Head’s Blog: Pink Shirt Day

Pink_Shirt_DayIt was Pink Shirt Day on Wednesday all across Canada. It’s an initiative that was started some years ago by two courageous boys in a high school in Nova Scotia. They openly and actively defended a new student, a younger boy in grade 9, who was taking heat from some students for wearing pink. In an act of solidarity and support, the two senior boys got their hands on dozens of pink t-shirts and issued them to boys as they entered the school one morning.

From those roots, Pink Shirt Day developed into a national awareness campaign against bullying. In addition to wearing pink, participants are asked to practice acts of kindness and do whatever they can to minimize physical, emotional and online bullying in their communities.

Pink Shirt Day is a call to action to students to build awareness and defend weaker kids whenever and wherever they can.

This campaign reminds me of some striking experiences I had a few years ago while visiting public high schools in Bogota, Colombia. We currently have a couple of Round Square exchange students at LCC from Bogota (Andrea and Juan). Given that Pink Shirt Day is essentially about creating a safe and peaceful learning environment, I’m sure they’re very proud that the most recent winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is their president, Señor Juan Manuel Santos.

From the early 1960s to 2013, known to all Colombians as La Violencia, civil war dominated Colombian life. Last fall, after four years of negotiations with a revolutionary guerrilla group called FARC and other smaller groups, President Santos managed to finalize a peace treaty with the FARC, which had waged a decades-long civil war against the government.

According to a study by Colombia’s National Centre for Historical Memory, 220,000 people died in the conflict between 1958 and 2013, most of them civilians. Also, more than five million civilians were forced from their homes between 1985 and 2012, generating the world’s second largest population of internally displaced persons.

During my visit to Colombia, I had the privilege of seeing and experiencing the country with about two dozen school principals from all around the world. Our focus was on how to build peaceful communities in our schools. After years of civil war, educators in Colombia had much to teach us. We visited 15 schools in several different communities. Two of the visits were particularly memorable:

The first was with student leaders in a large high school who had decided to call themselves “Agents of Peace.” Each young leader wore an armband or a vest identifying him or her as a “Peacemaker.” Believing that there had been too much violence around them for too long, and that adults hadn’t really been able to model peaceful resolution, the students focused on ways to implement peaceful conflict resolution as the top priority in their school. These students were impressive and engaging. They were proud, clear about their priorities, and intentional about establishing peace as a norm in their school and beyond.

The second special visit was a performance at a Colombian arts school with a wonderful private dance troupe. Each of the dancers originally came from the poorest communities or barrios in Bogota. The older dancers (in their 20s and 30s) had been doing this for years and developed into an internationally recognized dance troupe. That day, they modeled how they actively paid it forward with younger students. They showed how they taught young kids from the poorest communities of Bogota how to dance. As the founder and director of the troupe told us, the young students had seen and experienced too much violence and suffered daily from the poverty in their lives. Learning to dance gave them skills, confidence, and a sense of peace and calm – something that was relatively absent in their lives of struggle.

These experiences were important reminders that acts of kindness and agents of peace come in different forms and exist in many different cultures.

I think we all have a responsibility to contribute to sowing seeds of kindness, empathy and care in our communities, wherever we are. Today I think this is particularly important. We don’t have to agree with one another all the time, but we do need to be respectful and accepting of difference at all times. These norms, these foundational values, matter a great deal.

I was proud to wear pink on Wednesday, and hope we will all stand up for the weak or the victims of bullying and harassment, whenever we are aware of it.

My thanks to those students in Nova Scotia and Colombia for reminding us all that we each have an important duty of care in our community. I hope that you regularly practice kindness and acceptance every day. Remember, peace, acceptance and trust form the bedrock of healthy communities everywhere. – Chris Shannon, Headmaster

Student Exchange: Embracing Our Differences

Riley_Fersten1I have been at Carey Baptist Grammar School in Melbourne, Australia for about a week and a half and so far my experience has been outstanding.

After a long 30 hours of travelling on multiple planes, I arrived in Melbourne on February 10 at 2:30 pm. I was picked up at the airport by my exchange, Pip, and her family. We hugged, we talked, we made fun of each other’s accents and we quickly got to know each other, though we had been messaging through social media for the past few months.

Each day, we wake up at 7 am, take the train to school and have seven hours of classes. This school is so different from LCC. Everything is outdoors and we go outside from class to class. The campus is beautiful and the buildings are big. It feels good to be outside for the majority of the day, with a major difference being the hot Melbourne weather versus our cold Montreal winter.

The classes here are very different from those at LCC. We have classes such as wood and fashion, which are fun to be a part of, and I have the opportunity to learn a lot. In wood class, we are making stools. Although it is hard for me because most of the students have been learning how to construct things out of wood for many years, it is cool to have people teach me how to build everything.

