Guest speaker at the 2018 Academic Assembly held at Bonython Hall, The University of Adelaide this year was Class of 2015 graduate, Ehsan Danish. Ehsan was kind enough to share his speech with us below.
I want to tell you a story. It’s a story of a little man who lived in a little village. He owned a little shop and sold the grain and fodder he harvested from his own land. The man was very happy – he owned all the land he could see from the valley to the mountains. He had brought 6 children into the world who frolicked in the fields and tended the animals. He had all that he desired but…
… unfortunately, the universe conspired against him. And when the trucks filled with militia came rolling past he was forced to make the only decision possible – he packed his family and their prized possessions into the back of a truck and travelled hundreds of kilometres in the blackest of nights to reach a foreign border.
Five years later this little man grasped the reins of his own destiny and once again stepped forward into the unknown. He left his wife and children in the relative safety of Iran and travelled unknown lands and crossed treacherous seas – all in order to reach the land of opportunity.
At the same time – in a distant land a young graphic design student named Carolyn Davidson was also offered an opportunity. She was paid $35 to design a logo which has become the quintessential icon of our generation - now valued at $26 billion. Davidson created the swoosh which inspired the famous slogan: Just Do It. This has become the ‘greatest’ philosophical dictum of the 21st Century.
How do these narratives intersect? It’s based on the concept of opportunities – these two stories show that sometimes opportunities are forced upon us whilst others are simply placed before us.
Three years ago, I was in your seat – Everyone was telling me that I had all the opportunities of the world ahead of me. And I did – I could be almost anything I wanted to be and everything that my parents expected. You see – the little man in the story before is my father who had battled against great adversity to provide me with this opportunity.
And – I am sure- your own families have their own great narratives – which have paved the road to your opportunities.
I want to return to the famous slogan – Just Do It – it is perhaps the most radical coin of phrase to corrupt a generation. We are a generation of – Just do its – but many of us have fallen down the slippery slow of doing the wrong thing.
The old people around us frequently condemn our generation because we live in a world of opportunities gifted to us from them – for them it all appears too easy. But this ease is our greatest challenge. It’s so much harder to commit to a goal when entertainment is just one click away. It’s harder to be fitter and stronger when we are dosed up on sugar and caffeine. It’s hard to grasp the opportunities before us – when there are too many to choose from.
I – however - consider myself to epitomise the idea of opportunity. I was nothing but the son of the little man in the story. I was an Afghan refugee whose father could offer me nothing but a world of opportunities. He sent me to a great school – a school filled with great minds and great spirits. My father – and all those I came in contact with showed me the potential of this world. I was taught most importantly how to seize opportunities – how hard work and an inquisitive mind can open a world of possibilities.
Three years ago – I sat where you sat – proud of my accomplishments – more proud to know that the opportunities I had before me were not my doing alone. One African proverb states– ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ – and whilst I was far removed from my village roots – I recognised even then that the world I had been raised in – was my village. And whilst I have wandered the world and met more kindred souls – it is the roots of my formation which ground me. Blackfriars has provided me with a solid base – for here I learnt to value integrity and comradery.
During my time at Blackfriars – I learnt that Just Doing It wasn’t enough. I learnt that the path to manhood was based on the choices I made in - exactly what to do. At some stage in my education – probably very late on –the purpose and meaning in life became clear. I tightened the reins on my wandering mind and raised my head from the screen. And – it was at that point that I came to see that opportunities were all around me.
It was at this point in time that I truly began to recognise that all opportunities were linked intrinsically to the decisions we make. I learnt that the pathway to manhood involved steps towards autonomy. And in saying this – I am not referring to independence or freedom – but to personal accountability. In the long path towards manhood I gradually began to realise that all the mistakes and all the regrets I had amassed could not be lumped onto a parent, a teacher or a peer. And when this notion really sunk in I began to look forward instead of perpetually backward.
I do look backward now – but with gratitude. I am grateful for being given an opportunity to be part of what every single person I know coins as a very unique community. Blackfriars is a community that embraced me – protected me from all the rhetoric of my alien Muslim identity. It gave me a voice and a shared identity so that I could consider no other place in the world but Australia my home. It is the most unique little village – a village filled with people from across the globe – a village which houses people with a thousand different ideologies – but one shared vision – comradery. In this – I learnt – that the divisions we create are purely on the surface – that if we have an open heart and an open mind then all of humanity is relatable.
And - as you look towards your future – I invite you to reflect on the words of the great man Dyson Hilder. He once said, “Graduating means a new opportunity for me to move forward in my life. It’s sad because it means I leave the comfort of the school and the company of people who I have grown friendships with over many years, but is exciting for the next stage of life.’
