Liz Washington (OGA President), Hannah Ostini (Senior School prize winner), Dominque Layt (Chair, Somerville House Foundation) and Joanne Gardiner (Head of English)
The winners of the Honour Before Honours Essay competiton are........................Hannah Ostini and Naomi Ura! Congratulations Hannah (Senior School prize winner) and Naomi (Middle School prize winner)!
What does Honour Before Honours mean to you? This year the Old Girls Association were proud to be associated with the inaugural ‘Honour Before Honours’ Essay Prize competition which challenged Middle and Senior School students to articulate the personal meaning of our School motto. Special thanks goes to Nyree Hatzimihail (School Careers Counsellor) who championed this special One Somerville collaboration between Somerville House, Somerville House Foundation and Somerville House OGA. Competing for a $250 prize (donated by the Foundation https://www.somerville.qld.edu.au/foundation) the entrants submitted engaging and compelling essays reflecting ideals that personal integrity and high standards of behaviour and achievement are more worthwhile than applause or accolades from others.
The quality of submissions was exceptional, with every entry providing a fascinating insight into these young women's interpretation of 'honour'; sentiments that would uniquely resonate with all Old Girls. The OGA valued the opportunity to be involved in such a heartwarming intiative" Liz Washington (President OGA) says. The judging panel (pictured above) consisting of Liz Washington (President OGA), Dominque Layt (Chair, Somerville House Foundation) and Joanne Gardiner (Head of English) had their work cut out for them choosing only two winners and we offer our sincerest congratulations to both Hannah (Year 12) and Naomi (Year 8) on winning the 2019 Essay Prizes. We would also like to congratulate Hannah on her acceptance into the Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, Wellington to study creative writing. Hannah is also Valedictorian 2019. We give thanks to Nyree Hatzimihail (School Guidance Officer) who came up with the idea and engineered the opportunity for the students.
We have included both winning essays below for you to read.
Honour and the 21st Century: What Does Honour Before Honours Mean to Me?
Hannah Ostini (12C)
Honour is a funny word; one that, due to its porosity and complex etymological roots, can be taken to mean almost anything, from referring to dignity and reputation to respect or even the Kantian principle of doing the right thing, no matter the consequences. Like a grammatical salamander, it slips from verb to noun form, changing subtly in meaning each time. Because of this, it’s important that any user of the word is certain of their interpretation, lest it become an impotent catch-phrase; thus how each of us interprets the idea of Honour Before Honours is personal and powerful. To me, honour is three things: unlike honours, it is a quiet thing. It is a value rather than a product; it exists on its own as an answer rather than a question. Finally, it is generous; honour gives more than it takes. To place honour above honours is to fulfil the words of Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
In a society that values competition—especially the winning of competitions—honour is a quiet thing amid the loudness of victory. Whether for accolade in sports, music, academics or standards like beauty, weight or a myriad other markers of ‘success’, competition drives our personal and professional lives. The by-product of success is accolade and our desire for this accolade is what fuels our desire to compete, to ‘win’ in whatever races we choose to run. Thus, by virtue of its nature, accolade is loud, for without recognition and, hopefully, admiration, competition and accolade lose their allure. In comparison, the products of honour are often quiet; a promise, for example, is only of note if it isn’t honoured. Rejecting a job or award on principle will rarely lead to congratulations, and the decision to make an honourable choice is most often made in the quiet place that exists between oneself and one’s sense of a greater moral framework (whether secular or as part of a personal conception of religion). In this way, my understanding of honour is closely related to humility, defined as the antonym of “arrogance, boastfulness and vanity.” John Steinbeck, in his ‘Travels With Charley: In Search of America’ notes that “we value virtue but do not discuss it”, neatly summarising both the challenge and beauty of honour. Although we move faster toward a hyper-competitive future, our society continues to place worth on honour, yet often fails to acknowledge it. Honour is most notable when lacking, and as a result, to live a life where honour takes precedence over honours means accepting and revelling in the quiet voice at the end of the day that whispers I have done good, whether recognised or not.
Honour cannot be bought or sold; it is a philosophical underpinning that answers questions. If we were to strive only for what the world tells us is valuable—income, accolade and cold practicality—certain actions might seem pointless, as with the example of denying an accolade on principle. Yet William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar tells us that he loves honour more than he fears death. Whether it brings accolade or persecution, friends or enemies, honour is fundamentally related to the concept of Goodness and is one of the forces that makes humans something more than upright chimpanzees. While it is important to question what honour is and what it looks like in our lives, it is a concept impossible to extract from a contemporary Western conception of morality. Honours are not a value, they are something to be received; they are a product, whether tactile or related more to recognition. To borrow from modern psychology’s Acceptance and Commitment Therapy framework, aiming to live a life driven by values means identifying the ways of being that are personally significant and thus “[engage] in behaviors [sic.] or [feel] difficult emotions in order to achieve a meaningful, fulfilled life.” To live a life of meaning and goodness requires the identification and pursuit of values and a value-driven life. While it is possible to place precedence on the attainment of recognition, it is impossible to live according to a ‘Code of Honours’.