We had a swimming carnival on Tuesday, which was a lot of fun. The ten houses competed in swimming competitions throughout the day at the sports complex, Bulleen. It gave me a good chance to talk to new people and learn more about life at Carey.

In P.E., I learned how to play an Australian sport called Aussie Rules. It is kind of a mix of football, soccer and rugby. I had fun learning about it and having everyone laugh at me when I didn’t play the sport the way it is supposed to be played because I didn’t really know the rules.

Though there are many differences between Melbourne and Montreal, a lot of things are similar too. It is weird to think that my friends and I could be so similar and get along this well with kids who live on the other side of the world.

One of the major differences between here and Montreal are people’s accents and the words that they use. I cannot get through a day without someone commenting on my accent or making me speak to them because of the way I pronounce certain words. After being here for a week, I am now used to their accents and I am even starting to say some words the way that the kids here say them.

I am doing things that I never thought I would have done in my life and am having the experience of a lifetime! I feel so independent – I flew here on my own and I am learning how to live without my family and friends. It is so cool to be living on the other side of the world and meeting all these new people. I am so happy that I made the decision to go on this exchange. I know already that this experience will change me for the better and I will never forget it. – Riley Fersten ’19, Exchange Student at Carey Baptist Grammar School

Head’s Blog: Green With Envy

FacebookMost of us are familiar with the saying “green with envy.” It originated in the works of William Shakespeare who repeatedly warned his readers/audience about the negative impact of “green-eyed jealousy” that exists in all people. More than 500 years later, how is it rearing its head amongst today’s youth?

It is interesting that well before Shakespeare was writing in the late1500s, virtually all of the world religions had identified envy or jealousy as a notable vice. In the Christian tradition it was the first of the seven deadly sins. The perils of envy are the focus of the Fifth Hadith in the teachings of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. The Buddhist tradition identifies the three poisons and the Jewish sages and the Talmud holy book identify envy as a human affliction or character flaw which can be diminished but never fully stamped out; it’s an unavoidable part of the human condition. In essence, envy is about having too much attachment to things or the personal qualities of others.

I was struck by an article written by a recent high school graduate in the UK who looked at envy today. Lisa was writing about the impact of social media on her generation. She noted that many of her friends are constantly seeking “likes” for their Facebook postings, yet many admit to having few close friends. Another of her friends had large numbers of Instagram followers but had actually been buying them. She admitted that her social media feeds were full of carefully-staged photos, only showing people at their best in life. Lisa writes, “It’s easy to envy people when all you see is a tiny spectrum of their life – a small window displaying only the narrative they wish you to see. It seems like anything too personal or hard to discuss or unglamorous, slips out of the photo stream.”

So how about real-life issues like problems with friends, personal heartbreaks, family issues, financial crises, illness or physical challenges? Or how about the daily hard slogging of studying, completing assignments and projects and the challenge of just balancing it all?

Reminder to today’s teens: that unglamorous reality is real life, but nobody posts that stuff. Let’s face it, much of social media is essentially a glistening shiny world of people’s “perfect fake lives.”

This is not to say our students shouldn’t be on social media. The capacity to share is actually wonderful. But teenagers are naturally quite susceptible to peer pressure, what sociologists call the immense “power of the tribe.” If they allow it, there will be a constant sense of pressure to reach for more and more likes on each updated profile, on each new Instagram post, encouraging new readers to follow their every success.

So my advice is for teens to try to be more realistic and avoid feeding the green monster of envy. If our students think their lives are humdrum, especially in wintery February, they shouldn’t worry. No fake glistening world required; our students are just fine the way they are. I see them in action and their teachers and coaches remind me of that every day.

Envy or jealousy will never magically disappear because we want it to. But it can be buried with a simple antidote: invest in others and their success. The more one does this, the more one connects with the essence of being human, and jealousy will be diminished because feet will be firmly planted in reality. That’s a timeless truth that will never change no matter how you project it to the world. – Chris Shannon, Headmaster

Student Exchange: Visiting Temples and Markets!

xchange_Regents_Thai_AVandenbussche_005My time here in Thailand is almost up and I simply can’t believe it!

With the exception of Wednesday, it was a usual school week. I’ve been eating more cautiously ever since my incident with the super spicy Asian dish. I’ve also continued playing basketball and ping-pong. I’m getting so good at ping-pong that I’ve started beating some of the kids here. Well at least I think I’m playing better. They tell me that they’re just taking it easy on me but I think otherwise!

Last Wednesday was different than your typical day at school. I had the opportunity to take in some of Thailand’s culture and it was an incredibly memorable day. The school organized an outing for me, two Year 9 students, and another exchange student from Peru, Marianne, to visit a floating market, three temples, a family-run restaurant, and a local market.

