Thomas Ponissi, College Dux – Class of 2016
On Thursday 23 February 2017, the College hosted an Academic Excellence Awards and Leaders’ Investiture Assembly. The event formally presented the College’s 2017 Student Leaders and acknowledged and celebrated of the success of last year’s VCE high achievers. At this event, our 2016 Dux, Tom Ponissi read a heartfelt reflection on his experiences as a ‘De La boy’.
There’s no place like De La!
“Good morning staff, students, parents. I am extremely humbled to be back here, speaking today. Only several months after graduating, and while the outside world is full of exciting possibilities and fresh starts, there still is no place like De La!
It’s an overwhelming emotion: knowing that this is the last time I’ll be on this stage, in this gym, wearing this tie. I’m still trying to make heads and tails of my incredible time at De La. When I first walked through the Primary gates just over nine years ago, with a thick English accent and absolutely no idea of what was to follow, I could have never imagined that I would ultimately leave with blue and gold in my blood forever. For me, this isn’t just a school. It’s a second home.
Nonetheless, perhaps some students may not identify with the same pride and love – and that’s okay. For quite a few years, I too looked around and didn’t know who I was as a De La boy or where I fit in here. While the voices of everyone around me collectively deepened, I still had this high-pitch that never seemed to break. I began to hesitate before talking in front of large groups, fearful of how my peers might respond. It took me until Year 9 to venture outside of my comfort zone and try public speaking. After that, I gave up waiting for my vocal register to drop – and I ultimately graduated as the 2016 Debating Captain. In a letter to an unnamed Brother, St. John Baptist de la Salle himself wrote: “Take care not to be discouraged by your difficulties… [for] firm courage and a little generosity will enable you to overcome all.” What more could I add to the Founder’s own words, other than that believe me when I promise you that what might seem like your biggest weakness now may one day just turn out to be your greatest strength. While I’m sure my friends sometimes now wish that I were less vocal, I encourage you all to make the most of the vast community at your doorstep. Explore the diverse range of opportunities on offer, find your passions – whether they be in arts or sport or any other field – and embrace them. In the process, by introducing yourself to new people, you will learn as much from those around you as you will from any given textbook – and that is an invaluable life lesson.
After all, there is no one De La boy. You needn’t fit neatly into a rigid stereotype of what you think you need to be in order to thrive here. When I used to visualise academic achievement and consider the nature of success, I would inevitably turn to maths and science: ‘left brain’ subjects, grounded in objectivity and fact. Since I was hopeless with numbers and couldn’t conduct a prac to save my life, my anxiety heightened when thinking of the future. It was only at the beginning of VCE, when I instead embraced the fields that I truly loved – arts, languages, humanities – that I was finally able to excel. I would not be speaking today had I not made this firm decision to pursue my own interests as opposed to the expectations of others. Ignore the talk of folio subjects being a bludge or LOTEs being too draining: with passion, patience and perfectionism, you can succeed in anything you put your mind to.
If I were to offer up some specific study advice, I would emphatically stress the importance of organisation in all that you do. I owe the world to colour-coordinated folders and a hefty rotation of highlighters. However, what worked for me may not work for you: be independent and take the time to understand yourself individually. Your teachers and peers will come to play essential roles in this: be open and receptive to their advice, and never fear asking for a helping hand, whether in or out of the classroom. Beyond that, it will be up to each and every one of you to forge your own paths: stay true to who you know you are and never sell yourself short. Regardless of what route you eventually follow, self-awareness and the courage of conviction are the keys to success.
I love this place more than I could ever express in words. I am not the same person that I was when I first walked through those Primary gates and I am simply overwhelmed with sheer gratitude for everyone who has guided me along the way. Academically, I have constantly sought to challenge myself and grow. However: to represent my school externally, to perform on stage with peers, to travel to India on Coolies – these are the many memories of this amazing Lasallian journey that will ultimately live in my heart forever. It has been, and always will be, the great privilege and honour of my life to be a De La boy. I hope that, down the road, when you too hang up your blue and gold blazer for the final time, you will feel the same.
Mr Tom Ponissi
College Dux – Class of 2016