Sullivan Primary School's 50th Anniversary Thanksgiving Service is more like a homecoming celebration

Thanksgiving service is more like a homecoming celebration
Today I attended Sullivan Primary School’s 50th Anniversary Thanksgiving service. There we sat, under the red marquee in the quad complete with makeshift stage under an arch of maroon and yellow balloons. It was this simple and dignified. No hiring of civic halls or private halls for this private, intimate function. I did not expect any different from Ernest Moore, the Head of Sullivan Primary School. The school is the treasure house of rich memories of the foundational years of many a South African community builder and what better place to have the thanksgiving ceremony than at the heritage place?
All the alumni of Sullivan, please stand up…
The Thanksgiving event was like one massive homecoming. There were at least four of the first pupils who started Sub A when the school – then known as the nameless “Steenberg No.4”- started in 1963. Professor Jonathan Jansen, who specially flew in for the event, was one of them. Jonathan Jansen, also the keynote speaker for the event, called his fellow classmates to join him on stage and he paid homage to them and some of his teachers who were also present. We hear that Professor Archie Dick from the University of Pretoria would have loved to be present and many others who have spread their wings to overseas places, have sent well wishes to the school.

Sullivan Alumni in the house. Prof Jonathan Jansen ( also keynote speaker) and his wife, Grace. At the back: Naomi Jansen and Dr Rodney Esau

 The programme director, Dr Skrikker, a medical practitioner in Retreat, is also an alumnus. And there were many others like alumnus Dr Esau, another GP in Retreat and of course, the young Mr Hassen, the Woolworths manager who had taken time off during his working day to be present at the event.  I even met Christopher and Denise Bredenkamp, Sullivan alumni who met in Grade 3 ( is it Standard 3) and who are now married for 32 years! Denise teaches at Delta, a neighbouring school. Even Derrick Patience, the Head of Sibelius High School, was there as alumnus and colleague of Ernest. Derrick was quite busy before and after the service. He flitted from table to table to greet old classmates and his “Standard 4” teacher who was also at the function. Even Ernest’s wife, Jenny, is a Sullivan alumnus.  How wonderful… no wonder there was so much warmth, so much camaraderie because here was a community that was like one extended family!
When the school anthem was sung, Naomi, my crazy, lifetime bud, joined in with a passionate “Strive on” and a smile so broad that I feared her cheeks may give way. 

Top: Ernest with Richard Buckley and the Bredenkamp alumni couple who met at Sullivan Primary.
Bottom Picture: all alumni from Sullivan.

A reminder of why we are entrusted with teaching
Jonathan Jansen met all expectations when he spoke. He lifted the mood tenfold with his characteristic humour and anecdotes to a receptive crowd. This is what I admire about Jonathan: his unpretentious, down-to-earth nature. And he practices what he preaches. During his talk, he had ensured that his classmates had also taken centre stage and he invited one of the learners to partner him while he was giving his talk. We saw a lesson in reading, building people’s confidence and acknowledging your fellow human beings in one session.
Jonathan made the following poignant statement:  Primary school is a place where you change lives. We need people who have life, in our schools, he said. This must be part of Sullivan’s success because who better than Bitone Masasi in Grade 6B can help us see why Sullivan’s alumni want to be involved in the school? Bitone Masasi, a Zimbabwean 9 year old, could not speak a word of English when he joined Sullivan. Today, Bitone, a Grade 6, learner read the Scripture reading in flawless English to a massive crowd. 

Derrick Patience, Head of Sibelius High School, poses with his Standard 4 teacher.

Anywhere, everywhere, we will strive on
We have many Bitone’s in our schools – vulnerable children who are presented with barriers over which they often have no control.  And this is the attitude we want our school leaders to embrace – to ensure that all our children become winners against all odds. We have no choice if we are in the business of developing our children. We are compelled to do this and thus when Jonathan says our teachers must have “life” I almost want to add “and guts” to keep their eye on the prize.
Yebo, Sullivan, congratulations on your 50th Anniversary and allow us to embrace a line from your school anthem: “ Anwhere, everywhere, we will strive on”.
Ernest and his wife, Jenny ( also a Sullivan alumnus) poses with Jonathan and Grace.


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