“Without a doubt, these have been the happiest six and a half years of my life,” said Principal Greg Hassenkamp during an emotional farewell to the Hermanus High School matric class of 2020 last Friday morning. Most members of his audience would probably have echoed his sentiments.
As he leaves to take up the prestigious post of Headmaster at Pretoria Boys’ High School, the largest boys’ school in the country, he will leave very large shoes to fill in Hermanus. In tributes paid to him by Head Girl, Ronelle Coetzee and Head Boy, Kyle Philander at his farewell function, the characteristic which seems to have had the greatest impact on the learners is the personal interest he took in each one of them. He knew them by name and kept track of their progress at the school.
In addition, his wholehearted support for the school’s sporting achievements extended beyond the major sports and the top teams. He was as enthusiastic about attending matches featuring the under-15 netball team, as he was in watching the first rugby team demolish a fierce opponent.
A letter from past pupil Tasco Porter (who seems by consensus to have been the naughtiest learner in the history of the school) very movingly summed up the effect the principal had on his own journey. After having appeared in Hassenkamp’s office at least 90 times, by his own estimation, Tasco was forced onto a learning curve which took him in a completely new direction. The care and interest shown by the principal in his personal life had made him choose a fork in the road he would never regret. In his opinion, Mr Hassenkamp was the ultimate man!
Talking about his own journey during his time at Hermanus High School, Greg makes no bones about the fact that he has grown immeasurably, spiritually, professionally and personally and that, more than anyone else, he has the pupils to thank for that. As he explained at his farewell, there is a difference between wealth and riches and what he had accumulated during his time at the school was riches in abundance.
Having attended Pretoria Boys’ High as a learner from Grade 8 to Grade 12, then having taught there for 14 years, ending up as Deputy Head, his experience in Hermanus inevitably introduced him to an entirely different set of circumstances and a steep learning curve of his own.
“What I have loved most about this experience is the balance and diversity it represents. This is a co-ed school, with parallel English and Afrikaans streams and caters for children from all our local communities, both rich and poor. We’re creating the kind of society here that we would like to see throughout South Africa, where each child is prepared for and is offered an opportunity to succeed on his or her own terms. And that’s why we have placed equivalent emphasis on academic, sporting, cultural and community service. Diversity is what gives individual lives their balance.
“Yes, we’re very proud of the school’s academic success and my heart bleeds for this year’s matric class; they’ve worked hard throughout their five years at high school, only to have Covid-19 disrupt this culminating moment. We’ve been supporting them in every way we can, though, and who knows, they might end up doing better than any other year’s matric class. But in a way, that’s not the point. The real point is to instil in them values that will last a lifetime, no matter what the circumstances.”
Greg also places a strong emphasis on the fact that the success of a school depends on teamwork and he pays tribute to the excellence of this school’s teachers and the involvement and support of the Governing Body. “Hermanus High School has become a destination school,” he states. “It doesn’t need to take a back seat for any school in the country, no matter how old or how traditional, and it gives me an immense sense of satisfaction to see how the pride they feel in their school has grown.”
He and his wife, Amanda, also a teacher and Greg’s greatest pillar of support, are extremely grateful to have been able to give their children, Megan and Robert (both learners at Hermanus High) the opportunity to enjoy these important years of their childhood in a town like Hermanus, with its freedom and outdoor lifestyle. They believe it has given them a priceless foundation on which to build the rest of their lives.
So while Greg is excited about the new challenges facing him as Head of his old school of 1 500 pupils, he leaves Hermanus with great sadness. In some ways, he feels he is not done with his work here and he would certainly not have wished to leave in this time of pandemic. Although he is, of course, very familiar with Pretoria Boys’ High, its traditions and ethic, the lockdown has pointed the way to far greater focus on digital pathways to new educational opportunities, which he looks forward to exploring.
He is determined to remain in touch with the many friends he and Amanda have made in Hermanus, though, and will want to keep track of developments at the school and in the lives of his past pupils.
Although no permanent replacement has been found for him yet, the Deputy Head, Mr Francois Hooneberg will fulfil the role of Acting Principal until a new permanent appointment has been made, hopefully by 1 January 2021.
During his tenure at the school Greg also sought to improve its physical facilities and enhance its appearance. It was therefore fitting that at the farewell function for the matrics, which took place on the two new state-of-the-art netball courts for which he raised the money to build, they should be named after him in perpetuity.
As he and his family made their way through a matric guard of honour to the school’s main entrance on Friday, there was hardly a dry eye to be seen, a fitting tribute indeed to a principal who has left an indelible mark not only on the school he headed up but on the learners whose admiration he earned – and indeed the entire community of Hermanus who recognised and applauded the contribution he made to the town, its children and people.