A Year-End Message from Craig Davis on Behalf of the Community
By Craig Davis, Head of College

There is more in you than you think.”

“I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion.Kurt Hahn – Founder of the UWC Movement

As we steady ourselves to say a fond farewell to our graduating Year 46 class let me take us back on a journey through a momentous year for our community in this most testing of times.

Our second years (Year 46) returned in late August 2020 following their abrupt departure from campus the previous March. They were joined in a downtown Victoria hotel by those incoming Year 47 students who had arrived by that time and together they experienced Pearson’s first-ever online “Quarientation” programme — connecting each hotel room to our virtual staff, faculty and campus.

Whilst the Year 46s played their role in leading their first years through necessary initiations, training and understandings alongside our education team, another group of us were working frantically with Board members and the wider UWC movement to exert all appropriate pressure on the federal government to lift restrictions to enable all our international students to arrive. These efforts continued throughout the year right up to February to support student entry with outstanding biometric assessments, visa applications and immigration regulations.

Meanwhile on campus during the fall term, we were together dealing with a unique adaptation to a first-year group made up of predominantly Canadian/North American students learning alongside online international students in synchronous/asynchronous classrooms.

In addition, everyone had to adjust to an extremely different Pearson model of operation. No cross-House mixing outside of classrooms, no dining interactions with adults, no casual drops-ins to residents’ houses or Houseparents’ living rooms, no opportunistic conversations with adults around campus, no stress-relieving walks to nearby coffee shops and no weekend excursions to Victoria, team sports, long bicycle rides or impromptu hikes.

We also took the bold but necessary step of keeping all students on campus during the three-week Winter Break when most students usually would return home to their respective countries and communities. At this point Pearson College shifted to Pearson Activities Centre as adults – including off-campus Host Families and volunteers, and students worked together to create a full programme of events and celebrations to create an on-campus experience that everyone could enjoy and appreciate.

Despite our best efforts, the mental health toll we can see all around us globally has obviously affected us here too. I want to acknowledge this when reflecting on the year at the College — particularly with reference to our Year 46 cohort that has been especially affected.

The COVID challenges have continued in 2021 and we do not need to amplify these any further. Needless to say, in providing this end of year summary the intention is to celebrate the resilience and character demonstrated by all of our students but particularly our Year 46 graduating class. They have pushed through all of the challenges to create a unique and positive Pearson experience in spite of these overwhelming restrictions.

I could point to many events, but I would like to highlight a few.

The determination to celebrate our regional performances safely in the Max Bell by staging repeat versions for everyone to enjoy, is a particular highlight. The Latin American/Caribbean event kicked off the season followed by the European and African/Caribbean weekends. A multitude of provocative workshops focused around the burning issues most affecting the communities represented.

A thread running through all three events was an explanation of the continued impact of colonisation whether viewed through the lens of the colonized in the Caribbean, Africa or Latin America or the context in which European perpetrators used dominant cultural norms to justify practices of economic exploitation. These thoughtful and impressive seminars were followed by exuberant evening performances amplifying the songs, dances and narratives of the respective regions and countries. Audience members and performers were cognizant of the privilege we had in being able to safely express, perform and watch such events against a backdrop where most of the world were unable to access any face-to-face events. Despite the obvious challenges of maintaining our “bubble in the woods,” there have been some benefits too.

Watching the endorphin-driven enthusiasm of students transforming our cafeteria into the only safe, viable and legal gathering place in Greater Victoria during New Year’s Eve, was a particular highlight of the year. A similar experience occurred more recently with a wonderful final farewell music concert organised on the community lawn overlooking Pedder Bay. Other highlights included our House Olympics Tournament, the Golden Shoe tourney and our wonderful COVID-friendly theatre performances and art exhibitions that acted as not only the formal completion of academic work but also helped to create necessary campus community experiences that we have missed elsewhere. Other smaller-scale but equally important cultural gatherings have provided similar “respite” as groups of no more than five gathered in residents’ and Houseparents’ kitchens to cook in order to mark significant calendar events such as Diwali, Passover and Eid. In addition, indigenous students have been able to gather together to mark a Feeding the Water ceremony, to share fireside bannock and reflect with each other and local Elders who have been able to provide a limited form of access for the community.

