Class acts

All too often, it is the shortcomings of the young that grab our attention - and with this come expressions of displeasure, denigration, despair - when there is so much about their achievements to celebrate.

Indeed, it sometimes seems it has become almost a cultural imperative to knock an entire younger generation on the basis of "difference" - whether it be haircuts, dress sense, apparent manners or musical taste - and in the process overlook accomplishments which, measured on any objective scale, seem yearly to encompass an ever-growing range of superlatives: wonderful, excellent, brilliant, extraordinary.

Such adjectives sit lightly and comfortably on the young shoulders of the scholars, leaders and achievers whose successes were marked by the Otago Daily Times on Thursday with it annual Class Act awards.

Now in its 11th year, the awards involve all 29 Otago secondary schools which, this year, nominated 56 pupils as representatives of their most outstanding performers over a range of disciplines - academic, sporting, social and cultural.

This newspaper is proud to have established a venture that consciously strives to help redress the balance in recognising and celebrating the endeavour and success of young people in this province today.

For while the awards celebrate a comparative few, they are indicative of the high goals reached by many: for every Class Act recipient, there will be many further candidates who came close.

We recognise their part, too, but also that achieving the status of "first among equals" requires a daunting degree of work and determination along with the competitive push to strive harder, to set the benchmarks higher, to persevere longer, and to go all out to win - values that today are more critical to this country's future than ever.

As Prime Minister John Key wrote in his introduction to this year's awards, "I'm always impressed by the young people I meet when I travel round New Zealand. They are ambitious, energetic and enthusiastic. They make me optimistic for our country's future."

When much of the news we are faced with today is negative, Class Act is a welcome respite and indeed a source of pride and pleasure. When the ODT looks back over the years the awards have been running, it finds the evidence to justify entirely Mr Key's optimism.

Last Saturday, an article in the ODT weekend magazine traced the fate of the 2003 recipients: it makes for compelling reading. They are now, among other things, doctors, lawyers, accountants, pharmacists, artists, designers, teachers, sports coaches, mentors, and musicians - making their way in the world.

{C}{C}One of the hallmarks of the awards is that they do recognise a diverse array of talents. Not all Class Act nominees will go on to be rocket scientists - or neurosurgeons, for that matter - but like most of their contemporaries they will mature to be fine citizens and solid achievers. Some will be leaders in whichever fields they have chosen to pursue. Others will be innovators.

But whatever paths they follow, they will continue to remind us that while every generation regards the world anew - and, quite fittingly, adopts its own posture towards it - the young are our future. With Class Act we salute them.

And another thing

The presentation of the neurosurgery petition on the steps of Parliament to MPs from south of the Waitaki by the editors of this newspaper and The Southland Times, accompanied by numerous local body representatives from throughout the region, was a resounding example of People Power.

The citizens of Otago and Southland, and especially the more than 44,000 signatories of the Keep Neurosurgery in the South petition, have spoken - and are to be congratulated for making their views so resolutely known.

This is democracy in action and it would be a brave government that ignored the breadth and depth of feeling engendered.

The campaign is not yet over, and will not be until the Government - or its proxies, the expert panel or the Director-general of Health - sets in place a model which retains safe neurosurgery capacity at Dunedin Hospital.

On Monday, the panel's chairwoman, Anne Kolbe, will discuss her group's approach at a Dunedin Town Hall public meeting, and listen to views from the floor.

The 5.30pm meeting is a further opportunity for the citizens of the South to present a show of force over an issue critical to the health and economic wellbeing of our community.


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