I really am grateful for my fortunate life

One of my favourite books is Albert Facey’s book A Fortunate Life published in 1981, just nine months before he passed away at the age of 87. Albert was born in 1896 and saw service at Gallipoli and the western front WW1. His formative years were tough living on a farm and with no formal education before he went to war at the age of 19. Albert was married to Evelyn who passed away just short of their 60th wedding anniversary in 1976. The Faceys had seven children with the eldest killed during WW2. His book was the subject of a miniseries that aired in 1986. I have always enjoyed reading biographies of people. If you looked at my bookcase in my study, you would find dozens of biographies of people both well-known and unknown. I enjoy reading about family, careers, politics and the different eras and society’s thinking and attitudes. Albert described his story of life as “Fortunate”.

This week it was officially announced that I would retire from the principalship at Cardijn College in July 2022. This day has played on my mind for months. On one hand, I wanted people to know that it was time for me to finish and that I am excited and ready to embrace retirement, on the other hand, I dreaded having to face colleagues and students with the news. When I arrived at our Galilee campus, the junior primary students came running towards me to hug me and tell me that I couldn’t go and that they were very sad. You can just imagine, I had tears running down my cheeks, I was happy I was wearing a mask and my glasses were covering my face. At the main campus, students were quick to congratulate me but also shared that they were sad to see me go. I received so many beautiful texts and messages from students, families, colleagues and friends across education and other sectors. I was also flattered by the job offers but I was quick to remind myself that I was retiring from full-time work. I am truly grateful for all the messages and best wishes.

With all that aside, I have been asked many times how I might look back on my years at Cardijn and teaching in general. What were my reflections and what were my highlights? I am not going to share these in this blog post as it requires much more careful consideration better left for later. However, I will share with you a few reflections from the many messages that really touched me. The messages from former students who remembered me as their teacher and how I had an impact on them at school are what I have treasured. I entered the profession to be a teacher and I was fortunate to hold the role of principal in my later career. The greatest gift you can receive as a teacher is an affirmation that you have made a difference. Messages from old scholars who now have children at Cardijn are also most meaningful to me. A school’s reputation is as good as your own preparedness to send your children to that school. I would be ecstatic if my daughter would choose Cardijn as the school for my granddaughter – it is simply the best school.

I have been very fortunate in my life with the opportunities and support that I have received which allowed me to thrive in my career and my life. Isn’t this what we want for all our children or ourselves? Your capacity to thrive is brought about through an environment where relationship, great leadership and aspiration are allowed to flourish, for you to be your ideal self and to constantly learn to make this world a better place. You cannot do these things alone, so I do thank and acknowledge the impact of my immediate family including my wife Debra, children Ben, Michelle and Stephanie, my close work colleagues and of course my bosses over the years who have been great role models and supportive of my work. My colleagues in learning – I love my research and academia which has given me another area of interest. My Army colleagues who continue to be great mates as we tell war stories over a drink, and the students and families who have been the nourishment to keep me going in this role. I am going to miss the Saturday morning sport, music nights, drama performances, pedal prix competitions, art shows, Athon days, retreats, camps, assemblies and so on.

People have asked me what I will do, and frankly, I haven’t got a clue, apart from the fact that I do not have to go to work, which means I can go to the beach for a walk, drink coffee, read the paper, catch up with friends for lunch, drop in and see how people are going, potter around for a while, maybe go for a short holiday and explore South Australia. I think it brings a level of freedom and choice which I am very much looking forward to. After I get a bit bored from that I might consider other opportunities in life. But for now, it’s back to work as I am not done yet – in fact, there is much more to do.

I really am grateful for my fortunate life.

Dr Paul Rijken is principal of Cardijn College, an R-12 co-educational Catholic school in the Marist tradition, deeply inspired by the method of College patron Joseph Cardijn with a foundation built on the three pillars of his teachings; to See, Judge and Act. Educating and inspiring students in the beautiful Southern Vales region of Adelaide since 1984, Cardijn has grown to encompass three schools, each with distinct offerings. Cardijn College Galilee at Aldinga offers Reception to Year 7, expanding to include Year 8 in 2022 and Year 9 in 2023. Cardijn College at Noarlunga Downs offers Years 7-12 and is renowned for academic excellence and a vibrant extra-curricular program. Cardijn College Marcellin at Christie Downs provides a wide variety of vocational education and training opportunities for students in Years 10 – 12 and beyond, with relationships that extend well into their careers. With a current enrolment of 1750 students and 240 staff, Cardijn College is an institution which strives to be a beacon of faith in the community, with students who have enormous influence and impact on both a local and global level. 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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