Friday 5th July 2019
Head Master's End of Term Address
Well done to everybody on getting to this point. It has been an immensely busy and productive term, both for pupils and staff, so I am delighted that we have all made it through to this resonant occasion.
We have the many triumphs of Gather ’19 fresh in our minds from these last few weeks and you have heard me say on several occasions how much importance I place on the power of original and lateral thinking in the modern world. As the world automates and the pace of life gets even quicker, I am convinced that the power-brokers will be those who can see things differently, either by thinking ahead or coming up with a response that nobody else has envisaged. Such skills will be inter-disciplinary, blending aesthetic, physical, digital and financial spheres.
I was therefore heartened that such sentiments were shared this week at another of Norwich’s great leaving occasions, the Norwich University of the Arts graduation ceremony. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the Vice-Chancellor who was speaking to this theme. He picked out the nuancing of language for originality in different areas: creativity in the arts meets innovation in business. We might add to this line of thought: in sport, the different thinker is often described as showing flair, while in technology the word genius is sometimes bandied around. The words are interchangeable, much as the skills themselves interweave. Whichever your preferred spheres of activity, I encourage you all over the summer to break new ground in your thinking and approach. It is the perfect time to relax and refresh your views of the world around you.
To promote this sense of creative optimism and give you space to think about how you might establish such new horizons, please listen to the U6 Barberolli Shop Quartet (Jeffrey Chung, Harry Fisher, Jonathan Jolly and Steven Denby) as they sing “Tonight” by Sondheim and Bernstein…
Thank you, boys. I love the joy and cheer of your rendition. You have just given us all a good example of how creative practice is often great fun, too.
The NUA Vice-Chancellor’s discussion of language intersects with other words which overlap but perhaps have a subtle distinction, particularly focusing on our leaving Upper 6th as they prepare to process out of the great West Doors behind you in front of the school, staff and their parents, symbolically leaving the world of school and taking up their places in the wider world as young adults.
One pair of words is thoughts and feelings. I hope we have taught our leavers to think; depending on whether you have been here for 2,5,7 or 11 years (or anything in between), you have sat, stood, run, written, counted, spoken, acted, painted and made your way through a fair few lessons by now (8 lessons a day, 5 days a week, 35 weeks a year; I cannot do the maths but I suspect someone in here can do so). Yet I also hope that we have taught you how to feel. Partly this is about a feeling for others, a shared human sympathy which will underpin your approach to situations outside Cathedral Close, wherever you are and whatever you do. Partly, feeling is learning what makes you feel joy or feel moved. Matt Haig has written a book called Reasons to Stay Alive; having recovered from life-threatening depression, he talks about coming to terms with the particular blend of characteristics which give him his personality and picks out his sensitivity to emotion as a strength:
“People place so much value on thought, but feeling is as essential. I want to read books that make me laugh and cry and fear and hope and punch the air in triumph…I don’t even mind if it punches me in the gut. Because we are here to feel. I want life. I want to read it and write it and feel it and live it”.
This resonated with me because I know that I feel so much pleasure from watching you pupils achieve things, irrespective of the activity. It is why many teachers teach. I certainly believe that the culmination of this service will not get its power from thought but from feeling.
The other pair of words I wish to bring before you today is knowledge and wisdom. As with thoughts, I hope our leavers feel that they have created a body of knowledge from their time at school, even if that might currently appear to be drifting off in a post-exam summer haze. The second word, wisdom, is scarier; I suspect that most of us appreciate it as an abstract concept and we might be able to attribute it to particular actions or people. Hindsight is normally involved because wisdom is usually confirmed by a final outcome. It is only rarely offered in the first person and a reasonable rule of thumb is that if someone tells you that they have been, are or will be wise, they probably have not been, are not and indeed are unlikely to be so.
Yet I exhort our leavers to aspire to wisdom. From the other end of the chronological telescope, it is about making good decisions and judgments. Such decisions will come in all shapes, sizes and time-frames. However, the core comes from strong, healthy values and that is something I hope that Norwich School has given you, whether as individuals, the group of friends I see in front of me, or citizens of the wider world you leave us to join. The list in today’s reading gives some idea of the values we hope you will embody: “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”.
I staunchly defend Norwich School as a force for good: we embody a consistent thread of education in and around Cathedral Close for nearly 1000 years; our independence allows us to focus on the overall best interests of young people, rather than being compelled to unhelpful action by ephemeral political decisions; we seek to support young people regardless of background, both here and with our partners in the wider community; and most importantly, each year we send out into the world a group of multi-talented, thoughtful, kind-hearted young people who carry our DNA with them, an intention to improve the world around them. If we have done our jobs well, our leavers are emotionally sensitive (they feel) and they are capable of great wisdom. We are immensely proud of you all and wish you well on your ongoing journeys.