Leadership Diversity Days 2021

The Two Religious Diversity Leadership Days for year 12 students in Auckland were held on Wednesday 19th and Thursday 27th May 2021. The common purpose of each day is to create an opportunity for the next year’s school leaders to meet together, to listen to students of diverse faiths and backgrounds and to discuss and formulate ideas about what being a New Zealand leader means. 

It was wonderful to be there. The first one was hosted with 75 students and their accompanying teachers together in the hallowed space of the wonderful AUT Wharenui.   We were warmly welcomed on to the Marae and at the conclusion of the Powhiri were given a sensitive and detailed introduction to Maori Spirituality and to deeply held New Zealand values.  This set a wonderful tone to the day.

Short speeches were given by Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist students followed by lively small group discussions. The reporting back to the wider group showed open mindedness and mature thinking that was impressive.

The written feedback from each student typically included responses of warm appreciation for the day.  Here is a brief sample:

Q: What was most valuable for you in the day?
A: to see all the similarities I have with people who on the surface seem so different.

Q: Have some of your ideas changed? About what in particular?
A: some of my ideas changed on some religious beliefs. The day gave me more information and a better understanding.

Q: Do  you think you will be a better leader in year 13 now ? What has made the difference?
A: Yes, Learning about different viewpoints has allowed me to connect with other religions I would not have before and in turn connect with other people.


On Thursday of the following week we were hosted by MIT in their Wharenui with another similar sized group following the same format but with a different group of students representing the various faith communities. Again they spoke with maturity and insight and communicating with remarkable warmth and clarity.

The students’ feedback responses were universal in praise, these examples from three different students again are typical.

Q: What was most valuable for you in the day?
A: For me the most valuable thing from today was learning about different cultures and their values while meeting and making some amazing new friends.

Q: Have some of your ideas changes? About what in particular​?
A: I used to think that different religions have completely different values but they all believe in love and respect.

Q: Do you think you will be a better leader in year 13 now ? What has made the difference? 
A: Yes, because I now know and understand people a lot better and have become more confident


The students’ interactions and discussions were simply wonderful to be around. Feedback from teachers indicates they recognised the growth in their students during the day, and see the value in returning next year.

I came away with my thinking reinforced that NZ school students are amazing people in many ways. The intelligence, respect and warmth they all showed surely means we have every confidence in their leadership abilities and initiatives next year, and the near future. It is clear that this day of sharing and learning will have far reaching beneficial effects in schools and the wider community.  I hope we can continue to offer this opportunity and find a way to offer it to more students of more schools. 

On behalf of the organisers thank you to all staff and students who participated and made this event the success it was.

Having been at both of these days and reading the feedback forms I’m reminded of verse 2 of our national anthem which was written in the 1870s. It no longer feels to be just an old fashioned ideal. I think we have every reason to believe it could be our reality.

Those of every creed and race
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking thee to bless this place,
God defend our free land.
From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our state,
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.

John Aston, 4th June 2021