And as you enter the next stage of your life – I invite you to reflect on my humble beginnings. I want you to understand that great opportunities in life come to all that are open to them. That not all opportunities are wrapped in gold – and that sometimes the greatest opportunities we have are when we are faced with great adversity. It is during these times that you can rise up to the challenge and be ‘great’.
My father was once the littlest man in the world – But for me – He is the greatest man of all time.
I congratulate each and every one of you for rising up to the challenge of Year 12 and I wish you and your families all the joy in the opportunities which have been presented to you
Today we celebrated the feast of St Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order of Preachers.
As part of our celebration, we were joined by Class of 1992 Head Prefect, Dharmesh Raman, who gave the anuual St Dominic's Day address. Dharmesh's inspirational words are reproduced below and available to hear on Soundcloud.
Let me begin by thanking Mr Cobiac and Mr Ruggiero for asking me to speak to you all today. Before I start there is something I have to do, for all the students that don’t know, Mr Ruggiero’s favourite story of my time here as head prefect is the one of me taking off my head prefects tie and announcing to the year 12 students that at that moment I was speaking to them as one of them rather than as a prefect. So it’s only appropriate that I do the same today and speak to you as a fellow student. I must admit the story does make me cringe as it should – what was I thinking!!! Yet here I am doing it again. Obviously, I didn’t learn from that lesson, but there are some things that Blackfriars did teach me. I can summarise it in four words - fortune, friendship, fundamentals and faith.
The word fortune has two meanings – one is a large amount of money and assets, the other is chance or luck as a force that affects human affairs. Fortune for me falls into the second category. I am fortunate that my parents worked incredibly hard to send me here. I am fortunate that I met my lifelong friends here. I am fortunate that this school gave me a thirst for knowledge. I am fortunate that this thirst has brought me to a place where I now fully understand that it’s the fundamentals in life that bring me the most joy and finally I am fortunate that Blackfriars provided me with the foundations to build everything on – my faith in God. All of which I wouldn’t trade in for any amount of money or assets!!!
It certainly hasn’t been an easy journey, but one that I have learnt a lot from. A year after I left high school I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and felt very disillusioned because by all estimates I had to know – after all I was head prefect. At the same time, I got a casual job at Peter Shearer Menswear, which I absolutely loved but was terrible at – I was too shy and lacked confidence – so much so one of the directors, Tony Gilligan, gave me an ultimatum – shape up or be gone in a month’s time.
My life was not panning out the way I had imagined, in Business school they call it the Newtonian Paradigm – cause and effect – I do this therefore this must now happen – just because I was head prefect and had good grades didn’t mean my life was going to be planned out perfectly. In fact, it was the total opposite – I dropped out of Uni and faked it till I made it at Shearer’s. The world is full of complexity and we all need the ability to recognise the opportunities that present themselves. It took me 10 years, a severe illness and the kindness of Tony Gilligan to turn my life around. During these 10 years it was my friends like Mr Ruggiero that kept me going.
My friends really understood me because they were going through exactly what I was going through – I mean it was uncanny, when I had long hair they had long hair (some wish they still had the long hair), when my clothes started shrinking in the wardrobe, so did theirs, when I started getting grey hair so did theirs, even when some started losing all their hair so did some of the others (this is where Mr Ruggiero and I stood out from the crowd). The fact is this, in life we all go through pretty the much the same things – sometimes these things can bring us immense joy or immense sadness – but the meaning of these events is strengthened by sharing it with the people you love the most and for me having seven best friends from high school right next to me through this entire journey has made all of these events special for many different reasons. It is true that Blackfriars is one of the few schools that embrace this culture. In the 24 years I have worked at Shearers I have come across many men from many other schools but it’s the Blacks boys that tend to have lifelong friendships – we are the ones that have our high school mates as groomsmen and best men at our weddings – and the number of old scholars that I speak to that still have strong friendships with their high school friends is incredible. Cherish this because it is very special and when you look back at all the things you have done in your life, keeping your high school friends is one that will be high on your list of achievements. Keeping your high school friends also keeps you young, just ask our wives – they reckon we behave like children when we get together –so it must be a good thing!!!
