There are various reasons that we agree to do things for our friends. They include affection, repaying a debt, or out of simple foolhardiness. It was all three that took me to Leominster Priory this morning to deliver the following address as Guest of Honour at the Speech Day of Lucton School:
Madam Chairman, Headmistress, Father Chaplain, Governors, Parents, Pupils, Members of the Common Room, Distinguished Guests.
It is a considerable honour to be with you at Lucton’s Speech Day in this fine Priory Church.
Now you’re probably wondering why on earth I’m here.
And to be truthful, so am I!
But when one’s best friend from School calls in a favour, how can one possibly say no.
And so it was that your distinguished chaplain, Mr Carrigan asked if I would join you on this special day.
Having accepted the invitation, I naturally sought his advice on what I should or should not say.
Much to my disappointment, I was specifically prohibited from telling you any humorous stories about our school days.
if you want any of that gossip, it can be bought for a glass or two of champagne at lunch!
But in all seriousness, let me say that being asked to address a School at its prizegiving is no easy task.
Finding a theme that appeals to such a wide audience of pupils, parents, staff, governors and other guests is quite a challenge.
So, in the vain hope of finding some useful content, I began to search through the internet for inspiration.
First I turned to the ever reliable Google – and found it seriously lacking, rather like its tax affairs.
Next, I searched the online archives of some of our nation’s greatest schools, and came up with nothing of interest.
So finally, I turned to Facebook and appealed to my friends for their assistance. And this what came back:
Of the thirty one posts in response, many thought that I should ape Mr Gussie Fink-Nottle, a character in the Jeeves & Wooster stories of P G Wodehouse, who, when called upon to give a speech such as this at the fictional Market Snodsbury Grammar School, does so inebriated.
Amusing though that may have been for you, I thought better of the suggestion.
One friend suggested I should quote at length from the life story of the snaggle-toothed crone in the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy stories, who tells of how by not following her example you won’t end up a snaggle-toothed crone; but I feared that may not have universal appeal.
Similarly, the thought that I should address you in Latin or Ancient Greek seemed potentially inappropriate these days, especially given my own lack of skills in the Classics.
A more populist suggestion was that I should declare a half day holiday and ice cream for all.
But I’m sorry to tell you that Mrs Thorne ruled that one out.
One rather frank colleague felt that I should tell you that “some of you are destined to be brain surgeons and some of you are destined to clean toilets, and the sooner you accept this, the happier you will all be.”
But then I don’t believe in predestination, well not unless you are the Prince of Wales or Prince William.
Probably more practical was the idea that I should plagiarise Mary Schmich’s very amusing column in the Chicago Tribune “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young”, published on June 1, 1997, which she described as the prizegiving speech she would give if she were asked to give one.
Her key message was to encourage students to wear sunscreen.
She said that “the long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.”
For those present that haven’t read the article or heard the Baz Luhrmann single which adapts the column as lyrics, I strongly commend it to you for its humour as well as its sage advice.
Finally in my Facebook quest, one correspondent thought that I should include the line “I happen to know that your School Chaplain ranks amongst the finest of men and you can’t begin to realise how lucky you are to have him serving here. I suggest you flood him with very expensive gifts at the end of term.”
I’ll let you guess whose suggestion that was!
But, Madam Chairman, enough of that banter.
My real purpose in being here today is to say well done.
Well done to all of you who won prizes, but also well done to everyone for making it through another year at Lucton and achieving all that you did.
I know that on days like today the focus is naturally on those who are perceived as winners, be that because they did well in their examinations, or on the sports field, or in their extra-curricular endeavours.
But from my personal experience, both as a pupil and as a governor I know that congratulations are due to every pupil regardless of whether they are the best at this or that.
And the reason for that is simple. Without all of you, there would be no Lucton. It is my belief that unless you want to create a very unhealthy environment:
- You can’t have a School that is purely composed of the academically gifted.
- You can’t have a rugger team made up solely of props, a soccer team made up solely of strikers, a netball team made up solely of shooters, or a cricket team made up of solely of top batsmen.
- You can’t have a theatrical cast of only leading characters, or a choir entirely of soloists.
In our schools and in society more generally we need people with a range of attributes and talents.
We need teams of people, working together, side-by-side, to achieve our collective and individual goals.
Let me give you an example:
Last year, I had the privilege of representing the City of London Corporation working closely alongside the organisers of London’s hugely successful Olympic and Paralympic Games and I can tell you that worked because it was a magnificent team effort.
Of course, it worked thanks to the exceptional leadership of Lord Coe and his Board and their vision.
But more importantly it worked because that vision was implemented through the contribution made by a myriad staff and the tireless efforts of the many thousands of volunteers working around the clock pointing the millions of spectators in the right direction.
And Great Britain’s success across a range of sports happened because of the enormous talent and dedication of the athletes involved.
But their achievements were only possible through the astounding efforts of the coaches, physios and office staff who backed them all the way to the medal podium.
The message for me in all of that is that success is not necessarily in the winning – though doubtless that is hugely positive.
No, success is in doing your best and making your own unique contribution.
And we also need to recognise that people develop themselves at different rates and in different ways.
And it is clear Madam Chairman, that here at Lucton that is precisely the ethos that runs throughout your wonderful School.
As we have already heard from the Headmistress, in the inspection of your School earlier this year, it was identified that pupil achievement was good, that they showed positive attitudes to their work and activities, developed good skills, and demonstrated almost always excellent behaviour.
As impressive as their achievement, was the inspectors’ finding that pupils’ personal development is excellent, spiritual development is very strong, and moral awareness highly developed.
Madam Chairman, I don’t think you can ask for better than that!
Luctonians, you can be proud of your School and of your individual achievements, whether you are leaving this Church today carrying a prize or not.
You have all done well and, I have little doubt, will achieve much over the years that lie ahead.
I congratulate you all and wish you and your School the very best of luck.