Head of School Closing Day Address 2021
On Sunday the Student Executive Council will return to campus. Monday will bring the Orientation Assistants. On Tuesday things really get rolling with the arrival of our 240 new students.
Below is the Closing Day address by Mr Patel. As we begin 2021-2022, let’s reflect on the past year.
As this is the official closing of the 2020-21 school year, I would like to start by acknowledging and thanking the Coast Salish people whose traditional territory Brentwood College School resides on. I express our gratitude to the Malahat and Cowichan Nations. We value the opportunity to learn, live and share educational experiences on this traditional territory.
Welcome to our Closing Ceremonies for the 2020-21 school year. For the 2nd time and, all going well with vaccination rates, the LAST Time, via Livestream.
For parents, family and friends watching, I’m standing on the Amphitheatre at the foot of Campbell Common. Unfortunately, rather than the 1200 people that would normally be here for this momentous occasion, there are only a handful of us here. And just so we’re clear, this will not be our new normal. The marquee will be back!
It seems cruel to have our students huddled with their housemates in various corners of the campus ... but as we know, this pandemic does not make exceptions. As we’ve done all year, however, we will make the most of this day and do our best.
Let me start with a few thank yous.
Throughout this, now 15 month COVID journey that spans two school years, our Board of Governors never flinched. The only things our senior leaders received from them was support, affirmation, and trust. 17 volunteers composed of Old Brentonians and past parents, their connection to our school ranges back to the early 1960s and their commitment to keep our flame lit this year, next year and 100 years from now, has never wavered. My first and heartfelt thanks goes to our Governors.
Thank you to the Mill Bay and Cowichan Valley communities. Our rural oasis could have easily pushed back with the mass arrival of students from around the world. Instead, we are grateful that they chose to welcome back, with open arms, our students. The combination of natural beauty and kind, community-minded people make this one of the most magical places on earth.
Next, our staff. With over 270 employees, Brentwood is the largest employer in the Cowichan Valley and our staff remain loyal, committed, and positive. In a year where COVID anxiety impacted us all, you can only imagine the increased pulse rate of the staff … when 515 students arrived on campus. Not surprisingly, their passion for our students only increased. They matched the belief of our Governors and ensured we delivered a safe and fulfilling experience. For me personally, there would not be another group of people I would rather go into battle with. My deepest gratitude goes to our staff.
Thank you to our parents. It takes a massive leap of faith to, during a global pandemic, re-enrol or enrol for the first time, your child in a boarding school. Many of our parents have never even been to campus! This day is largely dedicated to you and we thank you for your willingness to join us on this adventure into the unknown. Your trust is precious and we are grateful for your partnership.
Thank you, parents.
The students are why we’re here. They are why we exist. Brentwood’s standards remain high for our students - behaviour, community mindedness, effort, and kindness - as Nurse Decker says, all we ask is that they “Work hard and be kind.” I am pleased to report just that.
We knew the pandemic would take a mental and physical toll on our students so by getting them back together, within our integrated on-campus community, we knew that this would be best for their wellbeing. As our Head Prefect reminded us, “It’s better than Zoom.”
In so many ways, our students led the way. They quarantined for 14 days - many doing this twice! They dove deeply into all aspects of our program. They found ways to give back, not only to the Brentwood family, but to our local community. They challenged, pushed, and cajoled us to be better. They put on masks, stood on dots, sanitized hands, and, frankly, just got on with it.
For all of these reasons and so many more, I have deep reverence for our student body and there is no other place that I’d rather be than with them here on campus.
With much admiration and affection, thank you, students of Brentwood College School.
As mentioned, we have 270 staff members and while most are like Steve Cowie - they stay for a long time - in his case 44 years so far! Unfortunately, we are bidding farewell to a few and I would like to take a moment to acknowledge their service.
Residential Faculty Assistants (RFAs) Andrew Fischer and Gary Hughes departed earlier in the year with the former reuniting with his fiance in South Africa and the latter becoming the Head of Boarding at a new school in the Okanagan.
Old Brentonian, Sam Pearse, joined us as an RFA for the final six months and I know she enjoyed her “bonus time” at her forever home here in Mill Bay.
Beth Mullin joined us as a highly competent and committed English teacher and returns with her family, that includes her husband Andy who was one of our cross country coaches, Ellis House’s Will, and would be Grade 8, Ben, to the international school life in Singapore. We wish them well.
