To thine own self be true

Chris Ivey / Academic

At Foundation Day yesterday, I shared the following reflection

04 September 2020

A message from our Principal - To thine own self be true

Dear St Andrew’s Community

At Foundation Day yesterday, I shared the following reflection with those present and connected via livestream.

I’m not sure if people know who is currently the world’s richest person? Someone who has been in the top five over the past 10 years is a man called Warren Buffet. He is joined of course by people like Bill Gates who founded Microsoft and Jeff Bezos who started Amazon.

Warren Buffet’s way to earn $70 billion dollars was to be the best Investor in the world. I have been a huge fan of Warren Buffet and indeed Bill Gates for that matter. I’m not a fan because they are wealthy, but because when you begin to look deeper into their lives, they are people who continued, despite their immense wealth, to stay true to themselves. It’s a quote from the Shakespearian play Hamlet, that I love. When the Dad Polonius speaks to his son, before he heads off on his GAP year, Polonius gives his son a few quotes about how he should dress, that he should listen more than talk and a few other good pieces of fatherly advice. But Polonius’ defining comment to his son is…to thine own self be true. In other words. Whatever you do, stay true to you. It’s a pretty simple ask. Stay true to you. To your beliefs, to your values, to what it right and true and yet we know it can be hard.

When we take the time to look at Warren Buffett, we learn that whilst being one of the world’s richest people, more importantly, he continually tops the charts as being the world’s most philanthropic person. In other words, he gives away more money as a percentage of his income than anyone else. It’s around $46 Billion since 2020, or around 76 per cent of his income, that’s three quarters of the money that he has earnt…which is very generous. Of course, this is easier when the 24 per cent left over is still a lot of money!

But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that Warren has stayed true to himself and the upbringing and values of his family. Warren’s Dad, Howard was a member of the US Congress. As one article explains, 'Unshakably ethical, Howard refused offers of junkets and even turned down a part of his pay. During his first term, when congressional salary was raised from $10,000 to $12,500, Howard left the extra money in the Capitol disbursement office, insisting that he had been elected at the lower salary.' His wife said he considered only one issue when deciding whether or not to vote for a bill: 'Will this add to, or subtract from, human liberty?

Warren’s Dad set up strong values around what was important to him, and Warren watched this as he grew up. Despite all his wealth he stayed true to his values as well. His wealth doesn’t define him, rather he lets his values define him, his capacity to give back to others. He still lives in the same home he purchased with his wife in 1958 for $31,000. Sure it’s been renovated but it’s no mansion. He is known for his frugality and says that he doesn’t intend to give any of his wealth to his children as a free ride. He has said, Would 10 homes make me happy?, and I don’t need a $100 meal if I’m happy with a hamburger. He buys regular cars when they are on a good deal, and then keeps them until they are old and need replacing. He goes out of his way to make people feel good about themselves and tries to share simple joys in life. You see, Warren Buffett never believed he was better than anyone else because of his wealth, he has over a number of decades stayed true to the values he holds as important.

Foundation Day is time when we celebrate and recognise who we are as a College. Our College is now 17 years old, and when it was started, focus was ‘with Vision and Spirit’.  What this College, like many other leading organisations, has done over the past few months is continue to stay true to our core of ‘with vision and spirit’ and we have risen to the challenge of finding new ways of doing things, with the virus forcing us to change, but without ever departing from what we believe to be true. I think as a College, we have tried really hard to follow the advice of Polonius. We’ve been true to who we are.

When this College was first begun, it made a commitment to excel, but to do it differently. To succeed, but not always in the ways that other more established schools may have chosen to do so. To offer all things with a balance, not to value one event or achievement over another but to value the student. Why, because those who founded this College put people and relationships as a central tenant to who we are. They put creativity and compassion ahead of tradition and hierarchy, they put people first. 

And those of us here today, we are the current custodians of that culture. We have to claim that Spirited culture and move it forward with Vision. Our values focus on the same values that were at the heart of those who began our College. Encouraging Learning, Creating Opportunities and Building Connections. At this odd time in the world when people are feeling uncertain, or unsure, we as St Andrew’s need to be absolutely confident in who we are and stay true to that. To thine own self be true, using the values of our foundation to continue to guide where we head. 

But what about us as individuals? What are our values, what are the things that we see as important and to which we stay true? How do we stay true to them? Our friend Warren Buffett has one idea.  

“I learned that it pays to hang around with people better than you are, because you float upward a little bit. And if you hang around with people that behave worse than you, soon you’ll start sliding down the pole. It just works that way.”

During these unusual times, there will be a tendency for some, including our leaders that we see on the media, to stray from what they truly believe, others will hold firm to their character and their values.  There are often numerous challenges for all of us, both individually and as organisations, to gradually choose different ways of doing things that perhaps detract from their values. Our challenge is to listen to Polonius and as a College and individuals, to thine own self be true.

Reverend Chris Ivey

Author Profile

Chris Ivey

In his own words, Chris “enables things to happen” at St Andrew’s. As Principal of the College, he leads the development and progression of St Andrew’s by enabling staff and students to achieve their personal best. Chris is a Reverend and has been the Principal of St Andrew’s for more that 15 years. He also represents and advocates for Independent schools across Australia as the National Chair of AHISA (Association of Heads of Independent Schools, Australia).

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