Late last century, a network of Melbourne boys’ schools were each asked to send a senior student, one of their finest, to an education conference. The organisers had dreamed up a heady topic, ‘Boys’ Education for the New Millenium’. Mark, a friend and mentor of many years, had phoned me and asked for some help in developing a youth panel session. He wanted authenticity. He wanted the true insights of these young blokes.

I’ve been to plenty of education conferences where the ‘voices of the students’ section is wooden and cringey. It wasn’t like that with this group. In fact they were of such calibre that the facilitation was easy. The memories of that project have come flooding back in the last 24 hours for a specific reason… but more on that in a moment.

Mark and I felt we needed to get the fellas talking to each other and we wanted to give them time to consider what they might say on the panel. So a couple of weeks before the event, we took them off to Matteo’s in Brunswick Street (and yes, being seventeen, eighteen year old boys, they smashed down three large courses each). I knew the pressure was on for this group of kids to come up with something outstanding when I saw the bulging eyes of the conference organiser fixing on the bill!

He need not have worried, the chats over that dinner were a privilege to be a part of…. We asked them: what fires your spirit; who inspires you; what is your passion and what have been the instructive moments in your life, both the euphoric and tough times. We wanted to hear their stories and the group of young men did not disappoint. Mark and I knew by the time our meal had concluded that it was money well spent.

I have always remembered this group of young men and yesterday I was reminded of one of them again. The impression he gave is still clear. He knew what his passion was and he was full of gratitude for the people who had supported him in pursuit of it…

“All my life, I have loved music,” observed the young man.

He was captain of his school. I remembered thinking at the time how great it was that his peers and teachers had picked him. Boys’ schools have worked really hard in the last couple of decades at expanding the previously narrow concept of what made you a good bloke, an acceptable male. How good is it that a musician, not the hero of the first XVIII, was school captain.

The young man continued to tell his story. I remember his eloquence on the panel and how he impacted on the audience of adults. Looking out, you could see how struck they were with the clarity of his dream and how it had been unhindered by his important people.

It is nearly fifteen years ago, so the memory of his exact words is not here. The sentiment is.

Here are those sentiments I remember…

My mum and dad have always taken my dream seriously.

I love what I feel when I make music.

It is what I want to do with my life and my parents have always just supported me in that dream. Never have they suggested another, safer path.

The young man made an impact on me and his story helped to confirm a hunch I have always had… that if people, particularly young people, know what they want then the momentum of their motivation becomes an unstoppable force. When the dream is pure and fuelled by loved ones who cheer for the young person, when there is no clash of ambition between the elders and the young dreamer, then anything can happen.

Why do I know this? Because that young man just won three Grammy awards. Back in 1998 he introduced himself to the group as Wally. His full name is Wouter (Walter) de Backer, known to the music world and his fans as Gotye.

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