Ultimately, though, the distinguishing characteristic of honour is its generosity. Where honours take, honour gives. Former United States President Abraham Lincoln claimed “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.” To be honourable is to give; give when receiving nothing in return, give to fulfil the need in the world, give to express love, give what one can, for we are each afforded light and truth and it is our duty and privilege to share these with the world in whatever way we can. The motto of my primary school, Marburg State School, was “Service Before Self”, which bears a striking similarity to “Honour Before Honours”, emphasising the importance of giving back before receiving anything. But an honourable life is not one of gratuitous, performative martyrdom, nor of neglecting oneself in relentless altruism. The generosity of honour means recognising one’s own limitations and capacities, for by knowing and caring for ourselves, we can better relate and give to others—and fulfil Christ’s command to live life to its fullest extent. Nobody is completely honourable. Nobody can be completely honourable. But in prioritising this concept, we become custodians of a kind; a community whose generous love might remedy an often frightening world.
Honour is personal; quiet, fundamental and generous. It is an old-fashioned word—but it is not an old-fashioned concept. As we move into a new, ever-changing chapter of human history, it is living out vibrant ideas like honour, and placing them before the pursuit of more superficial honours that will steer us toward a future we can be proud of.
Submission from Naomi Ura (8D)
‘Honour before Honours’ is not a phrase that I take lightly, and it contains deep meaning for me. I have found this motto holds significance not only in our Christian school, but also in my own religion as a Buddhist. Indeed, the phrase embodies many qualities that these two religions have in common, such as honesty, selflessness and compassion, which have shaped me in positive ways.
Firstly, Somerville’s motto encourages honourable traits such as honesty, which are both present in Christianity and Buddhism and have formed me into a better person. Proverbs 12:22 states, ‘The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.’ This proverb’s emphasis on ‘honesty’ reminds me of a similar phrase from the Buddha: ‘To be honourable in thoughts, sincere in words, good in deeds, is to have the heart of a Buddha.’ Furthermore, as my religion teaches me more about truthfulness, my moral discipline develops. For example, on one occasion I was unable to complete my homework in time and the following day during class, I managed to escape unnoticed. However, I realised I didn’t want to lie to my teacher, and confessed. This is something I would not have normally done if I hadn’t previously encountered Buddhism. Therefore, ‘Honour before Honours’ is significant to me because it relates to traits discussed in Christianity and Buddhism, which have ultimately prompted me to improve my character.
Additionally, the phrase’s concept of ‘honour’ ties in with selflessness, a characteristic explored in both Christianity and my religion. This important quality has influenced me in many ways. Philippians 2:4 says, ‘[You should not be] looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ Similarly, a famous Buddhist master named Lama Atisha states, ‘The greatest achievement is selflessness.’ These different views and teachings on selflessness inspired me to undertake the Push-Up Challenge in August, where I completed 3128 push-ups to raise awareness for mental health. Throughout the event, I underwent physical pain with the motivation of taking on the suffering of sentient beings. This is what I would consider a small step towards altruism, which is a significant component of honour. Therefore, this motto is significant to me as not only does it link to the Christian ethos of the school, but also to the Buddhist teachings that have inspired me to embark on the path of selflessness.
Finally, the motto’s idea of ‘honour’ encompasses the quality of kindness, which is another core part of both religions and has transformed me for good. Ephesians 4:32 instructs: ‘Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.’ Likewise, the Buddha says, ‘Kindness should become the natural way of life, not the exception.’ Such inspirational messages inspired me to become a veterinarian when I am older, so that I can continue spreading kindness to the animals around me. Hence, this motto remains close to my heart as its encouragement of components of honour, which connect to my own religion as well as Christianity, have changed me for the better.
In summary, ‘Honour before Honours’ embraces characteristics such as honesty, selflessness and kindness, which are present in Christianity and Buddhism. Furthermore, my religion’s emphasis on these qualities have improved my character. I am now somebody who tries their best to speak truthfully, do good for others without thinking of oneself, and help others out whenever needed. As a final statement, I recognise the irony of writing an essay about ‘honour before honours’ in the hope of receiving an award. I am aware that if I were to win, I must find a way to use it in a way that would ultimately benefit others through such qualities. Because for me, ‘Honour before Honours’ is much more than a phrase: it embodies the code that I live by.