As I mentioned, there are many more occasions that I have not mentioned, but I wish to acknowledge them all so we can collectively thank our whole community for the effort, commitment and resilience that has been core to the creation of a unique and rewarding experience for Pearson this year.

It is important to ritually mark and emphasise this positivity and gratitude in this year, despite the challenges.

In particular, I want to celebrate our Year 46 graduating class as they emerge from this final month of IB Diploma exams. Recently, across the UWC movement we as Heads of College expressed our admiration for this year group that will forever be remembered as the “COVID Cohort.” This is not meant to reduce the richness of the entire Pearson experience to a virus, however we do need to raise our glasses in recognition of the Year 46’s achievements in the midst of a pandemic. Their leadership and commitment to collective community wellbeing has been admirable. Their involvement in helping launch our College Assembly model of student decision-making, the fruits of which they will not experience, is one great example of community endeavour. This self-sacrifice in the service of those that come after you is a true mark of a Pearsonite, where paying forward and passing down to future students is an established tradition and expectation.

This commitment to Pearson College values and community practice has been evident during the impassioned speeches Year 46 students have made in the Max Bell calling for perspective and appreciation of our strengths and opportunities this year. However, we also need to recognise the fun, the music, the laughter, the memes, the hikes, the paddling, the student-led clubs, the intense conversations, the campaigns, the bay jumps, the cooking, the camping and the safe outdoor activities. All of this positivity and energy was clearly experienced during our off-campus Action Week in March that many students identified as the highlight of the year.

Given our need to maximise the opportunities presented by safe outdoor gatherings, I suspect the community lawn has never seen so many activities before and I know passing boats returning to the marina have slowed down to watch on many occasions this year. This is a reminder of another particular highlight that magnifies the spirit of giving, service and self-sacrifice, evident when many of us joined boats together in the dead of night to sing carols to our adjacent communities.  Having applause and shouts of gratitude directed at Pearson students during a time in December when many families were struggling was a great example of this spirit of compassion and appreciation.

This returns us to the opening quotation from our UWC founder Kurt Hahn. Reflecting and meditating on these words is particularly powerful this year. Part of cultivating compassion requires a full awareness of perspective, a reminder that no matter how intense the internalized crucible of campus life has been, there is more “out there than you think.” We often forget how much deep joy is generated by serving others, something I experienced in the “carol canoe,” and it is arguably a far more lasting happiness than the more immediate sensual pleasures we often pursue.

The ”self-denial” aspect of Kurt Hahn’s philosophy of education is often overlooked as this characteristic might seem harder to achieve amongst the increasingly materialistic pressures of the western world. Nevertheless, it is a vital ingredient in the UWC mission, something I was discussing with students during our Eid celebration recently. The discipline of fasting, common to many religious and cultural traditions, is now being heralded scientifically as an extremely important mechanism for triggering amazing immune system responses. However, there is an even more important element of scientific research that reinforces the wisdom of traditional cultural practices. This evidence highlights the direct relationship between an ability to self-regulate, resist immediate gratification and therefore to pay more attention to the needs of those around you and a capacity for deep seated, long lasting happiness. This is why Bhutan leads the global happiness index despite being ranked in the bottom quarter of various economic indices.

This is arguably a key learning in the transition Year 46 students are making from campus life into the Pearson College UWC alumni network. I recently shared the inspirational story of PC YR 29 alumna Shauna Aminath who as the Maldives’ Minister of Environment and Climate change is modelling our values and commitments to maximise positive impact in the outside world. These individuals are the important reminders of Pearson at its best and of Pearsonites fulfilling their potential by translating the privilege of a UWC education into meaningful social impact. Shauna’s story outlining her past involvement in front line environmental activism and protests is very similar to some of our Year 46 cohort. But equally there are many more examples of less dramatic routes towards positive change amongst our Pearson alumni that will inspire our graduating class and remind us that impact comes in many guises.

This is why I firmly believe in Hahn’s call for an “undefeatable spirit” because there is always more in us than we think.  This is often hard to appreciate in the “eye of the storm,” but I am confident this characteristic will remain with our Year 46 students as they gain a post-Pearson perspective and keep their deep friendships and connections alive in the coming years and decades.

Congratulations to the entire Year 46 cohort for completing your Pearson journey.

Heartfelt best wishes for the future,

Craig Davis
President and Head of College