Good morning everyone.
The music you heard when you came in was ‘Freedom’ by George Michael and ‘Redemption Song’ by Bob Marley.
Yesterday was National Poetry Day and the theme this year is ‘freedom’. Many of you in your classes analysed poetry about Freedom and even wrote your own poems.
The theme ‘freedom’ is such a vague and open theme and I really didn’t know where to start with this assembly. I have asked many of my classes “What does freedom mean to you?” I had an array of responses and comments but most students came up with the following definitions: the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants. Not being imprisoned or enslaved and finally, having the ability to do what you want, when you want.
We are very lucky as a society that we have a lot of freedom. We can say what we like, dress and speak how we like but also, live in a country where we are safe and a community where we are cared for. Many children your age do not have this basic human quality of freedom. Look at countries like war-torn Syria.
When I think of the word freedom, I think of great people who have fought hard for freedom for themselves or for others. In 1955, a 42 year old African American lady named Rosa Parks fought for her freedom and helped to initiate the civil rights movement in America.
At this time in the southern states of America, black people and white people had separate toilets, drinking fountains, schools and even hairdressers. They weren’t allowed to use the same books or the same tables in restaurants. Segregation was law and if anyone broke this law, they would be arrested.
Rosa Parks was commuting home from a long day of work by bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The front of a Montgomery bus was reserved for white citizens, and the seats behind them for black citizens. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on the packed bus. She was arrested and even lost her job.
The leaders of the local black community organised a bus boycott. Led by a young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the boycott lasted more than a year. Over the next half-century, Parks became a nationally recognised symbol of dignity and strength in the struggle to end entrenched racial segregation.
Theo is going to read the poem ‘Rosa Parks’ by Joseph Coehlo.
<em>Not the first to sit.</em>
<em> Not the first to get arrested.</em>
<em> Not old (she was 42).</em>
<em> Not tired (‘just tired of giving in’).
<em> One of many, unable to sit</em>
<em> with the injustice of years.</em>
<em> A rider on an old road</em>
<em> walked by millions on tired legs.
<em> These riders fought for a feat,</em>
<em> years in the trudging,</em>
<em> of sole-worn protest</em>
<em> walked in frustrated miles</em>
<em> over landscapes of lives.
<em> One day became thirteen months</em>
<em> of continued mapping,</em>
<em> of hitchhiking and car pools,</em>
<em> of walking and tattered shoes,</em>
<em> because the bus</em>
<em> wasn’t going anywhere they planned to go.</em>
So is freedom about leisure, idle hours? Choice? Is it exemption, right, liberty, unrestraint? Is it power, or can you be free when you are powerless? The South African leader Nelson Mandela, who was a political prisoner on Robben Island for 27 years thought about these questions long and hard. His favourite poem, and one of mine, is ‘Invictus’ by W.E Henley. Mandela used to recite the poem to other inmates and was empowered by its message. Mr Moore is going to read the poem for you:
<em>Out of the night that covers me,</em>
<em> Black as the Pit from pole to pole,</em>
<em> I thank whatever gods may be</em>
<em> For my unconquerable soul.</em>
<em>In the fell clutch of circumstance</em>
<em> I have not winced nor cried aloud.</em>
<em> Under the bludgeonings of chance</em>
<em> My head is bloody, but unbowed.</em>
<em>Beyond this place of wrath and tears</em>
<em> Looms but the Horror of the shade,</em>
<em> And yet the menace of the years</em>
<em> Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.</em>
<em>It matters not how strait the gate,</em>
<em> How charged with punishments the scroll.</em>
<em> I am the master of my fate:</em>
<em> I am the captain of my soul.</em>
Freedom can mean a new beginning and promise of the new and exciting. From 1892 to 1954, millions of immigrants travelled by boat to Ellis Island in New York from various countries all over the world with the promise of a better life. America promised freedom and liberty for all people.
What greeted them wasn’t what they expected. They had to stand in a queue for days, split up for their family and many were imprisoned as they couldn’t speak English.
The first sight they saw of America from their boat was the great statue of Liberty. This was a beacon of liberty and freedom for all. Inscribed on the bottom of the Statue of Liberty is the poem ‘The New Colossus’ by Emma Lazurus. Miss McGrane is going to read it to you now.
<h4>The New Colossus</h4>
<em>Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,</em>
<em> With conquering limbs astride from land to land;</em>
<em> Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand</em>
<em> A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame</em>
<em> Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name</em>
<em> Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand</em>
<em> Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command</em>
<em> The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.</em>
<em> “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she</em>
<em> With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,</em>
<em> Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,</em>
<em> The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.</em>
<em> Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,</em>
<em> I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”</em>
Freedom can simply mean doing your own thing, being at one with nature and enjoying your surroundings. Mr Farrell is going to read a short poem by Olive Runner about just that.
<em>Give me the long, straight road before me,</em>
<em> A clear, cold day with a nipping air,</em>
<em> Tall, bare trees to run on beside me,</em>
<em> A heart that is light and free from care.</em>
<em> Then let me go! – I care not whither</em>
<em> My feet may lead, for my spirit shall be</em>
<em> Free as the brook that flows to the river,</em>
<em> Free as the river that flows to the sea.</em>
So to conclude, I began to think about the freedom that we have as a school community. We get the freedom of a free education. We have student voice coordinators in year 11 who are dedicated to hearing what you want out of your school and how to improve your school life. You have the freedom to choose what subject you take for your options at year 10, the freedom to go out with friends, talk and socialise with whoever you want. You have the freedom to choose to be whatever you want to be when you leave school – When you reach 18 you will have the freedom to vote. Some countries do not have this level of freedom so embrace it and enjoy the level of freedom that we have.
As you leave the assembly, you will listen to a song by one of my favourite poets, John Lennon. He asks you to imagine a world with freedom and peace.