Four years ago, I was asked by the-then headmaster of the International School of Seychelles to deliver the graduation speech for the class of 2013 in my capacity as a former student as well as the-then editor of POTPOURRI magazine. Sharing it on my blog today.
Good evening everybody.
It is at once an exciting and daunting experience to go back to a place where you face yourself as you were, at what seems like a lifetime ago. Most probably I feel this way because it was a lifetime ago. The place that I am taking about is of course not the walls of the Anse Royale Auditorium, but rather being an International School student who had come to the end of one journey and looking forward to the beginning of the next one.
I would like to thank Daniel Roberts for the opportunity to be here today for many reasons.
For one – it gave me the chance to go back to the years 1992 to 1996, reflect a little on them and appreciate them in a whole new different way. So, thank you.
Secondly, preparing this speech also left me with no choice but to allow my four year old son to watch an unlimited amount of Ceebeebies winning me the mother of the moment trophy in the process, which is great given that number two should be making an appearance in the coming weeks and I need as much brownie points with him as possible.
Daniel, teachers, proud parents, students and most importantly, the graduates of year 11 and 13, thank you all for allocating some minutes of this very special event to hear or rather hoping to hear something of a certain significance from a former student. I describe this moment as special because an event such as this where you have a room full of teenagers in the prime of their youth about to embark onto the next thing holds such promise for the future. I look around this room, and once I get pass the shock of how young everybody looks I see tomorrow, I see a vibrancy and fearlessness that I am assuming I also had when I was in ‘this’ moment of my life.
I’m standing here today because someone, somehow thought I would have something meaningful to pass on to you. I’d be lying if I were to tell you I was not flattered at first, but that was quickly replaced with fear when I realised that I did not have any special anecdotes about me to share with you today. Well, that was until last week when I had a conversation with a biology student and we started talking about families and parents. I told her my mother had just celebrated her 79th birthday. The shock on her face was rather priceless and I watched her switch on the metal calculator and playing with the digits. And then the usual questions followed – I have always been amused by this especially when I drop the bigger bomb that my father was actually 64 at the time of my birth. This time however, the conversation did not end the usual way. Her shock turned to amazement when she informed me that very likely I was the last egg my mother produced, and combined with my father’s age, my conception was nothing short of a biological miracle. Trying to wrap my head around the fact that I apparently nearly didn’t happen has been rather frightening, but at least it gave me a story to share with you all today.
Regardless of that conversation, I was thinking of bringing my parents and upbringing up in the speech today because I sincerely believe that an assessment of what someone becomes and how they do it, is void if where they come from is not factored in. This is not to say that everybody has that great supportive and loving family history to relate to – but even if it’s not, our past does give us an indication of what we want to be or what we do not want to be as well as how we do things or how we do not want to do things.
See I grew up with parents who were generations away from me – in terms of thinking and understanding of the world. And while things worked out OK for a long time, the conflicting views at some point did become an issue. I had to fight for basic rights – the right to choose my clothes/ phone call times / bed times/ weekend activities. And it is significant for me to tell you this because I learned to fight very early on for what I wanted and what I felt I should have.
Of course at the time I didn’t see it as some life lesson that would lead to having a photograph of me in a monthly publication on the island. But, in a way, it was. So whatever we go through – good or bad, they are shaping us in some way. I’m not going to throw cheesy quotes at you – I’m sure most of you here are on Facebook and you have had your fair share of eye rolling with such quotes…so I will spare you.
When I walked in through the gates of the international school in 1992 I knew that I had set foot in a very special place. Nothing about it was anything like I had known before – and when I say before, I could only compare it to Mont Fleuri school where I had been attending my primary schooling. I’m not calling it special in terms of starry dust appearing all around me or anything like that – I knew it was special because I went into shock and pretty much stayed there for about a year! I literally went from one classroom where everyone lived within walking distance to each other to a classroom where over a dozen different nationalities sat together.
It was far from easy for me – but thank goodness for the resilience of children – I made friends and slowly a sense of belonging started to come together. While I know that wherever I would have spent those four years, I would have had to grow up, mature and come into my own – the basic fact remains that for me it happened at the International School of Seychelles – surrounded by a handful of friends who until today I remain in contact with and somewhere in my heart great affection for them continues to linger. They are scattered all over the world – Kate is in South Africa, Porcia is in the US, Brigitte is now in Australia, Carla is in the UK, Helen is in Canada and Srdjana is in State House (I see her so rarely it is almost like she’s in another world anyway!).
Perhaps the most significant thing to note – which does perhaps have some significance to Potpourri magazine is the sense of creativity that I feel flourished while I was here. I doubt very much it would have been the same anywhere else. I actually remember the very first essay which I wrote for an English class where I knew something had changed in me. The style of writing, the way I expressed my feelings were all so different from the essay I had written even a day before.
On this note, it is a good time to bring up this magazine which is I believe the reason I am here today. The very first thing I would want to say in general about it is that whatever you feel your drive is, let it guide you. Never apologise for it, unless to achieve it required you to leave a body count behind. When I say never apologise, I am not saying you have a free ticket to live carelessly and let whatever will be be. I’m just saying that in order to achieve our goals, sacrifices need to be made and in the process, there are moments when these sacrifices do not go down well with others. If it’s a title you are after – it’s OK. If it’s fame and fortune you are after – it’s OK. If you want to lose yourself with a canvas, painting all day – doors shut to the world, it’s OK. If you just want to get married and be a stay at home mum – think twice – but again, it’s OK. My point is that whatever you want, you should go for it – just do it nicely.
