Yesterday I attended the Founders Day ceremony at St. Stithians College, a Joburg prep school. I was invited by a wonderful lady named Debbie, whose children go to St. Stithians. Before yesterday morning I only knew Debbie through her 2Summers comments, and on Facebook. Now Debbie is a friend. This is why I love blogging.

Jon graduated (or “matriculated”, as they say here) from St. Stithians in 1984. He and I drove past the school many times but never visited together. Jon wasn’t the type of person to be nostalgic for his school days — adolescence was a difficult time for him. But I do know that he had some good times at St. Stithians and the years he spent there are part of who he was. I’m grateful to have had the chance to visit the school on such a special day.

Adorable. You can’t see in this photo, but they are wearing short pants and knee socks.

The entire school, from little ones up to grade 12, gathered for the ceremony, along with teachers, parents, and friends. (By the way, in South Africa, kids in grade 12 are not called “seniors”. They are “matrics”. If you’re in grade 12, you are “in matric”. It took me months to figure this out.)

Older boys perform the St. Stithians “war cry” at the end of the Founders Day ceremony. St. Stithians has a girls’ school now too (it was all boys in Jon’s day), but the girls were sitting outside of my line of vision.

The ceremony included a flyover by the St. Stithians aviation club.

I didn’t expect to get emotional during the ceremony, but of course I did — crying, sniffling, blah blah. You’ve heard it all before. It was lovely though. There were lots of prayers and hymns (St. Stithians is a Methodist school), and the school choir and orchestra performed a rousing rendition of Johnny Clegg’s “Scatterings of Africa”. As a former alto in the McDonogh School concert choir, class of 1992, and a fan of Johnny Clegg, I appreciated their performance.

After the ceremony we had tea and cake and listened to the St. Stithians African drum group. (We didn’t have an African drum group at McDonogh, but I sure wish we did.) Then Debbie took me on a tour of the grounds. We climbed a ridge to a spot overlooking the city, where there is a quiet reflection area. I doubt this spot existed when Jon was at St. Stithians, but if it had he would have liked it.

“Be still and know.” From Psalm 46:10. What a useful quote.

We walked down the hill to the school’s chapel. It looked locked, but Debbie tried the door and it was open. I went in, expecting Debbie to follow. But she stayed outside and closed the door behind me. What an intuitive person.

I don’t think I’ve ever been alone inside a church before.

Each of the stained glass windows in the chapel has a plaque below it, with words like “patience”, “love”, and other character traits encouraged by the Methodist Church. The prettiest window was the one labeled “self-control”.

“Self-control”. Oh, the irony. Self-control was not exactly Jon’s strong suit.

I walked the perimeter of the church and looked out through each window. I felt sad, but peaceful.

Thirty years ago, Jon probably sat on this very bench. He was there yesterday, too.

Thanks, Debbie.

There is restaurant/café on the St. Stithians campus, called “Higher Ground“, which is open to the public. It has a great view of Joburg and I’ve heard the food is really good. I’m definitely going back soon to try it. St. Stithians is at 40 Peter Place, on the border of Randburg and Sandton.

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