Keeping my friends from high school has also kept me on a straight and narrow path. They often remind me and vice versa that life is about keeping to the fundamentals – doing what is good and fighting a good fight. Make no mistake, when you leave this place you will be facing many challenges. These challenges will come in many forms all designed to test you as a person. Just remember this, technology or money can never replace relationships. Relationships are built on honesty, trust, humility and hard work. I remind my staff that our business is not based on selling clothes but rather the relationships we build with each other, our suppliers and our customers. Keeping your high school friends for 30 years is a good barometer for learning how to build strong relationships. In fact, as you move up the ranks of your chosen professions you will realise that leadership comes from emotional intelligence. One criteria for sitting on the boards of companies is not only your technical ability but also your ability to understand, communicate and build relationships with other people using this emotional intelligence. It takes emotional intelligence to know how to get the best out of people by tapping into their intrinsic motivations and understanding that everyone brings their own experiences and attitudes to the task at hand. It still amazes me that everyone in business school gets taught the same theory but the practice can vary so wildly. Why is it that good people sitting on boards can make such poor decisions (even criminal ones for that matter)!!! It takes courage to take the right course of action. Courage is being compassionate towards others. Compassion is empathy in action. Empathy comes from putting yourself in the shoes of others. How do you learn to do this? It is simple – Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength and all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself. To all of you this may be words that were spoken 2000 odd years ago, but let me assure you that they are as relevant today as they were back then. Some of the most challenging work I did throughout my Masters in Business Administration was around self-reflection, being authentic, making ethical decisions and servant leadership. I remember distinctly one afternoon talking to Mr Ruggiero about my learnings in the course and his response was – isn’t it amazing, all the things that are required from you as a business leader, Jesus already laid out in the bible. It’s just the words we use today are different. The act is still the same.
For a long time I struggled to love myself, and it caused me a lot of difficulty loving other people, let alone putting myself in their shoes. The change came for me when I started really looking after myself - physically, mentally and spiritually. As you can see with this fine physic, I really struggle with the physical component. I try, but I fail more than I succeed – but I keep trying. I have also heard from Mr Ruggiero that the school has introduced daily meditations – this I believe is one of the best things you could do for yourselves – in fact a significant component of my MBA consisted of meditating and recognising the connection between my mental state and my physical state. A motto of the Dominican order is “to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of contemplation”. The Dominican tradition is to contemplate to reach the truth. Meditation allows me to contemplate and reach the truth. It allows me to recognise my true feelings based on my actions and the actions of others. I can then recognise how these feelings have manifested itself in my physical state. Once I’ve recognised these components I can instantly let it go by bringing empathy to myself and those around me – empathy is the fruits of my contemplation. Empathy towards myself gave me the confidence that I lacked to complete my MBA, my Company Directors course and become Managing Director of Peter Shearer Menswear. This was only the first step; the second step is to love my neighbours like I learnt to love myself. Empathy towards others. Who are my neighbours, well its everyone, but on a day to day basis it’s my family, friends and work colleagues. We do everything at Shearers to provide our staff with work life integration, we don’t like using the word balance because that suggests that work life and home life are on opposite ends of the scale constantly competing with each other. As directors of the business we make it our duty to serve our employees. We constantly strive to provide a positive work environment for people to thrive – negativity only serves one purpose – to suck the energy out of people. Our mission is twofold – to care about each other and to care about our customers. My aim is to instil this behaviour in every stakeholder of our business because it’s one way that I can live my faith – to love my neighbours as myself. The third step is to love God with all my being. Why? It’s his teachings that guide my business decisions. What I learnt in business school was what I learnt here 25 years ago – it just took me that long to make the connections and build the courage. You will learn that throughout your careers, the toughest decisions will be based around people and your courage will come from doing what’s right for the people around you.
In summary, I was fortunate to go to Blackfriars as a student, it gave me lifelong friendships that taught me the single most important lesson in life – how to build relationships. I have learnt that the relationships we have with ourselves and others are built on fundamentals of contemplation and truth that are driven by our faith in God. I’ll leave you with my fifth “F”, have fun. A sense of fun will allow you to take away learnings from every situation. It costs nothing to smile and its worth more than its weight in gold.
Dear Families and Community of Blackfriars Priory School,
Blessings for Christmas 2017
May we remember the coming of the Christ Child this Christmas.
In our School and in our lives, we are challenged to bring about the kingdom He proclaimed.
May you and your families be richly blessed at this holy time.
May the holidays provide a time for rest, recovery, fun, joy and reflection.
Dear Parents and Caregivers,
Blackfriars Priory School celebrated St Dominic’s Day on Thursday 3 August, although the official date to celebrate the feast of St Dominic in the Church calendar is Tuesday, 8 August. The reason for our change of date was a clash with the feast day of our first Australian Saint, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, also celebrated on Tuesday 8 August.