for your support and encouragement of your children in this last year of school.

Year 12 with my final words to you, I want to leave you with two questions and a challenge:

  1. Who is your master?
  2. What sort of master is he/she/it?
  3. Live a life that is fit for purpose.

Let me illustrate what I mean by these questions.

Earlier this year, I was speaking with a young man about five or so years older than you. He was telling me about his experiences following his graduation. To make this easier I’ll call him Adam. Adam went to a selective high school. He had worked hard throughout his schooling and, in his senior years, he devoted himself wholeheartedly to his studies. Adam had specific goals for his HSC and he worked intensely toward them.

When the results came in and he received his ATAR, he was crushed. His immense disappointment actually brought on a significant low as a result of failing to gain what he had set out to achieve. It was such a personal low you could describe it as a personal crisis.

When I asked him about the details, Adam indicated that his ATAR was 98.65.

I was taken aback. This ATAR places him in the top 1.5% of students applying to enter university across the country.

But Adam went on to explain to me that his goal had been an ATAR of over 99 and he had failed to reach the goal that he had dedicated years of his life to achieving. In his mind, all that work seemed for nothing. He had fallen short and there was nothing he could do about that.

It was at this point in his life that Adam realised that he had been living for his ATAR. It has ruled his life. Everything he did, the decisions he made, were in order to gain his ATAR goal. He was living his life for an ATAR of 99. Adam also came to the realisation that the ATAR had become his master and that it was a cruel master. An ATAR did not recognise him, it did not care if he got 99 or 98.65 or 15. Despite dedicating his life to the ATAR, Adam’s master left him in a devastated state and moved on.

Adam then went on to tell me that he then came to this realisation about the ATAR and also that the following verse spoke to him of a much better master, a kinder and a relational master.

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Now, a yoke is a beam of wood or similar that goes across the shoulders of someone who is working/carrying a load.

A cruel master will load up the worker and expect them to carry great loads and punish them for failing. In the case of slavery, a cruel master would likely beat the worker and, should the slave fail and become too weak to work, then the master would discard the slave.

However, Christ is a kind and gentle master who promises not overload those who serve him. Yes there is responsibility, yes there is work to be done in service of him, but Christ will not discard you if he is your master. In fact, the Bible tells us that he has actually taken on the greatest load himself, instead of leaving it to us.

So, what am I saying here? Don’t worry about your ATAR and working hard in your studies for your HSC?

Absolutely not. The HSC and ATAR have a purpose, and it is significant, and for the next few months it will be highly relevant to the next steps in your lives. And so in this time I urge you to work your hardest, but not with the purpose of gaining the best four digit rank you can.

Let me take you back to Adam. He is obviously a highly capable student who could take on nearly any uni course and move onto a range of well paying careers.

Adam went onto complete an Advanced Science degree in cell biochemistry. As he studied at uni, he became interested in displaced people (refugees). People who have fled persecution and have no option other than to live in temporary camps in countries that are not their own. On completing his science degree he spent some time serving in these communities and he realised that if he gained further qualifications through study he would be of greater benefit to these people. He returned to uni and while he thought about courses in social work and law, Adam choose education and, with an ATAR of 98.65, Adam trained to become a primary school teacher.

Adam is currently teaching in a school in Southwest Sydney, gaining teaching experience, with the plan to return and provide primary education to children living in refugee camps.

Adam is serving his master Jesus and is now living ‘fit for purpose’. He is taking what he is good at and rather than using it for his own goals, seeking to impact the world for his own desires or serving a cruel and uncaring master, he is now striving to make an impact in the world in a way that glorifies God.

Now I can guess what you’re thinking, “Yeah right – 98.65 I don’t relate to that.” And I agree, statistically, 98% of people don’t fit that category.

Secondly you might be thinking, “Well I’m not a slave to anything like that – nothing has mastery of me.”

The reason I disagree with this is that we are all made for a purpose. We are hard wired to worship. To worship something. Look across the world and every culture has a system of worship. We are designed to worship. And to worship means to serve. And even atheists are not exempt. Everyone serves something.

So let’s consider what it is we might serve

  • What occupies the majority of your daydreaming time?
  • What are the things that you think of as you first wake up or the last things you think of at night?
  • What drives your decision making? What are the things that are non-negotiables in your life?

This is what you serve.  And so I ask you – who is your master?

It varies for different people:

  • Culture
  • Career
  • Car
  • Property
  • Entertainment
  • Holidays
  • Health and physical appearance
  • Relationships
  • Social status and profile
  • Family
  • Happiness.

These are things that God has created and given to us. But they can become cruel masters if they are what we live for and serve. All of these are temporary and count for little in relation to life and death. Careers can end with little notice; cars age and break down and need to be junked; house values fall; holidays end; health is unpredictable; friends can betray us; happiness is fleeting.

None of these will last and, in life’s ups and downs, there is no guarantee your happiness or any of the other things on the list will see you through.

But Christ provides us a better way. He is a kind master. He carries the greatest load and calls us to live a life fit for purpose.

Year 12 you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You were created for a good purpose. You are hard wired to worship. You are designed to serve and glorify God.

Your lives have significance, not because of what you gain/achieve but because of what God has already gained on your behalf and what he has created you to be and to do. We know that the HSC looms large and it will be important for the coming weeks. So I urge you to make to most of this opportunity for this short period of time and devote yourselves to the best you can achieve.

Then I call you to move into the years ahead with the desire to serve him to your best wherever you are and in whatever you do. Our School motto reminds us of this – Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God.

A graduation is a celebration of what is passing and also a call of hope for the future. So in closing, I want to share my hopes for you.

It is my hope that you will go out from this place, having heard the truth of the gospel. That God will grow this truth in you and you will turn to God, and that Christ will be your master as Lord and Saviour.

It is my hope that you will take up your place in communities in Sydney, across Australia and across the globe to live lives fit for purpose to have a positive impact on those around you.

As Principal of this School is my hope that you live lives fit for purpose by being creative lifelong learners, willing to listen readily and to share your thoughts gently and generously, being respectful and compassionate, by being those who serve and lead for the benefit of others and to stand up for what is right and true.

Most of all, it is my hope that you find your identity and purpose in Christ, trusting in God’s promise of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24