Published on September 22, 2023

There is something truly lovely about learning to dance with your own children, grandchildren or siblings and then having the opportunity to share in this joy as a community.  

That is the beauty of tonight, The Year 11 Presentation Ball. Tonight, is about us as a HVGS community celebrating our connections with each other. It is also about celebrating the awesomeness that is our Year 11 students who are soon to be “the” senior school students with their very own Varsity Jackets which, if history is anything to go by, they will wear no matter how hot the day! 

The Varsity Jacket always involves a bit of negotiating between students and the Head of Year until the design is just right. I am sure Mr Jolly, our current Head of Year 11, remembers the numerous email trails and discussions about the Varsity Jacket for the Class of 2024. 

But why does getting the jacket, and the right design, matter so much to our students? 

In part it matters so much because the Varsity Jacket is a symbol of change and transition. It marks a new moment in their lives as Year 11 students; it sets them apart to the teachers and from other students. It screams I am Year 12 now! It is also a symbol of their increasing differentiation from their parents and HVGS. While the jacket is the same for everyone (except for the names of course) it is a marker of their difference, and the fact that real independence is just around the corner. 

Transition and change are two concepts I am fascinated by, most especially how we respond to change as human beings and why we respond to it in certain ways. I am also curious – as someone who has moved between countries – as to why we need objects and events that serve as bridges (or markers) of our movement from one state to the next.  

Tonight, this ball, along with the Varsity Jacket, are two markers of change that have a symbolic importance. Both help our Year 11 students move through a state of transition; they help our students move from feeling as though being a student at HVGS is never-ending, to the realization that the end is just around the corner. 

If you can bear with me for a minute, I want to share something from the late William Bridges who did some amazing work on transition. He describes change as something that is situational, it happens to us, and it is external to us.  

Transition, though, he describes as the external process we go through “as we come to terms with change”. He describes transition as the “no-man’s land between the old reality and the new”. It is the limbo between the old sense of identity and the new. Others describe it as like being between the trapezes – there’s nothing to hold on to, and so things are scary and uncertain. 

This can all sound a bit bleak, but the space of transition is, potentially, a really exciting space to be in. While we can experience some angst in the transition zone, it can also be a place of excitement, anticipation, creativity, and innovation. That is, if we embrace the uncertainty that comes with it and stay open to possibilities.  

The possibilities of the transition zone become more and more likely if we have “good endings”. This means, if we create the opportunity to let go of the old and embrace the new. Tonight, is a good ending: tonight we are saying goodbye to Year 11 and embracing Year 12 and with that the imminent end of school. 

Likewise, excitement, anticipation, creativity, and innovation are more and more likely during a time of change when we have markers that make us feel special, like the varsity jackets. Symbols of change that are embraced and welcomed by others help us feel more settled, grounded, and connected even as we look to a big change on the horizon. 

Why share all of this? Because The Presentation Ball is a celebration, most definitely. But it is ultimately a celebration of change – it is a transitional moment – and one that demonstrates to each of our Year 11 students that we are here to walk with them through their final year. We are here to be the net beneath them as they swing between the trapeze. A net that won’t stop them from falling but will soften the fall somewhat so they can pick themselves up again, climb the trapeze ladder, and once again swing. 

Tonight, is also a moment of “passing the baton” between our current student leaders and our incoming ones. On that note, I want to thank our Year 12 student leaders – on behalf of HVGS – for their deep commitment to, and pride in, the school; their involvement within and beyond the classroom; and their advocacy for HVGS and what we stand for. Lachie, Audrey, Finn, and Lucie have steered their team of student leaders with compassion and humility, embodying the school values every step of the way. Thank you for living and breathing HVGS. 

Rebecca Butterworth

Rebecca Butterworth

Rebecca is the Principal of Hunter Valley Grammar School. She has a Masters of Education, International Education from Monash University, a Postgraduate Diploma in Education from the Queensland University of Technology and a Bachelor of Arts, History and English from the University of Tasmania.