Myself and Ineke – my best friend and business partner – simply wanted to produce a great local magazine. There’s so much beauty in Seychelles – from its people to its cultural and social aspects – everywhere we looked, many people we saw, we found an article/ an idea for a feature. We actually thought it would not be so hard. Everyone around us thought we were mad. And of course they were right.
There apparently was a very good reason why no-one had produced a magazine since 1997 – we were told Seychellois don’t read magazines, companies will not advertise (we don’t have a particular marketing/ advertising culture here)/ there isn’t enough content to produce a monthly publication – you name it, someone said it. Oh and of course then there was the big question about the political angle we were going to come from, what political belief we would be promoting – I just hope no one has been holding their breath with regards to that.
What people failed to get though was that we genuinely believed that well, if Seychellois don’t read, we’ll create the urge to read. Companies who don’t advertise had simply just not been asked to by two women who could soften the tone of their voices, smile from ear to ear and beg. Of course, before presenting business arguments as to why they needed a presence in the magazine.
And that brings me to something wonderful and hopeful that we have learned in the process. Often we learn and we are told that the world can be a bad place, a scary place – people are selfish and greedy and would hurt you sometimes for no reason. But if you were to pick up a copy of POTPOURRI magazine, flick through it you will come across an impressive number of personalities who write for the magazine – how many of them there is, is not what is fascinating, but rather who they are. See when the ball started rolling and ideas started coming in and we started adding on to the list of what features we wanted in the magazine, we had the audacity to think of people who are perceived to be the best in their fields to write for that particular feature. What was it we were going to offer them in return? Nothing tangible. We simply had this idea of what we were sure the magazine would become, and well, how could they possibly not want to be part of it? I’ll give you an example of Bernard Georges – our Know Your Rights columnist – that’s the legal column for those of you not familiar with POTPOURRI. He was the first person who came to mind when the idea was born. A well established lawyer, a University of Seychelles lecturer, a respected politician – oh and above all a great writer. Who could top that? So, we found his office and arranged for a meeting. We walked into that room with more or less rehearsed notes – I’m talking between 15 to 25 bullet points of why he should do it and why he should expect no payment for it. We blocked two hours of our schedule – because we thought that was how long we needed to convince Bernard Georges to do this – I mean at the end of the day we were about to tell a lawyer and a politician to do so something for the greater good – I mean does anybody know of any lawyer or politician who would be interested in that right?
To our utter shock, we spent a total of about 6 minutes in his office – from what do you girls need to what’s the first question you would like me to address– how many words/ when is the deadline? Now get out of my office. We never once mentally had to go to the notes in our bags. It was that easy. My point here is that if we had listened to our reservations about approaching him we would have never done it. Today, Bernard Georges has been part of the team for over a year. There are people out there who will understand, who will help you, who will go as far as share your vision and be OK with taking a back seat for it and never getting a mention – or you know what, there are also people who just might feel sorry for you and decide to give you a break.
There are good people out there – but you need to look for them. They will not fall out of the sky. The Bernard Georges case applies to almost all of our contributors – from Martin Hoareau who when we approached him for the make-over section, the magazine was not as glossy or as popular as it is now, he said yes before we asked the question. The one clinical psychologist that Seychelles has produced, Annalisa, took a whole two seconds before saying why not. It took two email exchanges for a Seychelloise, Tina who writes on line courses for a University in Hudson, Wisconson in the States to say yes to a column. And the list goes on. We have been asked by top business people in this country, – how on earth did you get so-and-so to do this. Well we simply asked.
When I go home after this, I will write my editorial for POTPOURRI’s July 2013 issue. I have been toying with it for a while. While each editorial I write is important, the July ones are a little more significant since it marks another year that we have managed to stick around. Yes, we’ll be two years old next month and in a way, it feels like the journey has only begun. We have been told that passion alone is not enough to run a business – our husbands would agree since we have not brought home a single cent for 24 months – if anything we have been depleting the limited reserves – but while we know tough business decisions need to be made in order to survive, passion kick started this journey for us and kept us going.
I guess at the end of the day, you need a little bit of everything in order to make the most of your circumstances – passion, common sense, determination – do not let comments that deter you from doing something you want or love dictate your course – use it to prove to those people that they are wrong. At the same time, be careful about what you perceive success is. In the middle of journeys we sometimes tend to forget why we started it in the first place. We achieve the goal without realizing it and when the last plan we developed in the process goes up in smoke, we tend to just think we have failed.
I will leave you with this – when things don’t go your way – there is nothing wrong with allowing yourself 10 minutes to cry or feel sorry for yourself. In fact you should cry as if the word shame never existed. But, when the 10 minutes is over, dry your tears and find the silver lining. There is always one and it is usually found in the most unpredictable places.
I wish you all a happy and healthy future. Start it now – and be safe on the roads tonight.