Back to School

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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  • Reply Charles Visser (Chuckv) June 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Another great post by 2Summers! Why am I not surprised?

    • Reply 2summers June 3, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      Thanks Chuck. Sorry to hear that I’ve lost the ability to surprise you.

  • Reply Owls June 3, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Hey Heather – I was curious as to who St. Stithians was, and didn’t come up with much except the attached The name appears to derive from a Welsh “saint,” which I think is really interesting. I never think of Methodists as having a lot of use for saints, so it would be interesting to know how the founders of the school chose its name. A post script perhaps for annoying cousins? I know your visit must have been sentimental thinking of Jon having gone there and spent so much of his life in the school’s tradition. It is very sentimental, and it looks like a wonderful school that way.

    • Reply 2summers June 3, 2012 at 8:37 pm

      Drury, only an annoying cousin like you would think to ask that question. Just kidding! I actually had a passing thought about that myself but was too lazy to actually research it. I did hear someone say during the Founders Day ceremony that the two founders of St. Stithians were Cornish. A hint, perhaps? Maybe another reader can chime in.

      I actually didn’t even know the school was Methodist until yesterday. I had always assumed it was Anglican, as British prep schools tend to be.

    • Reply Charlene Bolleurs June 6, 2012 at 11:39 am

      Hi Everyone,
      Go and visit for all the history and information.

      • Reply Paul June 14, 2012 at 11:42 pm

        Hi. Stithians is a village in Cornwall. Albert Collins and William Mountstephens were born nearby who became prospectors in South Africa. They were successful and decided to bequest at least some of their wealth to a trust (they called it the St Stithians Trust) for the purposes of forming a methodist college in SA from which the college was set up.

        Albert attended Stithians School in Cornwall and provided funds for the Stithians Agriculturals Association and the Recreation Fields. He was an extremely significant benefactor to the village and he clearly felt the need to create the connection in Joberg where he died in 1937. There is a tribute to him in the C of E church in the village despite his being more connected with the Methodist churches.

        I enjoyed reading you account of your visit. I always mean to visit the School when I am in Joberg but have never got around to it, but will try next time I visit. I would like to make the same journey as Albert, because I too went to Stithians School.

        • Reply 2summers June 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm

          Thanks so much for this very informative comment. My cousin will be glad to have such a detailed answer to her question. (I am, too.) So. is Stithian not the name of a saint at all then? If not, how did the word Saint get added to the name of the Joburg school?

      • Reply Paul June 23, 2012 at 11:56 am

        RE your question: “So. is Stithian not the name of a saint at all then? If not, how did the word Saint get added to the name of the Joburg school?”.

        There is a lot of doubt about exactly who St Stithian, St Stithiana, etc. was. I think it is reasonably well established that the village was named after a saint (possibly a woman) but there isn’t any proper evidence as to who he/she was. Most things in the village are named with the “St”, e.g. the chuch is St Stithians church and occasionally the village is referred to as St Sthitians. Quite often it is actually spelt with a “y” when the St is used, e.g. the village band is the “St Stythians Band”. So the St was added long before Albert got to South Africa.

        • Reply 2summers June 23, 2012 at 1:31 pm

          Very interesting! Thanks.

  • Reply Nina Neubauer June 3, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    I’d love to go to the cafe with you sometime soon:) always looking for higher ground.

    • Reply 2summers June 4, 2012 at 9:26 am

      Hey Nina, I will try to organize an outing for a Wednesday!

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough June 3, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    It’s what I love about blogging, as well–the friends I’ve made. So happy to hear Jon met you in the chapel!

    • Reply 2summers June 4, 2012 at 9:25 am

      Thanks Kathy. I’m happy about that too.

  • Reply Sine June 4, 2012 at 9:06 am

    This is just SO South Africa to me. There is nothing like going to a Founder’s Day ceremony to experience this part of South Africa, the whole prep school scene with yes, the shorts and knee socks and caps. Our Founder’s Day is in September and we also had a plane flyover that I took pics of and blogged about, will have to get a crowd going this year!

    • Reply 2summers June 4, 2012 at 9:25 am

      Yes, I remember that post! I was so amazed at the time that a school Founders Day ceremony would include a flyover — apparently it’s a common occurrence here 🙂

  • Reply zimbo64 June 4, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Thank you Heather for this lovely post about our Founders Day. I was so excited to meet you after following your blog for the past two years. I love your writing and your photography has gotten better and better. I admire your strength during what has been a difficult time for you. I hope that our new friendship continues to grow. I did not have time to show you the Memorial Garden. I look forward to getting together at Higher Ground for coffee one morning soon!

    • Reply 2summers June 4, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      Thanks so much, Debbie. I had trouble expressing to you how much this visit meant, but hopefully my blog post did a better job. Yes, I’d love to meet at Higher Ground sometime soon. Please hold me to it!

  • Reply Deano June 5, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    I can only imagine. To me, this post was very touching!


    • Reply 2summers June 5, 2012 at 12:45 pm

      Thanks Dean. Hope you’re well.

  • Reply Philip June 20, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    My old school too.. I graduated in 1980 and didnt know Jon until many years later..
    Hope you felt strength and peace from being there.

    • Reply 2summers June 20, 2012 at 9:13 pm

      Thanks, Philip. I really did.

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