Our boatman for the past two years, who also covered RFA duties in Rogers House, Drew Edwards, returns to Vancouver where he is able to reconnect with his family and loved ones. We thank him for his service.
Mandarin teacher, Fang Sun will take a year’s leave of absence to pursue a passion for business and we look forward to her return in September of 2022.
I would also like to acknowledge a newly formed COVID-19 specific health team in the Woodward Health Centre. As the pandemic winds down, there is less need in this area and many will now move on. From testing, assuring, and reassuring students and parents, they were definitely on the frontlines of our COVID response. I want to personally thank Brigham Smith and the rest of his team for their professionalism and leadership.
Tristan Clausen leaves us after 6 years of English and music teaching. His passion for his students will be missed and we are pleased to see him appointed to a full time role very near us at St. John’s School in Shawnigan Lake.
While Oliver Amiel has taught for over 10 years at Brentwood, his connection to the school goes way back to his arrival as a Grade 8 boarder in 1991. Mr. Amiel is a superb chemistry teacher, passionate coach of rugby and rowing, curator of the strength and conditioning program, creator of our current advisor curriculum, and proud member of both Whittall and Allard. He moves to a Head Teaching role in the science department at Queen Margaret’s School in Duncan. As he moves on, I know his heart will always be at Brentwood and we wish him well on his next adventure.
If you’ve ever seen a “Marci McLean event”, you know the preparation, attention to detail, and extremely high expectations she has for her students. The result is a world class experience for us all. Starting out as a Brentwood parent of Amanda and Nicolas, she began coaching tennis, then became Head of Tennis, then SAC Coordinator, and overseer of our Interhouse competition. When she took over our weekend activities, she elevated the experience to not just the next level but 10 levels above that. From Welcome Back mixers to Java Hut, to her final event, Fun in the Sun, our students have been the beneficiary of her passion and leadership.
Trust me when I say, if you want something done, give it to Marci and see what happens. She now enters blissful retirement that will involve a rigorous regime of tennis and travel with her husband, Cameron. Marci will be missed but never forgotten.
Please join me in thanking all of these amazing faculty.
You received, via email from Mr McPherson, the Closing Day program in PDF form where we have, once again, included information from all major components of school life and I encourage you to review these remarkable highlights.
This was, arguably, the most unique and challenging year in our school’s history. As is often the case, at times of adversity, true character quickly surfaces. “Preparation” is one of Brentwood’s primary characteristics and was, early on, something that we leaned on. But with so many unknowns, how does one plan? From the arrival of over 500 students from around the world to physically-distanced academic classes to serving 700 meals per sitting to creating a COVID-safe boarding program ... a year ago, today, we had no idea what September 2020 would bring. We were boxed-in by government officials, health experts, restrictive international travel, staff expectations, and student needs.
Fortunately for our community, Mr Sullivan managed to get government approval for our return to a full boarding program, Ms Murtland negotiated an exemption with the Ministry of Education to allow us to cohort based in sister-brother houses rather than grades, Mr Shadlock and our Operations’ leaders prepared COVID safety protocols across every square metre of this campus, Mr Johnston and our Admissions team assured and reassured incoming students that there would be “something” for them to look forward to even though we did not know what that “something” would look like. With a lower enrollment due to physical distancing and density limitations, and increased staffing requirements to ensure we had the capacity to safely operate a 24 hour, 7 day a week boarding program, Mr Burton carefully managed the school’s finances, and throughout the journey, Mr McPherson guided our communication strategy so that our parents, students, staff, and local community were fully aware of the comings and goings of Brentwood College School. Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, it was never a straight shot, a layup, or an easy A. Road blocks, delays, and reversals were constantly flung into the mix.
It was like flying a plane while building it at the same time. Or better put. it was like having writer’s block the night before a 2500 word essay is due! So like all diligent Brentwood students, we pulled an all nighter - well, maybe not just one night - it was more like 150 successive all nighters.
With plans now in place, a blurry-eyed team headed to McNeill’s Cafe for an espresso bath and we were off to the races.
The goal was clear:
Supported by a committed community of students, staff, parents, Governors, and health officials, use appropriate mitigation strategies to create a safe return to our on-campus, in-person, face-to-face, boarding tripartite program.
However, two sliding scale questions remained unanswered and in need of clarification.
What level of commitment were we expecting from our community? AND...
What exactly were these appropriate mitigation strategies?
