When reflecting on our achievements as a nation in 2020, I am reminded of Rutger Bregman’s most recent book Humankind: A hopeful history, where he writes that ‘For ages, we’ve assumed that civilisation is a flimsy veneer that will crack at the merest provocation’. Bregman supports his point with examples from 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and even the evacuation of the infamous Titanic to illustrate how we are often led to believe that during these times we witnessed the worst of humanity; people fighting for their own survival with little regard for the fate of others. Witness accounts however provide a much better appraisal of these catastrophic events and reveal that people largely responded with great humanity and a willingness to pitch in and help others. Of particular note was Bregman’s reflection on the London Blitz during WWII and the way the British responded to what was undoubtedly a horrendous and devasting act of warfare. The British did not crumble as was expected by the enemy, but rather banded together in communities; supporting each other both physically and emotionally as they rebuilt their cities and lives. Historians often describe this as a uniquely British response, but perhaps 2020 is in fact a good reflection of how we too have responded to recent challenges, or as Bregman describes a ‘universally human’ response.
Victoria’s response to COVID-19 tested both our humanity and resilience at a level never before experienced by most Australians. So, did we pass the Bregman test? In most instances we certainly did. Who can forget the acts of generosity shown to the more vulnerable in our community, the personal sacrifices we each made to ensure the safety of our colleagues, classmates and loved ones, and for those whom we would never meet, but knew were also facing the challenges of the pandemic?
At Ruyton, our strong sense of community came to the fore in 2020. We proudly witnessed an astounding level of generosity and support from our alumnae, staff and the broader Ruyton community. This was beautifully illustrated when our most recent and even more distant alumnae sent words of encouragement and wisdom to our 2020 graduating class. It was of great comfort to our students to know that they were part of a unique community built on strong relationships and enduring care. In addition, our students have been presented with the opportunity to discover for themselves that what seemed to really matter in the past, somehow became a little less important as the long weeks of lockdown unfolded. They soon came to fully understand the value and importance of strong, meaningful relationships both at home and at School, and also what we have long known, that the support and nurturing that comes from these relationships is a key ingredient in achieving individual success.
Recently Ruyton staff had the opportunity to listen to the inspiring words of Professor Lea Waters when she spoke on the topic of Bouncing forward after COVID-19. Part of Lea’s message focused on the importance of recognising the strengths we each have in dealing with challenges such as this pandemic. She also encouraged us to exercise self-compassion and kindness towards others, as these attributes were vitally important in rebuilding our classrooms and community.
Let us hope we remember the important lessons learnt from 2020 and what really matters to us as students, families and colleagues. May we as parents and educators also continue to model for our students a sense of optimism, generosity and co-operation, even in difficult times. It is through this that our students will be best placed to become strong and compassionate adults. To once again quote Bregman, let us all ‘Be courageous … Do good in broad daylight and don’t be ashamed of your generosity’.
Director of Wellbeing
Ruyton Girls' School