Virtute et Labore

Recently I had the good fortune to hear an address by Order of Australia recipient Dr Elizabeth Finkel. She started her astounding career as a biochemist, who went from her own research in science, to narrating the stories of other scientists, as a journalist and author.

Dr Finkel addressed some 300 graduands at their graduation ceremony and her goal was simple- ‘to spark a sense of mission in the new science graduates’. Her analogy of the rolled up parchment to that of a baton, passed on by the likes of Galileo and Newton, was inspiring. She challenged each individual to find his or her own sense of purpose.

It is evident that Dr Finkel lives her life with purpose and a strong sense of mission. She compares her work as a journalist –“to report without favour and to relate the unequivocal truth’’, as aligned with the work done by scientists, who adhere to the scientific method for validity. In a world that faces increasingly complex environmental and economic challenges there is a greater need for our students to find their ‘mission’. In the words of Henry Thoreau:

‘’Be not simply good, be good for something’’.

To find one’s sense of purpose requires an open mind, to strive for the truth, and a healthy sense of skepticism. The St Margaret’s school motto;

Virtute et labore- ‘With courage and effort’, depicts the values that we instill in our girls to move forward in this quest. To apply tenacity and effort, to utilize their individual gifts/talents, to attain a meaningful life of purpose.

Research shows that purpose and meaning in life are associated with the highest levels of happiness. Father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, Ph.D.¹, teaches that many people live the “pleasant life,” which consists of experiencing positive emotion on a regular basis. It’s good to feel good, to have fun, to experience the joy of life, for sure, but there’s even more out there if you so desire.

‘The engaged life’ is more than just positive emotion, incorporating a focus on character, feeling engaged in life, really striving to be the best you can be. We challenge our girls to identify the traits which contribute to ‘good character’ that allow them to be the best that they can be—certainly more desirable than a mere pleasant life.

But the ultimate goal is the ‘meaningful life.’ These people not only create positive emotion and are engaged in life, they also establish what Seligman calls “meaningful positive institutions,” or in other words, they live a life full of purpose and meaning. Such purpose is desirable by all, irrespective of age and it is my greatest desire that every St Margaret’s girl continually questions, modifies and applies effort, to achieve her life’s purpose, not just during her time at St Margaret’s, but throughout her journey on this Earth.

I close with a quote from Buckminster Fuller’s novel ‘I seem to be a verb’. An engaging read. I hope we can all be ‘verbs’ in this journey called life. “

‘I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am.
I know that I am not a category.
I am not a thing- a noun.
I seem to be a verb.’

Mrs Deborrah Francis
Head of Senior Girls, Wellbeing