For me, one of the highlights of every year is attending a ceremony at St Mary’s Cathedral where one Year 12 student from every secondary school in the Archdiocese of Sydney is honoured with the Archbishop’s Awards for Student Excellence.
I clearly recall the very first time that I attended the event back in 2010 when I was fresh into the role of executive director.
It was obvious to me straight away that this was a very significant occasion.
There was such a feeling of excitement and anticipation in the cathedral.
The ceremony is led by the archbishop. There is a moving acknowledgement of country, the singing is led by the Catholic Schools Performing Arts choir and musicians, and I am given the honour of delivering a short address to the students during the ceremony.
For me, the highlight of the event is the reading of a citation for each award winner.
Delivered by a fellow student from their college, each citation provides an account of the extraordinary achievements of each award recipient: World Youth Day ambassador or pilgrim, member of the college social justice team, school leader, catechist, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, volunteer to needy causes, voice for the voiceless.
Here is a group of 48 young men and women who epitomise just what our Catholic schools are all about: they are faith-filled, generous, courageous and committed to the service of others. It is a privilege to be able to have my photo taken with them on the stairs of the Cathedral at the conclusion of the ceremony.
The other part of the day that gives me great joy is meeting the families of the young women and men who are honoured with the award.
They beam with pride as they watch someone very special to them walk onto the sacred St Mary’s Cathedral altar to collect their award from the archbishop.
And later on, they line up for family photos to commemorate the occasion. I am sure that it is a day that they long remember.
This year sees another group of outstanding senior students commended for the contribution they have made to the Catholic life of their college. It is a moment for them to savor, and one for me also as I am reminded about what a privilege it is to lead this Catholic education community.
Our system of 150 Catholic schools is in very good shape indeed.