If there is ever a time for you to step up, it is right now

In November last year, our youngest daughter relocated to Melbourne to start a new job as a sous chef for a new business which opened in St Kilda. The high-end pastry business is well-known in Sydney for supplying the world-famous Strawberry Watermelon Cake and the St Kilda premises was part of their national expansion. People travel from far and wide to sample their delicate pastries. This was my daughter’s dream, working for a high-end business and learning new skills. We visited her in January this year and got to know her friends and work colleagues. She settled in a small one-bedroom unit and has enjoyed her new challenge living away from home and enjoying the Melbourne lifestyle. Until the first lockdown in March when the world completely changed, the business closed in Melbourne and Sydney, the staff were retrenched or stood down, all before the launch of JobKeeper. In July, she received a call to say that the business would re-open and it has continued to operate since despite the Stage 4 lockdown. It appears that Melburnians are obsessed with these pastries and are very happy to order these for home delivery, the only means to access some niceties. My daughter must have special permission to travel outside the 5 km zone and needed a special pass to travel outside of the curfew.

Whilst you could see this as a great story of recovery, what you do not know is the tremendous level of stress and anxiety Melburnians are experiencing because of the Stage 4 lockdown. The lockdown is taking its toll right across the city and it is reaching an alarming level. In response we have been posting a care package every two weeks and ringing our daughter daily to keep her morale up – but the Victorian Government will need to do something very soon to address the mental health challenges of its citizens. I understand that the premier is still concerned with the number of active COVID cases each day but he needs to show greater empathy and concern for other numbers such as the vast majority of Melburnians who want to visit their families, children, mothers, fathers, grandparents and those who have lost their jobs and face an uncertain future (70,000 reported in the last two months), the businesses who have gone under or are about to go under, the number of people facing bankruptcy, the number of unemployed and the number who are suffering mentally, psychologically, emotionally and physically each day because of these restrictions. Something needs to happen. There are plenty of great examples of how other states in Australia have managed.

In South Australia, we have been far more fortunate to be able to manage with our restrictions and we can continue with much of life as we have known it over time. Going to work and school, visiting family and friends, shopping, going out for dinner, playing sport, going to the cinema and driving to any part of our state.

COVID-19 will not disappear and we will need to adapt to living with this virus. The new normal will be with us indefinitely. In fact, social distancing will be the new normal, our strict hygiene will be the new normal and limiting the number of people within a confined space will be the new normal. Online meetings will be more common, as will home delivery, online shopping and protective screens at our supermarkets. Much of what we do now will be our new way of life and we better get used to it.

At Cardijn we have been working hard to ensure that activities can still happen with modifications. Camps have become day activities, we hold smaller assemblies instead of whole school assemblies, performances are recorded and more and more activities are live-streamed as communications and social media become crucial.

In this difficult time, I am very proud of our students who have accepted these circumstances and moved on – they have adapted and overcome. They show tremendous grace that they can come to school and I have not seen any signs of anger or bitterness from missing out or restrictions that have now become the norm. Our Year 12 students are such a great example of strength and leadership, showing that you need to make the most of what you have and still be grateful. As Year 12 students enter their final weeks of school, we wish them every blessing as they prepare for their final assessments and exams.

The point of my message today is “Live life to the full”, accept that life is what it is and make the most of each day as if it is your last! Treasure your rights and freedoms which are fundamental to us as Australians. Step up and be counted and ensure that our leaders in government are held to account for the decisions they make. If there is a time for you to step up it is right now.

Dr Paul Rijken is principal of Cardijn College, a Catholic secondary co-educational school (7-12) in the southern region of Adelaide with a total of 1120 students and 140 staff. Marcellin is a campus of Cardijn College. It provides students in Years 10 to 12 with SACE, training and apprenticeships. It has an enrolment of over 155 students and 30 staff. Paul has been the principal at Cardijn College since 2005. He has a Ph.D. from Curtin University in Science and Mathematics Education. He is a Fellow of the Australian College of Educational Leaders.

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