THERE are times when the excitement is so great in a school that you can cut it with a knife. St Rita’s Day is one such day. The morning begins with a celebration of the Eucharist. The girls are actively involved with this and participate in the liturgy well. At lunch time they have a free dinner, compliments of St Rita – a hot dog and a drink, we allow junk just for this one day. It is a quick meal for their minds are fixated on the next event, which is the highlight for the year. It is a competition called House Heroics, Hoots and Hiccups, affectionately known as House Heroics, in which each House is allowed four items one of which must involve the whole House of about 200 students. The House captains are the organisers for this event. The prize for the winning House is that they get to ring the old school bell and have their House name engraved on it. This dates from the 1980s when, as deputy, I used to actually ring the bell for the beginning of the day and at lunchtime. Now it is all done with technology. The senior girls wanted to have a go – they were allowed to on this one day. This year as we were sitting in the hall, the Year 8s from one House began running up the stairs to the stage in preparation for their item. I was sitting in the front in my capacity as photographer. As I glanced over, I noticed one particular student. She suffers with cerebral palsy which affects her leg and consequently her gait which is slow and awkward looking. I wanted to rush over to her and shout “No Sarah (not her real name). Not this. It will be too fast. You will be trampled on. Just sit down and watch”. She slowly walked up the stairs as the others rushed by. I watched her take her place towards the back. The girls in the front had the limelight; the lights were dim towards the back. Her movements were a fraction of a second behind those of the others, but then so were those of some others. I was determined to take her photo. The photo is a bit grainy, but it is not too bad. Sarah looks good. I met her again about a month later. I told her that I had taken her photo and had put it on our college portal where families are able to view all my college photos. Then came my reward. She simply said: “I know; I saw it” and her face was transformed with this most beautiful smile that lit up, not just her eyes, but her whole body. Now that made me think. This was a teenager where to be the same as everyone else was the most important thing in her life. I suppose that was what made her take to the stage and yet the fact that she has this disability did not seem to deter her. To me it spoke of the utmost courage and determination. Her teachers told me that she was a battler. The second thought that struck me was the fact that the House Captains allowed her to go ahead. They did not seem to mind. Although winning is important, it seemed to be even more important that everybody who wished to participate should be encouraged to do so. The climate in the school must have been a safe one, such that Sarah felt that she was able to participate. The third point was the fact that the other girls did not even seem to notice and took it all in their stride. It was a perfectly normal occurrence. If only our world acted a bit like this. People who are different from us should not be shunned, ignored or hated whether it is a difference in religion, race or politics. What a peaceful world it would be if we accepted people for who they are. It is difference that gives our world its sparkle. It is enriching to learn about different cultures, different races and different religions. So much blood has been shed over the latter whether it is between different religions or even between different denominations within the same religion as we have experienced in both Christian and Islamic religions. Much is said today about bullying. The other person is different and is therefore a threat to us so we have to put them down. If only we could embrace difference what a happy and enriched world we would have. Jesus said “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John14:2). Let us celebrate the difference.
Sr Elvera Sesta is a Presentation Sister who was principal of St Rita’s College, Clayfield, on Brisbane’s northside, for 20 years. She retired from the position at the end of 2008 but continues to teach at the college.
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