SAHETI Alumna – Anna Chrysostomou – Class of 2015
Thank you for such a generous welcome. It is truly one of the great honours of my life to have been invited back here to speak to you all. And what an audience this is. Look at this hall! Look at all of these people – all here to celebrate you: the Class of 2019, the last of the second decade of the 21st century. Recognise the significance of this. Contextualise your place in the timeline. And realise that this is a mere fraction of the masses invested in your success, of the people out there waiting expectantly for your moment of glory.
They’re ready for it. Are you?
Now, let me make myself clear: my intention here is not to freak you out. I know the pressure is on, that the urgent alarms of “Matric is coming! Finals are coming!” have been blaring since Grade 10, and that you’re just about tired of it. Believe me, I know. I still have the occasional nightmare. No, my intention here is to help you understand “spheres of influence”, and the relationship between action and consequence. And no, this is not a discussion on Newton’s third law. We don’t do that here.
Instead, I’d like to address the “buttery effect”: a concept in chaos theory which dictates that the final outcome of an event within a dynamical system is highly influenced by its initial conditions. Translated to daily life in a mad, mad world like ours, it’s the idea that a small act can have far-reaching repercussions. Take a moment to introspect: look at your own life, see it as a single path in a vast network of causality, and trace the line that leads you to this very instance in space and time.
You’re sitting here right now, listening to me drone on, because perhaps when you were as young as three years old, your parents decided to send you to a school called SAHETI. You’ve been exposed to the people within these walls – you’ve made the friends you have and become the person you are – because of a decision that may have been made a decade and a half ago. Well, in part. To be fair, there are thousands of other variables you need to consider to work out why you are the person you are. But that’s part of the philosophy of “Know Thyself”, the words you’ve had emblazoned across your heart for however many years you’ve been at this institution. We tend to forget the gravitas of that statement – while at SAHETI, we’re practically desensitised to it.
After all, I knew who I was during high school: I was Anna, a Cypriot-Romanian hybrid. I was a Sahetian. I was a South African. Then I got to varsity; “Sahetian” became “Witsie”, and I went about my business. How simple. But that’s not how it works. You’re challenged on every conceivable level when you leave school. You’re confronted with the reality that you need to define yourself by a set of parameters far more complex than these neat little boxes of nationality, ethnicity, and school. You realise that “Know Thyself” is a dynamical problem, that you get to decide who you want to be, and that every action you make – every thought you have, every piece of content with which you engage – takes you closer to or further from the person you long to become. And you begin to see that the one constant in your life is yourself, so you’d better make sure you like the company.
I know that’s not always easy. Our flaws can seem so insurmountable when we’re as close to them as we are. But let me tell you something. I’ve had pieces of meat and bone carved out of me, and bits of metal shoved through my skeleton. I’ve had the blood CO2 content of a dead man, and spent a large chunk of my adolescence plugged into an oxygen machine that screamed bloody murder into the silence of every test and exam (now that was embarrassing). And yes, to this day my spine distinctly resembles a melted bendy straw. But I’m still here. And so are you. You’ve survived whatever traumas life has bestowed upon you, whether they were as obvious to the world as mine, or the secret pain that only reveals itself through tear-soaked pillows. You’ve survived it all. And you’ll be able to survive even more.
And so I leave you with one last message: every single one of us is at least a little broken. You’re not alone in this. And every person out there deserves your love and respect, by virtue of the simple fact that they too are alive, surviving, and – just maybe – trying to decide who they should be. I urge you to train yourself to recognise their handiwork in the network of causality, and to thank them for their place in your timeline.
And as you face your final exams, remember that all these people are rooting for you, and waiting to celebrate your success. This is your moment to prove yourself, an opportunity to demonstrate who you are. Don’t squander it. You’re better than that. You’ve worked too hard to allow for that. So relish the victories of today – you’ve earned them – and prepare yourselves for the greater victories to come. Study, work, live – with dignity. Make us proud. Make yourselves proud. As you always do.