Alumni Profile: John Cavallaro (Class of 1999)

As John Cavallaro has been working on post-producing a documentary for CNN on the All Blacks, he took out some time to tell us about what he has been up to since graduating from Northside Christian College in 1999.

John, Class of 1999 with his wife, Mellisa has two children - LLewellyn (6 months) and Zoe (2 and 1/2 years)
John, Class of 1999 with his wife, Mellisa has two children - LLewellyn (6 months) and Zoe (2 and 1/2 years)

Has there been a person or an event at Northside that was significant to you or that had a major influence on your life?

Maitlhon Drew was particularly influential in inspiring my creativity. Amazingly generous, encouraging, funny and incredibly hard working he took the time to make us feel valued. 

Overall I have fond memories, and the teachers really gave us opportunities to explore. I was often encouraged to speak and sing in chapel which showed a lot belief in me. 


How would you describe Northside Christian College to someone who is not familiar with the school?

In my time it was a close community developed in a caring safe environment with conservative family values.  

I do remember in my days receiving the paddle once for repeatedly ignoring a teachers instructions on dress code. I probably deserved it... but I’d be surprised if they still have a school paddle. 


Is there a story that would illustrate the “heart” of Northside, a special memory or a highlight that you are fond of during your years at the College?

I remember my physics teacher Mr Purnell saw I was struggling emotionally with life. He took me for a meal at red rooster on a lunch break (not sure if that is allowed these days) and gave me a book to encourage me to help organise my notes. It was very kind of him. I didn’t respond very well at the time, but alway remember what he invested in me.

As a teacher now I am much more acutely aware of how hardworking and generous the staff were at Northside.

Some of my best memories included camps on the beach with my school friends.


What advice do you have for our current students?

Don’t be afraid to follow your passion but keep a side hustle so you are free to make more mistakes. I always thought being an artist was a high risk financial choice and not as socially respected. It is.. but its totally possible and in the end you will be much happier for it.  

It’s better to fail at something you love doing then fail at something you don’t. Ironically creativity REQUIRES faliure. You can’t learn to walk without repeatedly falling over. Become comfortable sitting in the liminal space of not knowing….yet ….and being comfortable in the uncomfortable is what I would strongly advise. God is on your side but give yourself permission to fail.  

Also, find mentors around you who are doing what you might like to do. They will help you navigate your career best.  

Side note future musings - with the onset of artificial intelligence there is more need then ever to have people who can think creatively and are empathetic . These things are difficult to replace with a robot :) so I’d advise getting good at them. 


Is there anything else you would like to add?

As I look towards the second half of my life (EKK I’m getting old) one thing I would tell my self is enjoy the schedule. God has your days planned out, so enjoy today.

I was a youth leader for nearly a decade. When I finished I realised most people didn’t remember, my sermons, my skinny jeans (thank God),  my vision, my amazing games and what we “achieved" as a youth group. They remembered  the times I took to care. As noted these are the same moments I personally remember most about the Teachers at NCC too, moments of kindness and connection.

When its all said and done sometimes we can be very driven to achieve goals, get good grades, job ect… Life is long, your goals will change, but what is most important is “Presence”. 

As I mentioned towards the end of Highschool I became quite depressed. I think it might have been because I put too much pressure on myself to save the world. In a purpose driven life sometimes we can forget about “Presence.” 

Presence in a practical sense. Your presence is important even when you aren’t busy or contributing. But also in a spiritual sense,I had to learn, Jesus is the saviour of the world, not me. My role was to be present with him first. Purpose is important but presence comes first and births purpose. Moses knew this as he wouldn’t move without God's presence.

Exodus 33:15

Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 

Moses didn’t seek a visitation but habitation. To dwell with God always not just in the third song in the second chorus in worship. 

To simply be with God is really what it’s all about. Researcher Stuart Brown defines “play as time spent without purpose.” - The opposite is not work, but depression. Brown argues that industrialisation may have lead to a reduction in the state of play later in life. Maybe this is part of the attraction for adults watching the popular cartoon on the ABC “Bluey”. The show is based on one word “Play”. 

As we get older we sometimes think we need to get more serious about everything. I’m saying stay immature but I am saying do more purposeless things. Most of my best moments/ideas in life have come from parking purpose for a few hours. Of all creatures, humans are considered the most intelligent and neotenous (retaining immature qualities later in life) which suggests play helps us creatively think.

Henri Nouwen was once a respected Notre Dame, Yale Harvard professor, writer and theologians after travelling the world on speaking tours in his sixties finally found what he called his “Home” - looking after a disabled man “Adam" in a community of disabled people. He called Adam his mentor.

“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.” Henri Nouwen