Good morning to you all. It is a great pleasure to be here with you today. I hope that in the short time we spend together I will be able to impart something of lasting value to each one of you. Most of what I have to share is based on my own limited experiences, first here at Hilton and in my life thereafter. Much of the wisdom I have gleaned is borne of my own muddling attempts to navigate this thing called life.
As we sit here many of us are gripped with fear. Some of us fear whether you will ever feel ever feel normal and accepted. Some of us fear whether we will ever find companionship. Some us fear whether we will ever measure up to the expectations others have of us. Some of us fear the humiliation of failure, of reaching for our dreams and falling short. These fears are reflected in many aspects of our lives. They are apparent in a thousand little ways. They knock about in our heads in the quiet, still hour, as we try and to fall asleep.
I want to encourage you today. Act in faith, live in hope, overcome fear. Act in faith. Believe that God loves you. That things are going to work out. Overcome fear. For fear cannot prevail in the face of faith and hope.
I remember the first time I ever asked a girl out. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was thirteen years old and I can still feel my stomach turning. The girls name was “Shelley”, not her real name. She was tall and slender, with a shock of red hair and freckles. An odd pair – I know. My best friend was with me that night in my parents’ bed room as I anguished over making the phone call. Now you guys know the phone call right? My heart felt as though it were beating against my chest, almost as though it were threatening to leap out altogether. She loves me. She loves me not. She loves me. She loves me not. What if she thinks I’m a loser or she thinks I’m ugly? In short I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough, that she would reject me. And so how did I resolve my nerves? Well, with the use of a tried and tested method – I putted for it. Put goes in, I ask her out. Put goes in – and the she said yes!
I know that many of you sitting here today know this fear, are living with this fear. The fear is that you’re not good enough. The fear is that you don’t measure up. You’re afraid that you’re not smart enough, not good looking enough, not talented enough or even not brave enough to chase after the dreams you have. This is a painful and difficult set of feelings to live with. We’ve all been there. But I want to remind you of some key truths as it relates to this. You are unique. There is no one else in the world like you. You have a unique destiny that will see you engage with the world around in ways that will change it and make it better. So don’t be afraid. You already have everything you need to be yourself. Find your voice. Let the world know who you who are and that it has to reckon with you. Act in faith, live in hope, overcome fear.
Now you wouldn’t believe any of what I’m about to tell you, to look at me, but I promise it’s a true story. To say that I was a middling rugby player at the best of times is actually to be generous to myself. Yet through my school career mostly by virtue of the fact that I was this height and size from about the age of 9, I generally found myself in the age group A team, playing at prop and hooker. Through standard 8, I seemed to be carving out for myself a school career of mild success that would hopefully lead to at least one season in the famous Hilton white jersey. Yet in the summer of 1999, heading into standard 9, I became possessed of a truly cheeky notion. There must be more to life than scrummaging! I had always believed myself more Jean de Villiers than Jannie Du Plessis and all of a sudden I found the gumption to the test the notion. And so I came back to school and informed my coaches that I was giving back my number 2 jersey and wished to exchange for a number 10. Suffice as to say this went down like a lead balloon, before I followed all the way down to the 7th team. My friends were convinced I’d gone mad and I was afraid that I had thrown away any opportunity of wearing white. But a happier boy you could never have wished to see! White boots, chip kicks and no scrumming – it was heaven! Eventually a combination of Mr Brown and Rev Kev, convinced me there was happy compromise to be had and I made the move to flank. And I absolutely loved it! And this little odyssey ended up with me making my debut in the white jersey in my very last match atHilton. There is perhaps no decision that fills me with more joy and satisfaction that fantastical leap into the unknown. You see, it was a decision steeped in hope. The hope that I might, just might, be able to extract an extra measure of joy out of something I loved. Fear succumbed to hope, and hope was vindicated.
So if you’re sitting there wanting to play fly half, or to sign up to sing in the chorus line in a production of the Pirates of Penzance or wanting to explore the wonders of stamp collection, then be free. Don’t be afraid to explore. Let hope carry you. And maybe, just maybe, hope might be vindicated. Act in faith, live in hope, overcome fear.
As I stand before you all this morning, I am afraid. I have recently overseen the liquidation of a company in which I have invested in tirelessly over the past three and half years. I was brought in to save the business and I failed in that task. My best laid plans have come to nothing. As a result a number of people near and dear to me are waking up today without jobs. In fact, I too, am now a member of the massed ranks of the unemployed. And while I’ve already walked some hard road in life, this is undoubtedly the most testing moment I have endured as a man.
In this circumstance a number of fears are tugging at me, wanting to take refuge in my heart. A fear of people and what they will think. A fear that I’m not actually good enough to achieve what I’ve set my heart on. A fear of failure. And a fear of the future.
But then again failure is nothing new to me. Failure has been my constant companion through a life filled with a litany of failed experiments. Whether it was the Hilton College radio station that never materialised or the my less than stellar stint with the Hilton rowing team or the girls I’ve asked out who politely declined or that ill advised flirtation with skinny jeans. Failed experiments all! I have failed at many more things than I’ve succeeded. And often I have failed quite spectacularly. And it’s ok. It hasn’t broken me; it’s made me stronger, it’s made me wiser, it’s made me more determined.
So when was the last time you failed? When was the last time you took on a seemingly impossible task? When was the last time you had to dust yourself off, lick your wounds and learn your lesson? It’s true that some failures sting more than others, but each one should have the effect of toughening us up, and giving us the resolve to prepare ourselves for another assault on the mountain’s summit. Failure is not fatal. Failure is not final. Failure, even spectacular failure, is good you! Act in faith, live in hope, overcome fear.
