Living with a lisp. It’s something which is often frowned upon by wider society. Not because it intrinsically harms anyone, but because it often hinders someone’s ability to communicate sharply, effectively and with clarity.
I have a lisp. Lots of people do. Lisps are something most people can't do much about despite much trial and tribulation. However, at the end of the day, people won’t judge you in a massive way for this - it’s not a matter of public humiliation or missing out on a job. Nonetheless, I would be lying if I told you that things were perfect - there’s nothing like the cheeky person to ask you about the six statisticians studying Mississippi and its systematic specificities.
This school has often garnered a sometimes unwarranted reputation for being less inclusive, focusing too much on performance which subsequently sacrifices valuable character building. Whilst many staff, alumni and students would be keen to quash this line, I believed it for a time. Maybe all we really care about is how well we can do on the sports field, how highly we achieve in the classroom, the length of our cultural performers’ standing ovations?
There has always been doubt in my mind though over whether this is really the culture of our school. Could there not be something intangible which is the glue, the cement holding together every basalt block in this building?
For each and every person who has passed through the archway, this cement has been something different. Whilst there have been many moments which have inspired or helped me grow as a person, I genuinely thought I’d never see the day when my view of Otago Boys’ was transformatively changed. Yet a man from the most unlikely of sources was able to well and truly change this. When Tom came through that archway for the first time at the beginning of this year, he showed some of the courage all of us have within us - overcoming barriers most of us wouldn’t even consider hurdles.
We’ll always have some things which hold us back in life; be it my lisp and s-based problems but none of us let these things hold us back. Nonetheless, Tom has demonstrated to me the power of laughter and just having fun. There is never a day where he ceases to make me smile and the audacity of the things he says are unparalleled. One doesn’t need to be big, tall and domineering to captivate an individual’s attention.
Secondly, I’ve seen how the little things we do are all the same. Some find imaginative ways to delay class, but Tom is better at it than most. He’s a man so determined to hide from his teachers that the library magazine shelf has now permanently become a defensive barricade! Furthermore, he is one of the slyest Connect 4 players out there - for better or worse.
It did concern me when it came to putting pen to paper for this when I realised I didn’t know Tom’s surname. I feared it might be disrespectful, possibly rude to talk so much about him yet not know a crucial detail of his identity. Many might look to find this out, before delivering a message to such a large audience. But it dawned on me, maybe the reason why I’ve never come across it isn’t because of any lack of care but instead because sometimes it’s the simple things which connect all OBs boys together. He’s Tom, I’m Luke and together with all of the school we have a castle which includes every aspect of school life.
Each Otago Boys’ boy thinks of the concrete that binds us slightly differently. Some call it the brotherhood, others imagine it as the crest upon our chests and more simply think of the many differences, strengths and weaknesses which come to build 'men of oak'. Whatever this is, I know for certain that when the going gets tough, there’ll always be an OBs boy who steps up. Not because you have to, but because the intangible thing that binds us - the cement, the clay - will always be stronger than the sum of its parts. Whenever it's needed, we’ll do anything to maintain the tradition of this proud school, and more importantly the integrity and values of everyone who wears that school crest.