Friday 14th December 2018
Head Master's End of Term Address
At the end of a long Michaelmas Term, it can all be something of an effort. The days are short, the weather is cold and/or wet, pupils and teachers are certainly tired, so we just want the term to end. But then what lies ahead might appear as the same old Christmas carols and endless runs of the same supermarket adverts on television. It might lead to an attitude perhaps best captured by a phrase from the poet Luke Wright as one’s “hackneyed heart”.
Throw in personal hardship such as illness, loneliness or bereavement and you can see why the Christmas period can be so difficult; there is a sense that you should be jolly, so it is even worse when you are not. Do reach out if you think this might be you or you are worried about someone to whom it might apply.
With their cyclical calendars and clear structures, schools can sometimes be seen as repetitive and restrictive. Yet there is another way of looking at them, particularly this season; that is to attempt to retain our sense of wonder and curiosity in the world around us, to be excited by what we see and to take joy in what we find. You will recall that it is the thrust of what Bishop Graham advised us when he spoke here earlier in the term.
Personally, I have always found schools to invite an optimistic outlook: they should be because they are places of learning, of course, but for me it is more because they are filled with you: young people who bring with you hope, humour and hunger. My mood can be changed, my sense of purpose renewed by watching you try new things, polish skills, display masterful technique, surprise yourself with your achievement. I am fortunate because I get to see more events than most in my role as number 1 school cheerleader (not literally, mercifully for all, though I note that some brave colleagues, including our co-curricular Deputy Head, Dr Clark, are doing just that at the Staff Variety Show this evening. I am glad to hear the Head of Welfare will be on hand to assist; I fear she might be needed for both performers and audience).
I digress. To take a relatively random selection of events from this term which have brought me cheer:
- The very sweet first Reception class nativity in the Chapel, though it has to be said that the handling of the baby Jesus did not bear close scrutiny: tightly wrapped in swaddling clothes he was not, especially when he was more dropped than laid in the manger after being held by his head.
- Hearing the junior rugby captains giving accomplished speeches at their end-of-term dinner this week.
- Witnessing the impact Paralympian Claire Harvey had on our community when she came to present our prizes.
- Seeing our community service 6th formers looking after pupils from their partner school and performing sign language to accompany their nativity story at the Special Schools Service, always my favourite of the whole season.
- Hearing your laughter when Budge the Cathedral cat came to say hello.
- Watching the 1st XV’s magnificent 2nd half fightback from 28-7 down to lead their National 4th round cup match against excellent opposition.
- Seeing the commitment and energy of the whole cast, band and crew of Chicago on the Saturday night and admiring their journey of development through the run.
- Receiving the message from Mr Cowan that the U14A girls hockey team had won their national play-off on sudden death penalty flicks.
- Experiencing the warmth of your applause when you heard Sam Todd’s drumming in the Bernard Burrell competition.
- Seeing the number of impressive moves and happy faces, male and female, in the Junior Dance Show this week.
- To finish, four moments from the Centenary of the Armistice:
- Seeing the mix of poetry and photography in the very powerful All Fades to Silence exhibition, complemented by the candlelit names of ON fallen;
- Listening to the moving account of the 8th Norwich scouts who had visited the graves of those ONs during the epic cycle trip to France;
- The innovation of the Any Sacred Thing, the intermediate radio play formed around the letters of Harry Chapin (ON);
- Seeing pupils sitting around the There but not There silhouettes in Cathedral.
This is just a sample and there were so many more; it is truly a privilege to watch you all in action. I hope you agree that we all experienced something new and refreshing when we heard our extract from the start of John, one of the most famous passages in the Bible, read so beautifully in the lilting language of Mandarin. I should now like to offer another such moment. You heard from one of our U6, Juliette Kelly, this morning with the Senior Concert Band. This afternoon, Jules is going to sing one of her own compositions. I hope you enjoy it.
Thanks, Jules; a lovely way to ease us all towards the holiday!
The Nativity story reminds us of the wonder of birth, the joy released by the arrival of babies and the inherently positive nature of their potential. For Christians, it is particularly powerful because of who Jesus is and what he represents. Whatever your faith, I suggest that part of the trick at this time of year is to seek to keep this sense of purpose, curiosity and joy. Look outwards rather than inwards, revel in the wonder of life and try to make the most of it.
I have just started reading Michelle Obama’s book Becoming (and I can certainly recommend it if you are looking for suggestions on your Christmas list; she is a remarkable woman). One section struck me, especially as it refers to university applications and I know that will very much be a current topic for our Upper Sixth. In her application to Princeton from a working-class background in Chicago, she wrote,
”In my college essay... rather than pretending that I was madly intellectual and thought I’d fit right in inside the ivy-strewn walls of Princeton, I wrote about my father’s MS and my family’s lack of experience with higher education. I owned the fact that I was reaching. Given my background, reaching was really all I could do”.
Michelle Obama’s is a powerful story about overcoming obstacles through purpose and a positive outlook: “I owned the fact that I was reaching”. We can all do that; it requires us to engage with the world, be curious about it and resolve to find out more.
I hope you and your families have a wonderful holiday.