Graduation address given by Paul Fensom

Paul Clement Fensom gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Education and Social Work graduation ceremony held on 4 April 2008. Mr Fensom is Principal of Trinity Catholic College, Auburn and recipient of the title of Honorary Fellow of the University of Sydney.

Graduation address

Your Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, Fellows of the Senate, Faculty Members, Graduates and friends and relatives of our graduates:

I feel greatly honoured and privileged to receive this Honorary Fellowship and to be invited to present the Occasional Address this afternoon. This University stands as the oldest and most prestigious in the country and, like many of you, I feel immensely proud to be a graduate of the University of Sydney.

My wonderful family are with me today and both my daughters are presently undergraduates at the University of Sydney. I am also honoured that Brother Kelvin Canavan, Executive Director of Catholic Schools for the past 22 years and an outstanding educational leader , is one of my guests, along with a colleague Principal, Michael Addicoat, from Freeman Catholic College at Bonnyrigg. Both men have enriched my professional life by their role-modelling, support and wisdom. The Assistant Principal at my school, Donna McLaughlin, is also a much-valued guest.

I have been blessed and privileged to spend nearly 40 years working in education, specifically in high schools, helping young people to grow and develop, to see their potential, to reach above and beyond themselves, to become positive, happy and energetic contributors to family life and to our society. To my mind, there is no greater calling, vocation or career than that of ‘teacher’.

The school which I have been privileged to lead in recent years, Trinity Catholic College, is a dual campus, co-educational school situated in Auburn and Regents Park. It forms part of the Catholic school system in Sydney, educating 63,000 students in 147 primary and secondary schools. Eighty per cent of my students come from a language background other than English. There are 49 students with an intellectual or physical disability and we have 40 refugee students from the Sudan. The school is located in an area which is often described as ‘lower socio-economic’ with significant social issues. Despite this diverse and complex context, our students achieve outstanding results in public examinations each year . In 2007, for example, all School Certificate subjects were above State Average and 83% of HSC courses were above State average. Approximately 60% of our Year 12 students are offered places at various universities each year, including many to the University of Sydney. The question you may be asking is why, despite significant disadvantages and apparent obstacles, can this school do so well. What lesson is there in this for our graduates today?

Perhaps some of the following factors have been positive forces for us:

  • the recruitment and retention of teachers who are really committed to our students, who want to enhance our students’ upward social mobility, giving them the same chances in life that they have enjoyed.
  • a clear, unambiguous focus on good teaching and student learning outcomes.
  • the promotion of sound, holistic Human Resources practices among staff so that the workplace is characterised by a strong sense of community, personal growth and professionalism.
  • the bravery to set targets for learning outcomes and to value-add for each and every student at his or her ability level from Year 7 to Year 12.
  • a fostering of the team approach among teachers in programming, development of subject resources and sharing of good teaching practice.
  • involvement of all teachers in a School Review and Improvement process each year so that all teachers can have a significant input into policies and practices.
  • utilising every opportunity to be positive, affirming, celebratory and to highlight students’ and teachers’ achievements.
  • ensuring the establishment of boundaries, structures and standards in all matters concerning the behaviour and safety of students, while balancing this with practices and policies which characterise a wholesome and happy school climate.
  • utilising best practice in strategic planning where goals are set each year for our teaching and learning. These goals are put into practical effect by forming part of each Middle Manager’s and teacher’s yearly work plan. We believe that this has had a direct and beneficial impact on learning outcomes.

The most important thing today is to honour our graduates. Congratulations to each and every one of you. To graduate in Education or Social Work is to graduate in what are called two of the ‘people professions’ or ‘service professions’ . You have chosen to study in professions which focus on the education and care of the human person. There can be nothing more noble than such a commitment. The idealism which motivated you to choose such a course of study and career devoted to service of others, hopefully will stay with you forever. The first few years of your chosen profession are so very important – this is a time to develop your skills, to learn from wise and experienced mentors, to reflect on your practice, to continue your learning journey and to inject yourself wholeheartedly into your career. Above all, never be disheartened, always maintain your enthusiasm and idealism. You CAN make a difference and it is this belief in yourself and others that will ultimately win through.

To the parents and guardians of our graduates - on such a day you would think back on your son’s or daughter’s life and the various joys and challenges that have brought him or her to this point. We all recognise the love and sacrifices of parents in the long journey of raising young people and assisting with their education. The parents here today have every right to feel enormously satisfied and proud.

Finally, my thanks and best wishes to all of you for a future full of hope and full of promise.