Friday 23 October 2020

A beautiful thing

On Friday evening, I delivered the following speech to the Class of 2020 at their Graduation Ceremony.

I dedicate my few words this evening to Nathan De Abreu - a CBC gentleman.

To the Class of 2020 - I have already spoken to you about the CBC Journey and the attempts by all the adults in this auditorium to try and form you into 'beautiful things'. I have spoken to you about the love, dedication, time and devotion required, among many other virtues, to make this a possibility. I have spoken to you about the opportunities you have been given to build a very solid foundation to the rest of your lives and I have shared with you the grief we all feel when you fail to take those opportunities, or worse.

Lincoln Kerspien's river table got a mention in my speech at our Year 12 gentlemen's final assembly. It now sits proudly in my office alongside Riley Lawrence's sheoak coffee table, ready to be paraded before our community as part of our Visual Arts Exhibition. I guard both pieces with the utmost care and shepherd any visitor to my office well away from those treasures. Those beautiful things. I can only imagine the horror for Lincoln, Riley, their teachers, friends and family if, between now and the Visual Arts Exhibition, my granddaughter Lily decides, on one of her visits, to take a pair of scissors or a permanent marker to those pieces of art. You see gentlemen, making beautiful things is not enough for the creator. They want their beautiful thing to last, to be savoured, to give pleasure to others, to remain in the spirit of its genesis. This now is your challenge as you leave this place. Will you remain a beautiful thing?

Nathan Joseph De Abreu was born on the 31st of March in 1994. He attended our College, graduating in 2011. This year he was taken away from us in a tragic accident. The reason I lionise Nathan tonight is not because of this tragedy. Many, many villains become saints upon death. Nathan has earned this eulogy by what he did before he died, not because he died.

Whenever a member of our community suffers a bereavement, I try and serve on the Altar. This year, when Nathan had his funeral Mass, I had the honour of serving. The circumstances were much more difficult for a variety of reasons, but in everyone's sorrow I'm sure there was a touch of inspiration. A touch of inspiration that he had lived such a good life, touched so many people in a positive way and left a lasting legacy. A part of this inspiration came from his friends: the brotherhood he had formed while at CBC. They stood as his pallbearers, mourned his passing, provided support to the family and spoke as one through Callum Thurston's eulogy. They did themselves and their families proud. They did Nathan proud. They did CBC Fremantle proud.

One of the things Nathan's family and devoted partner did on this sad day was to provide each mourner with a booklet that Nathan had created. The booklet contains a list of one hundred thoughts Nathan would have every day. One hundred daily reminders about how to be a good man. One hundred ways of ensuring Nathan remained a beautiful thing. I gave my copy to my son, and he now treasures its wisdom. This evening in your graduation pack you will find a version of this wonderful little booklet gifted by the family and Julia. Nathan has provided a model and a legacy for us all.

As I returned to the College after the Mass, I had scores of people approach me and compliment me. 'What a great job CBC does!' 'How proud must you be?' 'Your boys are amazing!' Compliment after compliment. Accolade after accolade. In person, in writing. Pretty uplifting. Pretty special.

That night, as I lay awake in bed, I received a Facebook message. The time was 1.11am. Given I am a great believer of Kevin Sheedy's mantra that nothing good happens after midnight, I picked up the phone with trepidation. The message was from a young man who had recently graduated. It read:

Upon leaving a bar in Fremantle this evening with a few friends, myself and another former student were set upon by previous CBC boys who began taunting us for being gay, filming us, and threatening to bash us, whilst also throwing glass bottles at our cars.

This abuse is not uncommon. The toxic masculinity that has stemmed from CBC which I often experience whilst out with friends at bars, clubs or music festivals is quite frankly disgusting and something CBC should be very ashamed of. I hope this can reach you and the rest of the CBC teaching staff, and you can make efforts to begin to educate students that this is not acceptable, right or in the slightest bit humane.

