Sirius College stresses optimism as one of its core values. But it’s a value that’s challenged at a time of violent prejudice, according to Halid Serdar Takimoglu, Executive Principal of Sirius College.
Following is an edited extract of his speech to an Iftar dinner, the evening meal during the Ramadan fasting month, attended by education and other community leaders on 15 June 2016.
Sirius College was established by Turkish migrants in 1997 with only 28 students at its Eastmeadows campus. It is not surprising that the overwhelming majority of the students were Turkish in its early years of operation. But today, in six campuses across Victoria, Sirius College serves almost 2500 students from 68 different backgrounds, of whom less than half are Turkish, a reflection of the local community it serves.
Even though almost all our students are Muslim, Sirius College is not an Islamic school. It classifies itself as an Independent, non-denominational school. Apart from the two periods per week of non-compulsory Religion and Values education, there are no Islamic studies taught, nor are Islamic clothing and prayers compulsory for students or staff.
Having said that, we have a robust pastoral care program for all year levels which tries to instill in students the need to be informed individuals, concerned for their environment and community, starting off with their loved ones.
After the passing of the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, the response from the world was, for me, surprisingly powerful. Unfortunately I was not old enough to watch him boxing live, but some of us probably have seen him ‘floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee’. He was the world heavy weight champion three times – but as Bill Clinton mentioned at his funeral, ‘the second half of his life was more successful and fruitful than the first’. Despite his regressing health, he dedicated himself to the causes of civil rights and eradicating hunger, poverty and disease.
I was happy to see almost every denomination and person, atheist or believer, white or person of colour, celebrating his life. He was unapologetically an African American who converted to Islam in the early years of his career. He was very outspoken, if not radical, about his religion and especially about his race, but he was loved by all. Even when people were angry at his decisions or behaviour, we know now that he was a true American, a true Muslim and a true human being. As Rabbi Michael Lerner stated in his passionate speech at his funeral, ‘heavy weight champions of the world come and go, sports heroes come and go’, but Muhammad Ali’s legacy will last much longer.
One of our core values at Sirius College is ‘optimism’. It is not very common for schools to place ‘optimism’ as a core value, but if you are a member of a school attended by second generation migrants and Muslims, this is the value you should cherish dearly.
Seeing the global love for Muhammad Ali, I was optimistic – until last Monday, when a man killed 49 people and injured 53 in Orlando. My heart goes out to the victims’ families and all those who were affected. My optimism struggled…
School must be a safe place in a child’s life. Unfortunately, for some, it is the safest place and for some it is the only safe place. And my dear friends, if we think our duty ends as the last bell goes, we are wrong. When we are given the privilege to touch the lives of our students, and no other profession has this power, we cannot take it lightly.
Thank you again for celebrating our oneness by appreciating and cherishing our differences and being a light of optimism for the people around you. By being here, you are affirming our desire as Australians to stay united and to always be in one team called ‘US’ not ‘US and THEM’.