Many of us fear the future. The other day I was with the parents of friend of mine. Their child had recently married a foreign national and the young couple had decided to settle in South Africa. The parents described to me how they had hoped and wished that the young couple might have chosen to emigrate instead. The question is what would drive loving parents to encourage their children to move thousands kilometres away, if not fear of the future. This is a common thought pattern and all of you will be familiar with it, “South Africa is beautiful nation but I don’t know what the future holds. Will things get worse and will this continue to be a safe place in which to live? Perhaps I should consider leaving while I can”. Many South Africans, black and white live in fear of the future – in fear of what might be.
Many of you students understand this uncertainty even more acutely than your parents. You are filled with the hopes and dreams of a life not yet lived. And yet much of what you see and hear about the country you live in causes you to doubt whether there is a place for you in it. I cannot of course answer this question for you. But I can caution you against trying to read the tea leaves of both life and history.
Between 2007 and 2009, I was a resident of Cairo, Egypt. That ancient city, once the seat of the greatest kingdom in the world. Despite years of oppression under the yoke of the dictator Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians were famous in the Arab world for their docility. This meant that for 30 years Egypt was the most stable country in the region, and therefore a hugely attractive for foreign direct investment. Therefore, no one, I mean no one, and certainly not me, could have imagined the Egyptian revolution that has shaken the world.
The point is this: the future is uncertain and that will always be the case. None of us ever has anything more than the most tenuous grasp of what the future may hold. The best any of us can do is reckon with the present and hope for the best. And as such I would encourage you to set your minds on the work to be done and to pursue its doing with all the strength and vigour that you can muster. And surely the future will unravel before you, sometimes to your advantage and sometimes not. Ultimately, it’s not the prescient man, who foretells the future, who triumphs but he that faces it with the dawning sun each day. Act in faith, live in hope, overcome fear.
In late 2007, I spent a period of time in Afghanistan and covering the conflict there as a journalist. On the morning of November 28th, I was woken by what felt like an earthquake. Through the haze of my suddenly broken sleep, I heard windows shattering all around me and the deathly screams of men, women and children. Instinctively I shouted to my grizzled war photographer friend in the next room, “Jason! Is that a bomb”!? To which he responded, “Yeah mate”! And I, “let’s go”! And within a minute we were leaping out the building and into the street below. As we did so we were greeted by the massive flames. As we sprinted towards the scene of the bombing, hundreds of people were running away in the opposite direction. Many of them were bruised and bloodied, while others closer to the epicentre had already perished, their charred remains strewn across the road. That day a Taliban insurgent had fired a rocket propelled grenade or RPD from a nearby hilltop into the vehicle convoy escorting the Minister of Defence as he entered the Ministry building, across the road from my little hotel. The convoy was hit and a number of senior officials and innocent civilians were killed. With hindsight I’m as surprised as anyone by my own actions that day and on many other days like it during the period of my life as a journalist. What was it that made me run towards the trouble when everyone else was running in the opposite direction? In February of 2009, I remember being on the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza, during another flare up of the Israeli/ Palestinian war. It wasn’t so much a war as it was an overwhelming aerial bombing campaign of the tiny enclave by the Israeli air force, which saw more than 1400 people perish, all Palestinian. On the border that day thousands of Palestinian refugees were desperately trying to escape the carnage and seeking refuge in Egypt. I could see them lined on the other side of the fence their number stretching as far as the eye could see. I on the other hand was fighting equally hard to get into Gaza. And I did. And I bore witness to that conflict, as I did to other conflicts in Somalia, and the Ivory Coast and many others. I ran towards the trouble, so that I could bear witness and share the truth with the world outside. Did I always know what was awaiting me on the other side? No. I didn’t need to. All I knew is that I had to go see and tell the story, such that I can be here today to encourage you.
You see in life there are no sure things. None of us is guaranteed success. And nothing, not even an excellent Hilton College education, will give it to you. Therefore, the best we can do is to have faith that our cause is just and that whatever price we have to pay along the way is one worth paying. This way, we can acknowledge our fears, and persist to act in spite of them. So that should even our worst fears be realised, we can be secure in the knowledge that it was worth it. And the same is true for you, whatever your ambition. If you’re afraid to pursue it, then ask yourself that simple question – is it worth the price. And if the answer is yes, then resolve in your mind and in your heart to pursue it with all you have for as long as you can.
Now, there are many things that I could say to you about how one ought to overcome fear. Surely there has been more wisdom spoken by men greater than I, than I could ever hope to convey to you today. So I will seek to share what I consider to be the salient truth. A strong and abiding faith in God is the only panacea against fear. Faith that God knows me, faith that God loves me, faith that God is working every situation towards my best and faith that, come what may, my eternal salvation is secure. In my life it this faith which arms me to face every circumstance, however dire, with the assurance that things are going to be ok. Therefore, faith has the effect of dulling our fear and more importantly of giving us the courage to act in spite of our fear. So I must encourage you, when all is said and done, to look to God. His promise to you is this, “Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady and keep a firm grip on you”. Act in faith, live in hope, overcome fear.
My mother is the most amazing person, a larger than life figure. Any of you who have ever met her, will never forget her. Hers is an indomitable spirit, of the kind that I’ve never seen in anyone. Never defeated, never cowed, onward always. And she has sought to sow those seeds in her children. From the time I was toddler, even before I could read, at my bedside sat cardboard copy of Rudyard’s Kipling’s “If”. And my mother would read it to me before bed time. Now I’m a man and I understand what my mother was trying to say, and the life she was preparing me for: the fear, the swings and roundabouts of fortune, the struggle and the overcoming that is the essence of manhood.
‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)