2020 College Dux Academic Assembly Address

February 26, 2021

2020 College Dux Kai O’Keefe, who achieved an ATAR of 98, delivered the following speech at the 2021 Academic Assembly which was held on Tuesday, February 9.

2020 College Dux Kai O’Keeffe.

“Good morning to the new Principal Mr Steven O’Connor, students, staff and invited guests. I would like to start my speech by quickly thanking a few people. First and foremost, my dedicated Year 12 teachers; Ms Simpson, Ms Purcell, Mr Magee, and Mr McCrum, for the effort and passion they have put into their teaching. I would also like to thank all of the teachers I have had across my six years at this school, all the way from my humble beginnings in Year 7 learning maths with Mr Willis to the start of my VCE with Miss Parsons, I have constantly been around supportive and caring staff, where every teacher St Patrick’s has had a profound influence on me.

I would also like to thank the student leadership, most notably Max and Finn for their roles as both competent Vice Captains and also for the countless hours we spent studying together, struggling through Chem and Spec or talking nonsense it was a blast, and then to Will for his dedication as school captain, as someone who acted as an uplifting leader and who made the most out of a difficult year.

I would finally like to thank my parents, who went above and beyond to facilitate my every need throughout the year – whether it be delivering me fantastic meals and snacks while I was studying or simply being there to support me or even just put up with me, I truly appreciate it.

There were times during the year where, while I was personally doing fine – cruising along in my sheltered Ballarat world – I would only have to look at a newspaper headline or turn on the tv to be reminded of the horrors engulfing our world. From the millions affected by the coronavirus to the to the atrocious racial injustices in America, or even just the seemingly overwhelming and innate greed people hold in times of struggle, it was easy to feel helpless, or even defeated, when witnessing the constant hardship that many have had to and continue to face. And after spending considerable time reflecting on these ideas, I realised a few things about the world we live in today.

Firstly, that it is only too easy to ignore all the good in the world – from the tireless work put in by millions of teachers and doctors, all the way to the fast-food workers and shelf stackers who have all contributed towards society – many, many people do good, some in small, while others in massive ways.

Secondly, it is also too easy to compare ourselves to others. Whether it is our favourite ‘influencer’ on Instagram who lives the seemingly perfect life, to the unfathomably wealthy Elon Musks and Jeff Bezos of the world who are gods in our materialistic society.

When I woke up on the morning of ATAR day and checked my score, my first thought seeing my 98 was ‘I wonder how many people at Clarendon beat me’. And later that day when I was told I was dux and would be presenting a speech, I felt a kind of inadequacy, where after the incredible accomplishments of Aidan Hanrahan and Matthew Duffy last year, my 98 didn’t quite seem high enough, and thus achievement was tarnished by the fact that there were many people out there a who had done a lot better than me at something I worked so hard on. It took me a few weeks to decide that it didn’t matter how anyone else went, and that I ought to be happy with both my score – which had exceeded my initial goals and expectations – and more importantly the hard work and determination I had put in to achieve it. Since comparisons are only natural – I think instead of looking at those ahead at the top with envy as we often do, it can help to respectfully look behind to those struggling to allow us to fully realise and appreciate how fortunate we all are; and with that,  act to push those people forward when we can lend a helping hand.

The third and final thing I realised, from both anecdotal and personal experience, is that in this incredibly interconnected and fast-moving world, it is only too easy to make plans – or even commitments – only to never achieve them due to some unforeseen uncontrollable externality. As an example of this – one of my biggest regrets in my time at the College was deciding not to go on trips such as the Kokoda trail or European history tour because ‘it was too expensive’ or ‘I might not like it’. I instead told myself I would be able to travel for a few months when I finished high school, which would have been right now. Only now I don’t even know if it is legal to leave the state, and everyone I have talked to says that adventures such as the Kokoda trail were some of the most memorable and fulfilling experiences of their lives.

In life we have no idea what is going to happen, and because of that I implore each and every one of you to make the most of the many opportunities you have here and to enjoy your time in high school, because once it is over it is something you can never get back. Whether it be biting the bullet in Year 7 and signing up for and spending your school nights mucking around playing a countless number of competitive and non-competitive school sports, joining the debating team, or maybe even the school band, or signing up for and practicing an act in St Pat’s Got Talent, or getting involved in the homeless night, or giving it your all in the war cries during Head of the Lake, there are so many things you can do here now and so many doorways that can be unlocked by a quick email or short conversation with a teacher that you will one day look back on fondly.

It is the ridiculous classroom banter in Specialist Maths with Crummy, Olver, Finn, Sidd, Gary and Waller, the six o’clock beach runs every day of the Anglesea camp after being told to go to sleep at four in the morning, or the whole year level lunchtime soccer games or the long after school study sessions with a few mates that are the things I remember now with an odd sense of nostalgia. For, to quote Winnie the Pooh, “at the time we didn’t know we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun”.

Although school can be hard – most notably Year 12, overall, it is an overwhelmingly positive journey. From the people you meet, the things you learn, and the life-long skills or memories you gain, it is something to make the most of, and something you can only fully appreciate when it has come to an end.

I know all too well that it has been a long assembly so I guess I could encapsulate the main message of my speech in the two Latin words “Carpe Diem”, which translates to ‘seize the day’, something I personally interpret as both  creating and making the most of one’s opportunities. I hope this is something each and every one of you can endeavour towards in your academic, social, sporting and individual journeys, because while I could have spent the last five minutes talking about how hard work, a good study plan, and high scaling subjects will get you a good ATAR, I think there is so much more to high school than that.

So Carpe Diem and thank you for your time.