A letter to my community
Graham Silverthorne, Outgoing Head of UWCSEA East
23 December 2020
At the heart of my values is a belief in equity. I suppose this grew from a childhood insistence on ‘fairness’ into an adult view of the world that sees everyone as being of equal worth and worthy of equal respect and attention. I’m not entirely sure how this evolved to be such a driving part of my core but I believe in this very strongly. I hate expressions of inequity, ways in which people or groups classify and denigrate others as of less worth. In a school context, of course, this applies very much to the way in which we treat children—but also to the small part players in the big picture.
So, the draw of UWCSEA was to come to a place where the Mission speaks explicitly about peace and sustainability and implicitly, therefore, about equity—for it isn’t possible for humanity to sustain peacefully without much greater equity than we have in our world today. Everywhere we see the consequences of imbalance, and inequity has never been more visible than it is in 2020.
In describing my experiences at UWCSEA, I would describe a series of interactions rather than a single event. Over my first few weeks at the College, I came across person after person who introduced themselves to me by using their commitment to the Mission as a starting point. I had never experienced this before and it heightened my sense of responsibility to champion and uphold the values that were held so dear by so many. Not long after I started, a Grade 12 scholar asked to meet me. I didn’t know her or why she wanted to see me. When we met, she told me that she had come to meet me to find out about my values. This was a unique experience in 20 years of school leadership and gave me an insight into the confidence, the passion and the focus of our student community. I realised that UWCSEA students were not ‘ordinary’ students but young people who saw themselves as part of a movement. This really is the unique element of a UWCSEA education. Being part of something that is focused on effecting positive change is not something that most schools seek to cultivate as a top level priority.
The relationships that I treasure are those outside my close peer group (although I treasure my peers as well). It is the colleague in the support team who helped me very late one evening when I had a problem with my bicycle and who wouldn’t go home until he knew I was able to go home myself; it is the colleague from the same team who excitedly grabbed my arm one day as I was on the way home and guided me to the gardens where she had been able to cultivate our campus’ first bunch of grapes! I treasure the connections I have developed in that team and in the catering team, who go out of their way to signal friendship and care to everyone, not just to me. Because of who we are and the way that we value people over position, I have connections with members of staff across the College—warm, genuine connections that have nothing to do with status or influence and everything to do with humanity, care and trust. As a long-term school leader, these are not usual relationships for a senior staff member to enjoy—it has been an absolute treat and a seminal reinforcement of my belief in equity that my colleagues here see the person first and the position second.
When I talk about UWCSEA in the future I will say that this is the school that has the potential to be more than a school. It is a school that while seeking to be part of a movement, constantly pushes itself towards becoming a movement in its own right so as to promote the needs of humanity. We are not perfect but we don’t seek to be perfect because that is not a story that we need to tell—we seek to have impact, we seek to challenge ourselves and others, we seek to make change for betterment.
I would say that, to join UWCSEA, is to sign up to teach, to learn and to change your view of the world. I would say that it is an opportunity that should not be missed, and it is one that I have been deeply grateful for.
With gratitude and admiration,
Outgoing Head of UWCSEA East