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A life sentence

By Pauline Stewart

Last Tuesday, 1 November at 2.15pm, Mercury Bay Area School held its annual Lifer’s

Assembly. The invitation described it as the ‘Lifer’s Ceremony’.

I did not know what the ‘Lifer’s Ceremony’ was, not seeing the term apart from being associated

with someone serving a life sentence in prison. I decided not to ask my colleagues who are locals and

find out for myself. There may be readers who do not know either. It was quite an experience.

The Lifer is a student who started at Mercury Bay Area School as a five year old,

and who graduates at either the end of Year 12, or 13. Therefore, the point of the Lifer’s ceremony

is to honour the journey of thirteen years of each student, and to acknowledge in a special way

those who were beginning that journey as five year olds.

It was a formal occasion in terms of how things happened in the ceremony, but as for the setting

and dress, it was a time for the Lifers to wear something special if they so chose, but the emphasis

was not on what people wore in terms of the formality. It was the honouring of the journey of each

student that was formal. Every student and teacher at the school gathered in the gymnasium where, with over 1,000 students there were not enough seats for everyone, so many were seated on the floor. Those teachers particularly associated with the Lifers were seated out the front, but most of the teachers stood, or found a seat if available.

It is not a long ceremony, and after a brief introduction, the entire school recites their motto and then sings the national anthem. The Lifers are then called out by name, one at a time and as the student is named, he/she processes in, holding the hand of a five year old. This in itself is a powerful symbol of ‘a village’ stating, ‘here the youngest and the oldest have a special bond’. The Lifer student is presented with a certificate followed by a strong handshake or hug as appropriate. Everyone claps each duo. It is very affirming. Two of the students, representing all of the Lifers, address the gathering with their own prepared speech. Phoebe Asquith, one of the communications leaders at MBAS, and Sebastian Ross, do this in fine oratorial manner. What they say is inspiring; albeit a little heart-wrenching but it is also heart-warming, and so we have included their speeches here for you to enjoy.

Their principal and leader, John Wright, was robed in his Korowai, very fitting for this significant

community event, and he addressed the students warmly and affirmed the values of this unique area school, mindful, and acknowledging that he had been there when they began at MBAS, 13 years ago. It was clearly an emotional time for John. The spirit of affection for one another was open; the strong sense of belonging, to not only a school, but also to a community could not be mistaken.

These young adults, on their way to their vocations, many of them leaving this community, in a way

will remain belonging to us. We have an opportunity to express how proud we are of them in the

way we support the school. The five year olds beginning their time of more formal learning, also

belong to us, and it is good to remember that we belong to them.

From Sebastian Ross

“It seems like a lifetime ago, but believe it or not, I was once sitting where all of you guys are sitting now.

I remember looking up wide eyed at all these ‘older’ kids talking and doing adult stuff that I would never ever have to worry about. Well, look how that turned out. Here I am. Doing adult stuff. A lot may have changed between those thirteen years, though many of my teachers would argue that I am still a five year old at heart! However, something else that has remained unchanged for me is my passion. Yes, here I go again talking about sharks. When I was you guy's age I was absolutely, totally crazy about sharks. I wanted to be a shark, I wanted to marry sharks and I wanted to live with sharks. Now there hasn’t been any engagements, and I haven’t yet grown gills, not for a lack of trying, but I’m still on track to living my life with sharks. This unwavered interest, I think, is truly special, and is also a result of this Kura. I believe that one of our school’s biggest successes is being an Area School and having incredible, involved teachers, teachers who want to see you achieve; who will listen to your dreams and interests and help you get there. The time that you will spend at this school will also result in amazing relationships being built between you as students and all your teachers. I know that many of them seem scary now, and to be honest I can see why too, but believe me, these people will come to be very important to you. It’s been a pleasure to have grown alongside the school, seeing old teachers get older and growing a home outside of home at school. So to everyone in our school, those who are leaving, and those who are beginning your journey here, follow your passions and dreams, because in this incredible school, with these incredible people, they are so much more reachable.”

From Phoebe Asquith

Five years old, 13 years ago

“Looking at you five year olds, just starting on your school journey I am reminded of how big everything seemed, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to reach the end. Starting school at five is a new exciting adventure, it can be scary at first, you have no idea what's around the corner but one thing I can tell all you five year olds and everyone in this room is that it will be some of the best times of your life.

While school is not always easy, treat everyone with kindness because you have no idea what they are going through, when you spread kindness you spread a sense of community and it shows you care. While there will be, and are, many hurdles and obstacles, remember to take every step with courage, confidence and a can-do attitude. As you can see I’m very small, I’m still the height of a ten year old, but look around the room for a minute; look at the person next to you. We all look different from one another. There really is no normal. If you feel like you don’t fit in, don’t try and fit in, stand out, and show the world who you are.

I’m Phoebe Asquith and I have dwarfism. Who are you? Life can be difficult; we fall and we get back up again but never give up and never change the person you are. Everyone in this room looks after the community that is our Kura. It takes us right the way through to 18. We grow with our peers, our teachers and our principal. They get to know us so well and their support means everything. Sometimes the big things are too big to imagine at five years old.

It’s not until you get ready to leave that you realise the effort and time teachers, staff and those around us put in for us to succeed. They want us to do well and we should appreciate this. Little by little we grow, little by little we get ready to fly the nest, little by little we become stronger in the person we are becoming and the courage and resilience we have for life sets off in great flight.

Thirteen years at the same school means it's hard to say goodbye, but we must say goodbye so others can step in and we can grow our wings. How lucky we are to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.

Captions: group photo

The Lifers (Graduating Year 13 students who began as 5 year olds at MBAS) with their five year old companions


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