Kiwi principal sends teen message viral... 53 years on

By Amelia Wade

John Tapene has had emails from around the world. Photo / APN
John Tapene has had emails from around the world. Photo / APN

More than two years ago, the principal of Northland College shared someone else's words of wisdom for teenagers in his newsletter.

About five months ago, John Tapene started getting emails from people in America, Canada and England thanking him for the passage. He'd gone viral.

"I like to put things in the newsletter for people to think on, to read. I know I get quite a big coverage in the Kaikohe region and people often stop me and comment on things I put in.

"So that's how that piece got in - I read it, thought it was interesting and put it out."

After he put the words in the school newsletter in April 2010, the internet took it from there.

People debated where the advice came from - Mr Tapene believes it was a Youth Court judge in Brisbane, but some savvy searchers found the full passage online.

According to a 2010 post on the Pierce County Tribune website, the words come from a letter by Judge Phillip B. Gilliam of Denver, Colorado, published on December 17, 1959, which explains why the advice sounds somewhat dated.

People emailed and linked the advice, and at the start of the month a Canadian pop music radio station posted the passage on its Facebook wall with the comment: "This is awesome, pure and simple. Every teenager should have this framed and hung on the wall in their room."

Almost 15,000 people shared the link on their own Facebook profiles, attracting the attention of American news website the Huffington Post and fuelling the internet sensation.

Social media commentator Simon Young said content often went viral when it was discovered by someone likely to reach a lot of people.

"That someone could often be a journalist or just someone with a large following. And there doesn't seem to be any way of predicting when these things will happen. All we can conclude is that instant virality doesn't mean failure, and what we post online lives for a very long time," he said.

Mr Tapene said he had received emails from around the world. Some he answered and some he moved straight to the trash.

"I responded to one young lady in America who says she does a lot of work with challenged youth and she felt I was being one-eyed in my perspective.

"And I said it wasn't mine, I chose to put it in the newsletter, that I didn't say I agreed with everything in the piece. However, it's there to challenge people's thinking, to spur discussion."

WORDS FOR TEENAGERS

Always we hear the cry from teenagers, 'What can we do, where can we go?'

My answer is this: Go home, mow the lawn, wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, get a job, visit the sick, study your lessons, and after you've finished, read a book.

Your town does not owe you recreational facilities and your parents do not owe you fun.

The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something.

You owe it your time, energy and talent so that no one will be at war, in poverty or sick and lonely again.

In other words, grow up, stop being a cry baby, get out of your dream world and develop a backbone, not a wishbone.

Start behaving like a responsible person.

You are important and you are needed.

It's too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday.

Someday is now and that somebody is you.

- NZ Herald

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