Let’s answer the latter question first...appropriate mitigation strategies … hmm … well these started out looking like this … then shifted to this … then pivoted to here and finally ended up over there. Given that today is June 11th and the we never lost a day to COVID, I think it worked out.
The former question had less oscillation; in fact, the cement around the word “commitment” hardened over time. It became clear that making it through THIS school year required a depth of character, positive outlook, an attitude of gratitude, and a deep commitment to GRIT and JOY. I am pleased and proud to report that our school, while not perfect, dug deep and demonstrated a supreme amount of resilience.
Let me put it in a way that everyone can understand. Whether you're a teenager, Millennial, Gen X-er or Boomer - when we’re young, we are all in search of the magical illicer known as COOLNESS. We all want to be COOL. We want to be around COOL people. And we want to do things that are COOL.
Well here are three COOL things that defined Brentwood in 2020-21.
1. Normal is the new cool
The first one was revealed to me in late October, when Ms Murtland presented at our annual Brentwood TEDx conference - yes, we did run our annual TEDx conference. Entitled “Craving Normal”, her TED talk provoked us to consciously think about “normal” and encouraged us to deeply understand how it makes us feel. How it grounds us. How it centres us.
It was a mantra for the COVID team during those 150 consecutive all-nighters. We knew that the pandemic threw “normal” overboard and replaced it with disbelief and unease. So, we worked tirelessly to make things as “normal” as possible. Yes, we were hindered by external forces. Yes, we understood that the COVID cloud was hanging over us. However, we knew in our heart and our soul that if we were able to provide some sense of normalcy, it would help our community.
#1 - Normal is the new cool.
2. Boring is the new cool
The next finding is connected to having a sense of normalcy.
The pandemic created worldwide chaos to a level, some would argue, that has never been experienced before. In the most globally connected era in human history, COVID-19 instantaneously halted political, economic, and familial integration. No more travel. No more trade. No more hugs.
For decades we were asking students to get off their phones and devices, get outside and connect face to face with others. In an instant, we reversed course and demanded that they get on their phones and devices, stay inside, and never connect face to face with others, even members of their own family!
This oscillation from one extreme to the other was like seeing an EKG for someone that was, let’s say, having a heart attack … ouch, it’s perhaps too soon for that comparison. 4 stents later and I’m better than before! Thanks to everyone for their support.
Our attempt to create as “normal” a school year as possible, we hoped, would mean there would be moments of blissful and awesome … boredom. No big swings of ups and downs. No highs and lows. No in-class one day and Zoom the next. Instead, there was steadiness, calmness, and a rhythmic heart rate of 58 beats per minute.
Just outstandingly … boring.
So chapter two of our trilogy … boring is the new cool!
3. Certainty is the new cool
The final and perhaps most poignant phrase, at least for me, came from a conversation I had with one of our Governors in April of 2020. As we were commiserating about the early days of this pandemic, she said something that stuck with me …”The biggest challenge for most of society,” she said,” was not knowing when THIS would be over. When we return to normal. When things would be back to the way they used to be.”
It was the uncertainty … that was the biggest weight hanging over many of us. In fact, she went on to say, “if I knew that I would be working via Zoom for the rest of my life, I would adapt, create new routines, and be able to move forward. It is the ‘uncertainty’ that is the most discombobulating.”
Uncertainty is seriously challenging, especially related to any major life changes. Getting married. Having a baby. Moving from your childhood home. Or sight unseen, joining a new high school. Or … Graduating from a place that has been your security blanket for, if you’re a Brentwood ‘Lifer’... 1375 days.
The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified feelings of uncertainty. So what’s the solution, antidote or, dare I say, vaccine for uncertainty - a school year of certainty.
From our commitment to return to our on-campus learning environment to knowing that Monday at 8:15am, I have science, English or history. And on Tuesday afternoon there is rowing, rugby or tennis. And on Wednesday, there is robotics, dance or pottery. And Monday house meetings. And Saturday #1 inspection. And Sunday brunch.
During a time of historical uncertainty, Brentwood safely injected our community with the vaccine of certainty.
There you have it … with Certainty also being the new cool ... the triangle of coolness is now complete.
Normal, boring, and certain - a simple and powerful combination of strong, steady, and stable.
What more do you want during a pandemic? What more could I ask for?
Brentwood, I thank you for your commitment. I thank you for your positivity. And, I thank you for something even more precious - your trust.
As Head, it has been an honour to have been alongside you during every sunrise and sunset of this historical school year.
Bud Patel, Head of School