Friday 6th July 2018
Head Master's End of Year Address
Well, we have finally made it: the last assembly on the last day of the school year. I wonder what you will remember it for; will it be the big stuff, the most recent stuff, or the little things or the funny bits? Perhaps the Carol Service back in Michaelmas, something you saw or were in during Gather 18, an experience while playing on the beach during House Day yesterday or something funny your friends have done.
I am always fascinated by what the Leavers Book throws up in terms of the departing U6’s abiding memories of their time in Cathedral Close. Occasionally, it is the big ticket items, but it is just as likely to be an entertaining teacher moment, an experience shared on a trip or a silly line from a friend. The end-of-term service is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the year just gone, but our leavers have an extra dimension because this service closes a chapter in their lives. They are therefore able to say with more certainty than the rest of us, which were the defining moments of their time at school.
More of this later. I want now to tell you a story about someone else’s defining memory.
“I remember the exact moment I knew we were broke. I can still picture my mum at the refrigerator and the look on her face. I was six years old, and I came home for lunch during our break at school. My mum had the same thing on the menu every single day: Bread and milk. When you’re a kid, you don’t even think about it. But I guess that’s what we could afford. Then this one day I came home, and I walked into the kitchen, and I saw my mum at the refrigerator with the box of milk, like normal. But this time she was mixing something in with it. She was shaking it all up… Then she brought my lunch over to me, and she was smiling like everything was cool. But I realized right away what was going on. She was mixing water in with the milk. We didn’t have enough money to make it last the whole week. We were broke. Not just poor, but broke… Then I’d come home at night and the lights would be shut off. No electricity for two, three weeks at a time.
[That day] I didn’t say a word. I didn’t want her to stress. I just ate my lunch. But I made a promise to myself that day. It was like somebody snapped their fingers and woke me up. I knew exactly what I had to do, and what I was going to do. I couldn’t see my mother living like that.
People…love to talk about mental strength. Well, I’m the strongest [guy] you’re ever going to meet. Because I remember sitting in the dark with my brother and my mom, saying our prayers, and thinking, believing, knowing … it’s going to happen.
I kept my promise to myself for a while. But then some days I’d come home from school and find my mum crying. So I finally told her one day, “Mum, it’s gonna change. You’ll see. We’ll be good. You won’t have to worry anymore.”
The 6 year-old in question was Romelu Lukaku, the centre-forward of Manchester United and Belgium who leads his country’s attack against Brazil tonight. It seemed appropriate to draw on a World Cup story in the year football’s coming home (don’t worry, I’m not going to break into a chant).
Lukaku goes on to say how that memory shaped his desire as a footballer: “Let me tell you something — every game I ever played was a Final. When I played in the park, it was a Final. When I played during break in kindergarten, it was a Final. When I was 12, I scored 76 goals in 34 games. I scored them all wearing my dad’s shoes. Once our feet got to be the same size, we used to share”. He turned professional and played his first game for Anderlecht in a Belgian League Cup Final aged 16.
Seldom do we have lightbulb moments which provide motivation and change our behaviour as clearly as this. More commonly, it is only with hindsight that we realise how significant particular moments have been. And when we do, it is normally a moment, a lesson, an image, sound or face. Even on a day as significant as this for our leavers, there will be an internal highlights reel: the breakfast, getting leaving books signed, singing Jerusalem, walking out of the West Doors.
While each of us thinks what such moments might be, please listen to Adam Possener playing Prelude no. 1 in G (JS Bach)…
The Lukaku story talks of hardship as the driver for change. Some of you have experienced hardships of your own and will have developed your own resilience. Many more of the people in this building are relatively fortunate in our situations and have no comparable driver. That is not to say, of course, that reaction to hardship is the only way to success. However, it does invite us to think about what our major life-goals are and what motivates us to achieve them. These are big questions and schools cannot give firm answers. Our job is to give you platforms to try different experiences, to offer academic training and establish the value-system encapsulated in today’s bible reading to help you navigate the various challenges you will face. If we have got things right, what you have learned at Norwich School will itself be a motivation to make the most of yourselves and make a positive contribution to society.
Yet we only see it from one side of the fence; we now send our leavers on their way. Your task now is to take what we have given to you and use it to help yourself and those around you; my hope is that there will be occasions when you can draw on experiences and values from your time in Cathedral Close to inform your decision-making. An obvious example is Gerard Stamp; who is now one of the finest architectural painters in the country. He puts his love of and expertise in religious buildings down to being in and around this magnificent cathedral in his time at the school.
As I look out across the leaving U6 in front of me, I know there is a wonderful array of interests and ambitions. I also know that there is a cohort of good friends. You leave with our very best wishes and I hope that, as you change your relationship with the school and become Old Norvicensians, you will return from time-to-time to let us know which were the defining memories.
Click here to see more photographs.