We are immensely proud of our graduating class, and thank you for joining us to celebrate their accomplishments and successes. 

The 2023 Valedictorian Speech was given by Northside Alumna Julani Potgieter:

Good evening, honoured guests, Principal Kuss, and the graduating class of 2023.

What an incredibly significant night for the year 12s. I genuinely want to acknowledge each of you sitting here today. I think it’s rare that we take enough time to honour and recognise what it took to get here truly, and tonight is a celebration of you!

It is your turn to be recognised!

There is an interesting phenomenon researched by psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson a Senior Fellow at UC Berkley’s Greater Good Science Centre known as the Teflon and Velcro effect. It refers to our brains’ bias to remember negative experiences more easily than positive ones. The research is detailed that we Velcro negative experiences and allow positive ones to slide off like Teflon unless we have a conscious, active process to savour the moment in which we find ourselves.

Tonight, I hope that you savour what you’re experiencing. Notice what you’re feeling. Because pretty much every year for the next 10 years and beyond, you’re going to answer the question ‘what do you do?’ and you will no longer be able to say, I go to Northside Christian College.

These past few years, I have no doubt that each of you faced many moments that you can remember very well where you may have felt you were not sure you would arrive here at all or maybe for some of you, it felt like today was an eternity away.

Well, you have arrived. Finally.

As soon as you step out of here, you will be faced with a world that is constantly preoccupied with So, just for tonight, I encourage you to be here one last time.

It has been ten years since I was sitting in your position, so sure that I knew where I was headed. I am sure that I was planning my first heart surgery as my classmates were walking across the stage. I wanted to be a surgeon. I had a ten-year plan; I was going to be a doctor or whatever the most impressive title was; that was my goal. Easy enough, right?

But I want to tell you a story about the last ten years. Because, believe it or not, you and I have something in common.

The year after I graduated, it was a matter of 6 months that I went from having ten years mapped out perfectly - I was going to go to uni, work as a doctor, has a private practice and specialise - to finding myself in a 3rd world country, volunteering, completely unsure of what I wanted to do, feeling utterly lost because, for the first time, I had no idea where I was headed, what I wanted to do or what my next steps were. My master plan was a mess.

It felt silly answering the question, what do you do? With ‘Not really sure right now’. It felt like I had failed.

From the time between then and now, I have had the privilege of witnessing people all over the world, in Egypt, South Africa, Australia, in Mozambique, who each have their own unique journey and challenges, people of different ages, people of different social statuses, pasts, different dreams, unique gifts, and individual challenges. I have witnessed a diverse range of people of all ages in unimaginable circumstances and have also seen others who found immense success. These two can sound so contrasting initially, but there is a common thread amongst all human experiences that I want to draw our attention to tonight.

The one thing that they all have in common is that we all have in common. In fact, that is a shared experience of humanity at large, is that not one person really knows exactly how their life is going to unfold, how they are going to overcome the challenge they find themselves in, how they are going to deal with this unexpected illness, this job loss, a broken relationship or unfamiliar territory like a great success. Or, like me, deal with the fact that I suddenly realised I hated the plan that I had set out for myself.

It forced me, like it does everyone, into a place of great uncertainty.

That is what defines a challenge: the unknowing….. and the unknowing is scary.

I remember thinking once I get through this challenge, I won’t have to deal with this burden or feel like I have no clue what is going to happen ever again, and I quickly learnt that this is something we never have the luxury of escaping.

It is true that not one of us is able to predict our future exactly, and even if we do predict it, things inevitably happen that we did not plan.

I have spent the better part of the last decade in fascination, studying, witnessing, counselling, journeying with people and observing the extent to which humans go to avoid this feeling of uncertainty. This is across culture, across age, and across socio-economic status.

Psychology goes as far as to say that uncertainty can be directly correlated to the feeling of unsafety and danger because if you remember, your brain remembers VELCROS negative experiences of uncertainty. Our brain tries to protect us but avoids it. We begin to associate uncertainty with danger, and that is why we do everything we can to stay away from it, to stay comfortable.

Unless we become aware of this phenomenon and actively oppose it, we will not get to experience the immense opportunity and growth that lies in the unknown. There is no opportunity that is void of uncertainty. None. If we avoid uncertainty, we avoid opportunity, and we also avoid who we can become.

The person that I became in the last decade is so much more permanent than my job title. In fact, everything that I have been a part of, including my job title, has evolved from the person that I have become through walking in very unclear and sometimes frustratingly confusing circumstances. Had I not had uncertainty, I would still be the year 12 girl who sat in those chairs ten years ago, and I would not have grown one bit.

My role as a business owner and counsellor right now has stemmed from many years of not knowing what I wanted to do and seeing that amidst the haze, I loved people, and I loved helping them to understand why they do what they do, helping them to have compassion for their experience. What I didn’t know ten years ago is that those gifts and desires have always been in me, but it was so clouded by my need to know the ten-year plan that it took me not knowing exactly what the plan was to discover that I was already doing and growing in my very purpose without knowing it.

I say all of that to say this year 12’s. Plan where you can, of course; reach for the experiences you desire with commitment, faithfulness and excellence.

Befriend the feeling of not being completely sure what that journey will look like. When you feel uncertain like I’m sure many of you do right now when things don’t go the way you expect them to when something changes all of a sudden, and you find yourself anxious or afraid.

Please remember these two things:

  1. You have a God that promises to never leave you or forsake you, and that means that it is okay not to have every part of the puzzle right now
  2. That who you are is so much more valuable than what you will ever do, and who you are can never be taken away from you

The person that you are was not just created to tick some boxes and impress some people whom you might never really know. If you would be willing to be okay with being uncertain, you will answer a greater question than what do I do: who am I becoming?

I would like to leave you with a well-known verse; in the context of what I have just said, I encourage you to Velcro this moment.

“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways, know and acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6