I had been asked to speak at the Valedictory Service by Janet McGrath (nee Maiden). She knew me from way back in my past, when I was at Durban University.
“ I was a couple of years younger than you. I used to look after you in sheer envy and admiration as you waved hello from your red scooter,” she said.
I knew nothing of Grantleigh College so I ‘Googled’ them. ‘Oh, great,’ I thought, ‘I will be going back to Kwazulu Natal.’
Grantleigh is situated just north of Richards Bay/Empangeni on the Kwazulu-Natal North Coast. The school was founded in 1997 and in just 20 years has grown into a thriving school community of around 750 learners from Grade RRR to Grade 12.
Gavin picked me up!
That sounds far more ‘saucy’ than what Gavin really did, but I love a bit of sauce. Gavin drove all the way from just north of Richards Bay to Durban airport to fetch me. He came towards me as I was standing, scanning the crowd for someone with a sign saying: Gaynor Young.
“Hi, Gaynor! I hope you haven’t been waiting long?” asked this man with eyes that grinned at you as if we were already friends. I liked him instantly.
We climbed into the Grantleigh College combi and set off on our two hour journey.
“I hope you don’t mind, Gavin, but I am going to go through my speech. I am actually delivering a different speech to the one I normally give at prize givings. As a result, I am petrified!”
“You do that. We have two hours to get rid of those nerves,” said Gavin with a smile.
This speech was about my return to The State Theatre after my fall from the stage 25 years earlier. The State Theatre had come to represent enormous loss to me. Going back was a massive undertaking which ultimately resulted in complete liberation. I was going to tell the students of the release this act had bought me. I am no longer able to memorise lines. Before my fall, I would have been able to write a brilliant speech and deliver it, from memory, word for brilliant word. Nowadays I just had to know what I was speaking about and hope that inspiration hit at the very moment it was needed!
We sped northwards towards Grantleigh.
It was splendid meeting Jan again. I had been so frightened that I wouldn’t remember her. On seeing her smiling face, memory tapped at my unconscious and she struck an old familiar chord deep within. She led me to her office and I gratefully sat there, poring over my speech while she went to confirm that all was ready. Janet had belonged to a Christian Youth Group and so when she came back, we said a prayer together. Then it was a case of all systems go and together with the Head, Jan and the rest of the staff, we proceeded into assembly. The students hadn’t been told that I was coming so I met many curious stares as I walked past them and onto the stage.
I approached the podium after the Head had finished addressing the school.
“I feel tremendously honoured to have been asked to speak to all of you today,” I began, “I hope that in the years to come, you will look back on my speech and will say: Ahhhh, that’s what Gaynor was speaking about!”
There was gentle laughter at this and I was away.
My message focused on two things.
Be willing to embrace change if your circumstances dictate that this is necessary.
I dreamed of becoming an actress and that dream came to fruition. I had my fall and the world came crashing down around me. Years later, I discovered another talent. I could write. I published my book My Plunge to Fame in 2000. Since then I have become a very successful blogger. When one door closes, a window is always open somewhere else. Be prepared to look for it. It may be well hidden but it is always there.
Face your demons! For 25 years after my accident, I carried around a fear of The State Theatre and everything it represented to me. I went back and bearded that demon in it’s den. Only to discover there was nothing there to fight! It was merely a beautiful stage in a big theatre. I love stages and theatres had always been ‘home’ to me. For twenty-five years I carried this needless boulder around my neck. It often ricocheted off things causing me unnecessary bruises and pain. When you have problems, deal with them immediately. When you confront your problems, you often discover that they were never as huge or insurmountable as originally anticipated. I finished my speech and the students and their parents got to their feet applauding.
My speech was followed by the Head Girl and Head Boy’s speeches. How did the Head Girl, Tessa Hubble, manage to be so wise and foreword thinking? I know that I wasn’t like that at the age of 17! The Head Boy, Philasande Maxase, took a more comedic turn at getting his point across.
He said: “I want to show you the various dances that I carried with me from Grade 8 through to grade 12. He called up his friend with a laughing face, Mpilo Khoza and said: “Mpilo will show you the various dances that we students have done throughout high school.”
Mpilo’s dances ranged from the slightly nervous, doing things correctly in grade 8 to the super cool in control dance of the grade 12s. They were hilarious, spot on and beautifully danced. Then Philasande pulled out a wipe-board and wrote:
No, that’s wrong. He has got the sum wrong, I thought. Philasande turned to all of us and said:
“I have written four sums up here. Three are correct and one is wrong. And yet that is the only one you are all concerned with. The one that is incorrect! I am saying we must not always look at the negatives in life. We must rather look at the positives!
After the ceremony, I was speaking to the students about their plans for next year.
“I’m going to Stellenbosch to study accountancy.”
“I’m off to Pretoria University to study engineering.”
I think back to my leaving school. “I’m going to Durban University to study drama!”
I duly entered the acting profession. Then my catastrophe and my life changed drastically. Things don’t always go according to plan. This is what makes life both frustrating and exhilarating. What is important is that we have a choice about how we accept the cards that we are dealt. I so admire people who on being punched in the stomach by life, get their breath back and come back fighting. They refuse to huddle in bed bemoaning their fate. Instead they take what else is on offer from this smorgasbord of life.
I had noticed a boy that returned to the stage about five times to receive various awards. ‘His parents must be so proud of him,’ I thought. After the ceremony, he sought me out. He had tears in his eyes.
“You have no idea what your speech meant to me,” he blurted out. “Your determination is incredible. It just showed me that no matter where life leads us, there is so much to living. Thank you.”
That boy will remain in my memory with his mop of dark brown hair, rosy cheeks and tear filled eyes that understood.
All the matrics stood together, each holding a red helium filled balloon. As one, they released them and silently stood watching their balloons ascend into the air as a red flock. Different currents caught the balloons and caused them to separate into groups of three or four. Then these would split, once again being nudged by a different breath of air. I contemplated life as I watched these balloons take flight. Occasionally it seemed as if a single courageous balloon would set off on it’s own path, preferring to tackle the unknown independently.
Go well, class of 2017, go well!!!