The below End of Year Address was given to pupils by the Head:
The year we thought might never start and at sometimes might never end is finally drawing to a conclusion. Well done to everybody in the Norwich School community for getting to this point. I genuinely believe that it has taken everybody, parents, staff and pupils, to pull in the right and same direction for this to be possible, or at least for it to have gone as well as it seems to have done. The triple headed challenge to respond to changing Covid restrictions, to provide Teacher Assessed Grades and to combat misogyny in our community has meant that our journey this year has not been smooth by any means, the adaptations to today an unpleasant sting in the tail, particularly for members of our U6.
However, overall, I would say that progress has been made in key areas and, if anything, the community has an even stronger sense of what it is about and what we hold dear than before. At the excellent One Norwich School Day recently, Ugo Monye gave an extraordinary address that managed to cover at least 5 major end-of-term themes in about 15 minutes. One such theme was about the importance of values and establishing a positive culture. You will have your own views about lessons from this year but, for me, we have learned about: the importance to us of kindness and mutual respect; the unacceptability of prejudice in any form; the importance of maintaining a blend of academic and co-curricular activities, not least for wellbeing; the determination to keep going in the face of adversity; the power of a community physically gathering together. Not a bad list at all and one that I hope we will indeed talk more about and build on in the future.
To help you reflect on what has been important to you this year, we are going to take you back to an original composition by this year’s Head of School, Alice-Lily Nnene. In a song called Normal Paradise, which she wrote early in lockdown, Alice talks about things she is looking forward to getting back to after restrictions are lifted. As things are now opening up, I wonder how many you recognise and what your priorities will be in the weeks ahead.
Today, we have journeys in our minds, particularly as the U6, those with me in the Cathedral and those joining from home, come to the end of the school chapter of their journey. I was reminded in Gala Night on Wednesday when the L4 choir sang “When I grow up” from the musical Matilda that I had asked Chapel Choir to sing that as a musical interlude for this service early in my time at Norwich School. Both simple and profound, it has a powerful message about not losing the joy of childhood and not assuming that there is an end to our developmental journey in adulthood.
It is a message that was reinforced by ON Lasith Ranasinghe when he came to speak to the Lower School at their prizegiving two weeks ago. Some of you may remember him as a red gown in 2014. He is now a junior doctor in London as well as establishing charities and writing books. He told us that, as a member of the Lower School, he thought that adults knew all the answers but is aware, now he is one, that there are, of course, lots of things that he does not know and realises that learning and development never stop.
Something that the pandemic has certainly taught us is about unpredictability, how things don’t always turn out the way you think. For a moment, let us flip that to think about where people have come from; we heard about Ugo Monye’s story into professional sport and for reasons that I am sure you can understand, I am going to pick England’s best player so far in the Euros, Raheem Sterling.
Many of you will know Sterling’s difficult early start in life: his father was murdered in Jamaica when he was two; his mother moved to London and he was cared for by his grandmother until he could move to the UK to join his mother when he was 5. But it was his sister who took him as a youngster to daily training at Queen’s Park Rangers via three separate bus journeys. He has said,
“We’d leave at 3.15pm and return at 11pm. Every. Single. Day…Imagine being 17 years old and doing that for your little brother. And I never once heard her say, ‘No, I don’t want to take him’”. How completely different an experience for Sterling’s sister than members of our 6th Form! We can see now that this commitment from Sterling and his family was a formative part of the journey to international stardom. On those buses, they might have dreamed of being player of the tournament at the Euros (as Raheem surely will be), but they certainly could not have had guarantees of it in the fickle pipeline towards elite sport. We commit to ambitions with hope and determination, but not with certainty.
You, our leavers today, are on an exciting threshold. In our school context, you are the completed article but so much of your personal journey is not yet written; there is so much for you still to explore and find out. And who knows what you will cite among your formative experiences when you grow up?
Noting what Lasith told us about lifelong learning and development, I close with a different type of definition regarding adulthood. It comes from a book by psychotherapist, Julia Samuel, called This too Shall Pass. You can see why I was reading it in lockdown. She writes as follows:
“What is the definition of an adult if it isn’t judged by the legal age of eighteen or twenty-one? I would define an adult as someone, whatever their age, who knows themselves well, whose choices are informed, who is aware of and takes responsibility for their duties and obligations. An adult is accountable for…how they affect others as well as themselves, has higher impulse control than when they were young, and has discipline to follow through on commitments”.
That sounds like a values-based rather than age-based definition of adulthood. I hope all of you, our leavers, recognise some of these attributes in yourselves and your friends as you prepare to leave the Cathedral for the last time as Norwich School pupils.
Amid all the compromises you have had to make since March 2020, all the way to this service taking place in the less familiar part of the Cathedral, there is a perk. It puts you in a great place to hear the organ and you are fortunate to hear it in all its glory before works are done from the start of next calendar year. I suggest that if you are watching at home or in your tutor rooms, you turn the volume up because we are about to have an immersive sensory experience here in the Cathedral as Ashley Thorpe plays Widor’s Toccata in F Major.
Members of our Upper 6, you have dealt magnificently with all that has been thrown at you and we are proud of the young men and women that you have become with us. We wish you all the best for the future as you continue to grow.