Our first stop was the floating market. A floating market is a traditional Thai market where you take a boat down canals and buy goods while drifting by stalls and other boats. However, what we visited was not a fully authentic market. Marianne and I did not take a boat, but instead we walked between the stalls on land, which was just as cool. We bought some souvenirs and some dumplings, which were very good. Even though it was a bit touristy, it was nonetheless very different for the two of us and very cool to visit.

Our second stop was a temple park (i.e., many temples constructed next to each other, forming a type of park). There, we visited three temples. The first one we visited was an information centre, which explained the values of Buddhism, using Thai art. It was very pretty and enlightening.

We then stopped our sightseeing for a lunch break. We drove outside the temple park to a family-run Thai restaurant. Thankfully we were being chaperoned by a local woman who worked at the school, who spoke fluent Thai. I was grateful. She helped us understand the menu. I ordered a Pad Se Iw, which is a thick noodle dish served with bok choy and beef. It was delicious!

Finally, we went to a local market. Although it had no canals, it was very cool. Without a doubt, I was the only Canadian there. Everything was less touristy and felt extremely Thai. I did not buy much, although I did buy a bubble tea. It was the perfect ending to a great day!

Since then, not much has changed. Today, being Saturday, I’m staying in boarding. There are no trips this weekend because there is a massive senior tournament being hosted at the school, welcoming students from all over Southeast Asia.

Although I’m looking forward to returning home, I’m sad to think that I’m leaving the trip of a lifetime. I’m so happy with how my exchange turned out and I don’t want to leave. I don’t think it’s possible to summarize how life changing this experience has been. I’ve made memories that will last a lifetime and I’m very sad to be leaving the friends that I have made, the teachers I’ve met, the jokes, the weather, the Thai flowers and so much more.

It’s crazy how fast my time in Thailand has passed and unbelievable to think that I’m only here for another five days. I think when you’re on exchange, you’re so busy adjusting to a new school and a new life that you lose track of time. Even this week is going to be busy. This week is the school musical, “Once,” and I’ll be starring as the only flutist of the orchestra! It will be a lot of fun! I can’t wait! —Andrew Vandenbussche ’19, Exchange Student at Regent’s



Head’s Blog: May We Live in Interesting Times

More information on the Quebec City shooter’s motivation will likely emerge soon. Was he a lone wolf? Was he radicalized online? We don’t know. But as Premier Couillard stated on Monday, “Every society has to live with its demons. Our society is not perfect. No society is.”

I think it is also appropriate to consider Premier Couillard’s message of solidarity with our Quebec Muslim community:

“Nous sommes avec vous. Vous êtes chez vous. Vous êtes bienvenus chez vous. Nous sommes tous des Québécois. Il faut qu’ensemble on continue à batir une société ouverte, accueillante et pacifique” … “We are with you. You are at home here and you are welcome at home. We are all Quebecers. Together we have to continue building a society that is open, welcoming and peaceful.”

This horrendous incident came on the heels of a difficult weekend in the United States following last Friday’s signing of an Executive Order by the new US President barring entry to the US by citizens of seven Muslim nations. That order resulted in chaos last weekend at the US border, especially in airports, where many peace-loving Muslims with legitimate visas or work papers in the States were detained at the border or barred from entry.

On Saturday evening, a US court overruled the presidential order as unconstitutional. Since then, there have been many protests, seen by many as overly zealous and extreme violations of some people’s fundamental rights.

In his first week in office, the US President also ordered a directive for the construction of a wall with Mexico and the renegotiation of NAFTA, which defines free trade between Mexico, the US and Canada. He’s a man in a rush and the world is considering how to respond.

Our Prime Minister is walking a tightrope with the Trump administration. Rather than openly declare that Mr. Trump is wrong and misdirected, Prime Minister Trudeau took to Twitter himself on the weekend stating: “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”

On the trade front, Mr. Trudeau recently conducted a retreat with his colleagues to consider next steps in dealing with the Trump administration. Again, the Canadian strategy seems to be avoidance of overt declarations that Trump and his officials are misdirected or wrong on policy. Rather, the strategy is to provide them with reminders that Canada is the principal trade partner for some 35 US states, with an estimated nine million American jobs tied into that trade relationship.

So the closing of American borders and the overt shift in the mindset of American leadership is having a serious impact on America’s traditional role since 1945 as the beacon of democracy on a global scale. The shift we are witnessing is complicated, so it requires our attention and ongoing discussion to best understand the short and long term impact on Canada. Our students need to be informed and take a position on these evolving issues. That’s the responsibility of citizenship and civic involvement. I urge them and their families to talk, discuss and analyze. Canadian values are on the line. Let’s make sure we defend them.

Yesterday, Premier Couillard urged politicians and the public to “think twice” about the “words we write, the words we utter.” He stated, “Words can be knives,” and urged all citizens in Quebec to “cool the rhetoric” and be more measured and balanced in our public discourse. Good advice! – Chris Shannon, Headmaster