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At Installation, we celebrate the Graduating Class of 2018 and our school leaders from Grades 6-12.
October 17, 2017
Installation Inspiration
Branksome girls know that leadership is a tremendous learning opportunity, a great responsibility and an honour.

At Installation, we celebrate the Graduating Class of 2018 and our school leaders from Grades 6-12. The Grade 12 students wear their red ties for the first time, the Prefects don their red kilts, and the Club Heads wear their special ties. We also acknowledge the new leadership roles of the Peer Support Executive, CAS Reps, Residence House Heads and Council, as well as the Graduating Year Representatives, Club Heads and Clan Leaders.

Contemplating what it means to be a leader, we share with you here the inspiring speech made by our Head Girl, Astrid Ling, at Installation:

“Good morning Ms Jurjevich, Mrs. Weinstock, Ms Clarke, Members of the Board, Faculty and Staff, Alumnae, Students, Family and Friends.

Welcome to Installation.

My story today begins with two questions.

Have you ever taken on a challenge that you believed to be beyond your capability? Do you know what made you able to succeed?

When I arrived at Branksome Hall in Grade 7 from the Jackman Institute of Child Study, I thought I knew who I was. I was curious and intrigued by the world, and I was drawn to the wide range of opportunities that Branksome offered. Over the past 5 years, I have pursued my interests and discovered new ones. I ran for Student Government and tried out for the soccer team on a whim. I solidified my passion for Global Engagement by volunteering in Toronto and travelling to Branksome Hall Asia, Costa Rica, Spain and participating in the Service Learning trip to South Africa.

This curiosity about the unknown built my confidence and lead me to take a leap of faith this summer. Which brings me to my story today.

For the past few years, alumna Bridget HORNE Colman from the class of 1987, has sponsored students and teachers seeking an enriching outdoor education experience with NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School. When the Grade 11s received an invitation to apply last year, I remember joking with my friends that I would apply. Now, to give you some perspective, for a creature of comfort with a love for the great indoors, a month-long backpacking trip in the Alaskan wilderness was the farthest I could get from my ideal summer. However, I couldn’t get the opportunity out of my head. The sheer impossibility of the challenge excited me.

Once I was actually in Alaska, however, my backpack filled with unfamiliar gear and armed with bear spray, an unnerving apprehension set in. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things that could go wrong. It promised to be the greatest personal challenge of my life because I was putting myself in an unfamiliar situation where the outcome was completely unknown.

The first week in Alaska was, in fact, the hardest week of my life – I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. In the vast Alaskan tundra terrain with 13 students my age and 3 instructors, I was challenged and pushed in ways that I had never been before. The bear protocol states that you must be with three other people at all times, so I was surrounded by people 24 hours a day and yet, I still felt incredibly lonely and disconnected. The way I saw it, I was not only the smallest member of the group, but my lack of outdoor experience also made me the least competent. I felt unqualified to be there and was sure that I was constantly letting the team down – especially when I’d pull up the rear on hikes and lead us in the opposite direction of camp!

On Day 7, when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, a storm blew up in the early evening. It was pathetic fallacy. Soaked through, freezing cold and with my body aching from the long hikes that I was not yet accustomed to, it felt unbearable. But there was no way out. I lay curled up by the stove with my hands over my eyes, trying to transport myself to anywhere but where I was. That night I was so exhausted and discouraged as I slept in my soggy tent, counting the days until the bus would bring me back to civilization. I had hit rock bottom.

Over the next few weeks, however, I slowly learned to fly fish, use the stove, navigate using maps and believe it or not, by Day 30, I didn’t want to leave! How did this transformation occur?

Since returning home, I’ve been reflecting on my journey from surviving to thriving and I now attribute my transformation to two factors. The first is the power of mindset and the second is the power of a team. By sharing today what I learned, I hope to highlight two tools for you to consider for your toolkit in the year ahead. Let’s start with mindset. There was so much uncertainty in the Alaskan backcountry. Was it going to rain? Hail? Would the river be shallow enough to cross? Were we walking in the right direction? I realized that the conditions were not going to change. In the face of adversity and uncertainty, the only thing I had control over was my response. I learned that you control the way you feel. I was never made to feel inadequate, I chose to feel that way. I used the excuse of “I’m not an outdoorsy person” as a crutch. The turning point in my journey from surviving to thriving was when I consciously decided to take ownership of my experience. Instead of focusing on what I didn’t have, like toilet paper and technology, I started to focus on what I did have, which was the time and opportunity to explore, learn and grow. I opened my mind and heart and made unexpected friendships. I started to live for the challenges that had fazed me in the first place. “The lake is freezing cold? Good, let’s jump in! The mountain is really steep? Perfect, let’s go!” When I decided to step up and commit myself to learning new skills and actually enjoying the experience, I felt more positive. I started to actively seek out opportunities that would push me beyond comfort. I couldn’t change the story or the situation, but I could change my narrative.

Now let’s talk about team. Although I’d felt lonely, I was in fact never in it alone. I had been worried about being unqualified but my inexperience actually motivated others to teach me new skills. When someone noticed that I was struggling, they were eager to help me improve. With my 40lb pack, I often fell on our hikes – in bushes, down hills, into lakes. Sometimes I had the strength to haul myself up, and others times, I did not. But every single time, without fail, there was someone there with a hand out, waiting to help me up. We became a strong team because each one of us was committed to each other’s wellbeing and success. The team was always there, but the change needed to come from me to accept their strength. When others helped me to find myself, I was, in turn, able to help others and contribute to the team. I volunteered to lead hikes, go on bathroom trips and make brownies -- all rare occurrences for city Astrid.

So, my transformation occurred primarily due to my shift in mindset. I choose to redefine my approach to life, my response to challenges and my perspective.

This is why I feel so passionate about this year’s Prefect motto: Unity starts with YOU.

Unity starts with you because unity is a choice, and it’s your choice. Unity begins with being able to respect our differences of perspective and opinion, as well as to recognize our similarities. A few nights ago, I had the privilege of attending an evening with President Bill Clinton. In his address, President Clinton reminded us of the importance of “a culture of encounter”. In a “culture of encounter.” to meet people is to really see them, and in so doing, respect and recognize our common humanity. When I heard this, I thought of Branksome, a vibrant and diverse community, where our true strength lies in our ability to come together with a shared vision.

This is called unity of purpose. Adults and students come to Branksome to learn, to experience, to inspire and be inspired, and to make a difference. We are united in our commitment to leadership, not as a position, but as a mindset, a way of living. Together, we strive to take initiative, create opportunities, reinforce change and generate enthusiasm for our vision. This is our shared purpose.

A positive mindset can encourage us to be everyday leaders who, regardless of whether we have a formal leadership position or not, see ourselves as citizens of our school and the world. Our strength lies in working together to break down barriers where we see them and being united in our determination to take on the challenge of bettering the world.

We are living in a time of unique and complex world problems, a time of division, within countries and abroad. With issues of environmental devastation, migrant crises and cyber challenges, the world needs us to be innovative leaders who will create solutions.

The words I leave you with today are in fact the answer to the questions I posed. You can take on any challenge you think is beyond your capability—your mindset and belief in team will give you the ability to succeed. Unity starts here, in our community, with our shared purpose, with you. There is no one better equipped to take on the world.

Thank you very much.”

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