I didn't sleep the rest of the night. The river table was gouged. The sheoak coffee table was broken. From the highs and pride of the boys at Mass to the disgusting actions of boys who attended the same school. A College staff member contacted the boy in the morning. He was supported, asked what we could do to help and given advice on what to do if it happened again.  It was also pointed out that this behaviour was not taught or greenlighted by CBC and he agreed that, in hindsight, what he had unfortunately experienced was not CBC behaviour, but rather behaviour of boys who attended CBC and failed to model that which they had been taught. It is also a reminder to us all that there is still much work to be done in every school to try and eradicate vilification of any kind through education.

I am still upset about the events of that night. I am still perplexed by the actions of those ex-CBC students. How can anyone who attends, or attended, this College, whose parents share our values, who has been guided by caring and committed adults, behave not only in a way that defies that support and guidance but is diametrically-opposed to that support and guidance? How can Nathan De Abreu get it so right and they get it so wrong?

Our College tagline is 'Today's boys … tomorrow's gentlemen'. It is an aspiration, not a guarantee. Homophobia is not taught, nor tolerated, at CBC. Bullying is not taught, nor tolerated, at CBC. Racism is not taught, nor tolerated, at CBC. Physical violence is not taught, nor tolerated, at CBC. Treating others with disrespect is not taught, nor tolerated, at CBC. Theft is not taught, nor tolerated, at CBC. And yet when a CBC Old Boy does any of these things, it is CBC that is blamed. It is CBC that is mentioned. It is CBC that is shamed. And when any one former student shames the school, they taint us all.

The choices you make after you leave this place tonight will define the efficacy of the work of your parents, your teachers and the staff of the school you attended. You can seize the opportunities like Nathan did and become the type of son, friend, brother, partner, neighbour and employee he was. You can bring permanent joy into the lives of all those you love, as Nathan did. Or you can completely waste the love, guidance and support invested in you and become a son, friend, brother, neighbour and employee who embarrasses those same invested people. Tragically, Nathan could not pass on his traits to a son or daughter, but if any of you choose, and are blessed, to one day have a child, and your child behaves in a way that those boys did to their former schoolmate, you will understand the pain that is felt by all parents when their child makes the wrong choices.

CBC Fremantle has a great reputation in the community. That can provide you all with advantages, but it can be a double-edged sword. I have shared with you the concept of noblesse oblige; the obligation of people from a noble ancestry to act honorably and generously to others. CBC graduates have always been noble graduates who excel in every walk of life. In recent years that expectation has been raised even further, most likely due to a general drop in standards throughout society. But with expectation comes obligation. I know that there is a higher standard of expected behaviour placed on CBC boys. Shopkeepers, bus drivers, merchants and members of the public all expect the best behaviour of a CBC boy, and expect it all the time. After our Year 12 farewell assembly, I received a complaint from a KFC manager about some Year 12 CBC boys, clearly identified by their uniform. I was sent CCTV footage of 'the behaviour', which was a couple of napkins and a bag left behind on a bench and on the floor. Hardly commensurate with the outrage, but also not commensurate with what we have aspired for you. Leadership is not fair; it is held to a higher standard. Being a CBC graduate carries the same burden.

The CBC gentleman forms attitudes and actions based on Gospel Values. The CBC gentleman does his best and understands the inherent value of doing so. The CBC gentleman is accountable and prepared to face and overcome challenges. The CBC gentleman is selfless by nature and able to form mutually beneficial relationships. The CBC gentleman recognises the 'other' in his life. Nathan De Abreu was, is, and will forever be a CBC gentleman. He had the same opportunities each and every one of you has from tonight, except one. You still have life. Nathan's life was taken away in an instant, and yet his little booklet says to me that he never wasted one day of his time on earth. He approached every day as if it was going to be his best day. I acknowledge Nathan and his legacy here tonight, and I wish from the bottom of my heart every one of you emulates his example. I hope you take Nathan's little booklet home with you, and I hope you read it at some stage. I hope you may find other ways to bring out the best you possible and to do it on a daily basis.

We hope as you leave this place this evening you can look back on your time at CBC Fremantle with great fondness. We hope you felt loved, challenged and supported, but most of all we hope you take advantage of the opportunities your parents have given you and your school has supported to become, and remain, the beautiful things we all wish for you to be.

Good luck and God bless you all.

Mr Domenic Burgio