The final week for Grade 12 has been full of moments of reflection and inspiration thanks to the collective effort and input of staff and students. It has also been wonderful to be able to share some of these moments with parents and carers.
At the Valedictory Assembly I shared with students the story of an ordinary farmer, Cliff Young, who, in so many respects was simply extraordinary.
As most parents will know, in 1983, Cliff Young, aged 61, showed up to run in the first Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon. Cliff wore his first-ever pair of running shoes and windbreaker pants which were ventilated thanks to a number of hand-cut holes.
Cliff collected his race number, took out his false teeth lest they rattle as he ran, and stepped into line with a group of young athletes waiting to start the 875-kilometre race.
Some athletes and spectators at the start line looked at him and were dumbfounded. The less charitable scoffed. How was this old man going to compete against athletes who had carefully trained for this intensive race? What 61-year-old could run the equivalent of 11 Launceston Grammar Walkathons?
Cliff was a potato and sheep farmer who had built up endurance chasing thousands of sheep across his family farm in overalls and gumboots.
Not surprisingly, when the race started, Cliff was quickly left behind.
His running stride wasn’t much of a stride, it was more of a shuffle, and he was anything but fast.
It is reported that before the race he told reporters: “See, I grew up on a farm where we couldn’t afford horses or tractors, and the whole time I was growing up, whenever the storms would roll in, I’d have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2 000 sheep on 2 000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I’d always catch them. I believe I can run this race.”
Now the standard approach to an ultramarathon at that time saw athletes run for about 18 hours a day before sleeping for 6 hours. Cliff’s approach was anything but standard.
When the professional athletes laid down for the evening, Cliff just kept shuffling. When the athletes woke, Cliff had covered significant ground in the night.
Before long, Cliff had gained a lead that no athlete could chase down.
When Cliff crossed the finish line in Melbourne, he was 10 hours ahead of the second athlete. His time of 5 days, 15 hours and 4 minutes beat the previous record for a run between Sydney and Melbourne by more than two days.
When Cliff was awarded the first-place prize of $10 000, he surprised everyone still further by sharing the prize money with the other race competitors and giving most of it away.
While none of our Grade 12 are likely to be planning to run an actual ultramarathon any time soon, all are about to embark on the ultramarathon of life.
As Grade 12 students looked ahead this week at the new race they will be starting soon, I encouraged students to find inspiration in three aspects of Cliff’s approach.
Firstly, Cliff knew that just because everybody runs a certain way did not mean he had to run that way. Cliff found the right way for him to run and had the courage to not let the doubters at the start line deter him.
As it turned out, Cliff’s odd way of running around his sheep farm in overalls and gumboots was later found to be an extremely energy-efficient way to run long distances due to the slow-but-steady gait. Today, the gait is known as the “Young shuffle” or the “Ultra shuffle” and has been adopted by other ultra-marathon runners.
For our graduating students, throughout their life there will be pressure at times to be someone who they are not, simply to fit it with the crowd. When this occurs, our hope is that students will remember what they have learned in Chapel over the years, that God has made each and every one of them uniquely and beautifully. Their best days and years will come when they confidently embrace those unique gifts, abilities and interests rather than copying the crowd.
Secondly, Cliff knew that the discipline of pushing through and putting one foot in front of the other would get him to where he wanted to go. His progress was slow and steady but most importantly it was consistent.
6.4 kilometres an hour. That was the average speed Cliff maintained over the five-and-a-half days, including breaks. It’s not very fast. His pace while running was just over 8 kilometres an hour. Some of our students can run faster. But how many can keep up that speed for an entire day, much less consecutive days?
Cliff showed remarkable perseverance as a runner. In life, not surprisingly, perseverance is a more accurate predictor of achievement than a person’s raw talent. Perseverance is not only what wins long distance races, but also what will allow students to achieve their long-term goals.
As Grade 12 start their journey beyond School, they should not be disheartened if they do not achieve their goals quickly or easily. Instead, they should seek to keep putting one foot in front of the other knowing that they will make steady progress towards their goals as they stick at them and persevere.
Thirdly, Cliff found joy in giving not joy in getting. When Cliff recalled receiving the prize money of $10000, Cliff exclaimed, “Now that’s a helluva lot of potatoes”, and it was. In 1983, Cliff could have purchased two new cars with $10000. These were the days when you could pick up property for $40000.
Instead of keeping the cash to himself, Cliff chose to share it with the other competitors.
That spirit of focusing on what you give rather than what you will get, is what we hope will guide Grade 12 in the journey they now go on over the years ahead.
Cliff Young was an ordinary farmer whose extraordinary life was in large part due to his:
- Courage to not follow along with the crowd;
- Perseverance as he worked towards his goals; and
- Generosity with the good things he received.
While none of Grade 12 are yet to run an ultramarathon, they have each been on their own marathon through school. As staff, students and parents have watched Grade 12 on their run through their school years, we have seen each of them shine in their own unique ways and we will miss the joy they have brought to our community.
We also know that they are ready to run the ultramarathon ahead of them because of the way they have persevered with the challenges that are part of the Launceston Grammar experience, whether it was a rainy outdoor education camp on Maria, intensive musical rehearsals or the final leg of the Walkathon.
Grade 12 have persevered and, in the process, they have given so much to so many. They have given to the students who have served breakfast at Mowbray Primary. They have given to the students who they have read to with the Smith Family. They have given in a remarkable way to Cancer Council Tasmania. I am confident that they will continue to give as they come back for Sony Camp and as they seek out opportunities to be abundantly generous to others in the years ahead.
Ordinary people live extraordinary lives when their lives are shaped by courage, perseverance and generosity. In the years ahead, as Grade 12 run the race ahead of them, we hope they keep looping back to School and letting us know what they are up to, because we cannot wait to hear about the extraordinary ways in which they are serving and shaping our world.
Head of Learning Enrichment
In 2022 we are pleased to be introducing a new Executive leadership position responsible for ensuring students who need support or extension across Early Learning to Grade 12 are nurtured, challenged and inspired. Following a recruitment process which saw some strong candidates from across the country, we are excited that Cassandra Lobley, current Head of Learning Enhancement at St Patrick’s College, will be joining Launceston Grammar next year in this new position. Cassandra has a Master of Science Research (Psychology) as well as a Master of Education. With her partner, Cassandra also runs the Fork n Farm Homestead which won a Tasmanian Tourism Award this year. We look forward to Cassandra joining the School community next year and the impact we know she will have on learning enrichment.
At the end of this year, we are sad to be farewelling staff who will be retiring, relocating, embracing new challenges or finishing fixed term contracts. Heads of Campus will provide a more comprehensive staffing update to parents in the coming fortnight in relation to appointments which have been made at respective campuses.
Thank you to all parents who made time at the end of last term to complete the Parent Survey. MMG will be presenting the feedback to the School Board in November and input from parents will help inform planning for 2022. I look forward to sharing further information with you before the end of the term.
175th Gala Day and Dinner
Thank you to all members of the Launceston Grammar community who contributed to the celebrations on the Gala Weekend. It was a delight to share the day and evening with so many people from across the School community. As the term progresses I look forward to seeing you at a number of community gatherings and would encourage you to pencil in your diary a whole School Carol Service which we are holding this year at St John’s on Wednesday 1 December (6:30pm for 7:00pm start).