Principal, Karen Jurjevich welcomed students to the second term of school at our Modern and Classical Languages-themed assembly this week. She spoke to Senior and Middle School students about the importance of language and being strong. We share with you below Ms Jurjevich’s inspiring speech:
“Good morning everyone and Happy New Year. We certainly ended 2017 on a strong note, with such a great holiday assembly filled with music, performances and fun! Thanks to all who participated. We used the word “strong” a lot last term!
Gloria made a point of talking about the importance of language, including how the very notion of gender didn’t exist in many First Nations vocabularies. In fact, there is no word for “he” or “she”—we are all simply people. Language helps frame so much of the way we look at the world and how we categorize events, people and things.
Let me ask you this: thinking of an issue that has often been in the news in 2017, which of the following headlines are you most likely to see on Reddit or Google News? ‘1 in 3 Canadian women experience sexual assault by men over their lifetimes’ or ‘Canadian men commit half a million sexual assaults in 2017’
In too many cases, we continue to frame stories about gender-based harassment and violence in such a way that focuses on the assaulted—not on the perpetrators. Over time, language of this kind leads to the men who harass, who assault and rape, becoming, in many ways, secondary to the story. The stories are about women as powerless victims, with no room to take a deeper dive into how such behaviour happens in the first place.
If anything, 2017 and the rise to prominence of the #MeToo movement is about reclaiming strong and powerful voices for those who have endured horrendous experiences. There was a moment a week ago that really drove this home for me. Like many of you, I was curled up on my living room couch, preparing for the start of the new school term while half-watching the Golden Globe Awards. I’m quite certain I wasn’t the only half-watcher who put down my iPad and turned my full attention to my TV screen when Oprah rose to accept her Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement. She stood in front of a room of women and men—dressed in black and wearing Time’s Up pins in support of a new movement fighting against the systemic inequality and injustice continued to be faced by so many in our world today.
If ever there was someone who could capture and speak to this unique moment in time, it would be Oprah. And she did not disappoint. Click here to watch her speech. As one of our age’s most talented and effective communicators, Oprah ‘gets’ the power of language. Listening to her speech, I’m struck by its very purposeful tone of empowerment and hope. At the heart of this speech, Oprah is a strong woman, celebrating truth and the power of finding your voice.
It is language, and a movement, that are hard to resist. Which brings me to all of you. Inspired by Oprah, I want to make a promise to you. As a school, as a community of teachers and staff, Branksome Hall commits to doing everything we can to support and prepare you to be strong—to use Oprah’s words, ‘own your own truth’ and stand up for what is right.
My career in education spans decades now. Over the course of my time as a teacher, and now as a principal, I’ve had the fortune of working with thousands, if not tens of thousands of young people—mainly girls. For too long, I’ve seen girls leave Branksome Hall, knowing that the playing fields they would enter as graduates would already be tilted against them, simply because of their gender. And yet, I have never felt more hopeful for my students and their futures than I do today, in 2018.
Time’s up…it really is. And this time will be yours. Be strong and my very best to all of you for 2018.”