Finishing secondary school is a significant milestone for any student, but for Jareer Jaber, who graduated last year from Year 12 at Mater Dei School for children with special needs in Camden, NSW, graduation day was made even more memorable when he was awarded the “coveted” Mater Dei Peace Prize.
“I felt happy and proud,” Jareer told The Good Oil.
Jareer also said he was surprised to receive the award, although, according to Mater Dei’s Chaplain, Good Samaritan Sister Jeanie Heininger, the rest of the school community weren’t surprised at all!
“There was a sense that everyone knew Jareer would get it,” she said.
When it was announced that Jareer was the Peace Prize recipient for 2015, Jeanie said everyone “cheered and clapped endlessly because they knew that he was so deserving” of it.
First awarded in 1991, the Peace Prize is one of the two most important prizes awarded to students each year at Mater Dei. The other prize, the St Benedict Hospitality Award, is presented in July on the Feast of St Benedict. (Jareer, who is also Muslim, received the St Benedict award in 2012.)
“The Peace Prize is a very coveted award at Mater Dei. It encapsulates one of the important Benedictine virtues – peace,” said Assistant Principal Samantha Giles.
“The Peace Prize acknowledges someone who is always warm and welcoming in matters of hospitality and who is genuine and proactive in their stewardship. The recipient is someone who is integral to our community by their respectful participation and Christian leadership in both prayer and service.
“More importantly, the Peace Prize reflects the humility and gentleness of the recipient and to whom all look towards as a mature, compassionate and caring individual and role model.”
According to Samantha, deciding on who would be the 2015 Peace Prize winner wasn’t an easy task because “we were blessed to have such a wonderful group of young people in our school who contribute so much to the life and community of Mater Dei”. Ultimately, however, Jareer was chosen.
“Jareer is a kind, gentle and caring person who always puts the needs of others before himself. He is often conscious of the needs of other students and always has a particular care for younger students or students who are upset,” said Samantha.
“As School Captain in 2015, Jareer was always a wonderful ambassador for Mater Dei, always polite, always friendly and always had a smile.”
Jareer’s parents, Manar and Atef are very proud of their son. The end of year Mass and graduation ceremony on December 11 last year was a joyous occasion for them all.
“The thing that I felt that day, I felt proud; I felt happy, excited, overwhelmed,” Jareer’s mother, Manar, told The Good Oil.
As Atef looks back on Jareer’s 13 years at Mater Dei, he is keen to express his family’s gratitude for all they have received.
“We are proud of Jareer and thankful for Mater Dei – from the principal, to the parents to all the staff. They were wonderful. Sister Jeanie, I want to mention her; she is an amazing person,” he said.
Manar agrees: “They are amazing teachers, staff, everyone… Our kids need someone to understand them and to give them support and to push them to do the right thing and be the best they can. We’ve been blessed, to be honest, that we found Mater Dei for our Jareer”.
According to Jareer, whose opinion matters most, “it’s the best school… They are kind to me and to everyone”.
Given their very positive experience at Mater Dei, it’s not surprising the Jaber family has found it hard to leave. Jareer is currently participating in a job training program and hopes to get a job in an office, but he misses Mater Dei “a lot”.
“I miss my friends and teachers,” he said.
“It was hard for Jareer and for us, to be honest,” said Manar. “They’ve been like a family to us.”