Respected Teachers and my dear friends,
Thank you School Leader Elect for proposing the toast and wishing all of us outgoing students the very best. Those words really touched our hearts and as you said, we will keep it our motto to excel in our pursuits and make the name of our school even more glorious. And I am indeed honoured to be given the chance to reply to the toast.
On behalf of all the outgoing students I wish to place on record the extraordinary influence the teachers and the ambience of this school has been in our lives the past ten years. The growing up phase was challenging but looking back it was eventful, and now it is part of our nostalgia.
I never thought I will ever get a chance to reply to the toast in this last year of mine at school. I was always a backbencher, a loser, a failure and the naughtiest kid in school.
I was always having homework to be finished, wrote impositions more times than all of you ever did, and received from teachers punishment in various forms. I leave the school with the thought that in this one thing at least I was first.
Let me now open my heart to you. I find that in today’s mad rush for success and becoming first, all that people think are of themselves. I is first and I is all that matters to most. We, unfortunately, live in a self-first and self-last and self-is-all world.
But there are people like me who long for love and acceptance. My rebellion, my naughtiness, my practical pranks were all my failed attempts to connect with you all.
I am not slow to study; I do believe I have a gifted mind. But i decided early on that I simply want to fail. You ask me, “Why?’
My dear friends, do know that all homes are not the same. There are broken homes where it is unrest always. Happiness is unreal to children like us who come from there.
There is no one to ask why you behave like this. All demand performance. There is no space for compassion, understanding or love in this scheme of things.
As I look back, it was a procession of negative labelling on all fronts: from relatives, schoolmates, and sadly some teachers too. It was like mud and slimy dirt thrown to stick on my white shirt: “You’re good for nothing,” “Bad boy,” “A shame to parents,” “Introvert,” “Loser,” and “A born failure,” were some of them. They still hurt. And I don’t know whether ever there will come a time when its shame will be washed away or its sting removed.
But I learned some time ago that holding a grudge will make all those labels come true. Therefore with great struggle I try to brush self-defeating thoughts aside each day.
I stand here today to say thank you for the opportunity given to one who did not rise up to your expectations. I stand here to thank my physical education teacher who one day after having made me run eight times around the ground asked, “My boy, tell me, what do you fear most?”
It was the first time someone was seeing me as a person—an individual with hopes and dreams, with fears and doubts like anyone else.
He, with that one question, broke my defense. I had a tough look and an unfriendly behaviour. Yet my teacher showed the guts to peel off that mask. But I am grateful he did it one on one and not in front of the crowd.
I broke down and cried that day. My fear of my parents separating, and losing one of them perhaps to death, finally came out.
From that moment on, it was a long journey to where I stand now doing what I have never dreamt of and had a fear of always: Standing in public and speaking in front of you all.
I thank you my dear teacher for shining that light in my darkness, for igniting hope in my despair, and for believing in me when others called me a failure.
I conclude in the hope that each naughty kid like me will meet a teacher or friend who believes in the potential of a prodigal son who returns home!