Carpe Diem

Headmaster start of term chapel address

The long Summer holidays are an opportunity for us all to reflect on a year gone by, and to look forward at how we can attack the new academic year. The start of a new academic year should be a moment for optimism, and I do hope that you have all returned to school with a positive mind-set and a genuine desire to realise your full potential.

As I outlined in my beginning of term Assembly, what I am looking for from you all is your full engagement in the learning process. Our Guest of Honour at last terms Speech Day, Sir Stuart Rose, encouraged you all to seize the day. This, of course, was the mantra put forward by the English Teacher, John Keating, played by the late Robin Williams in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society. As I am sure you will all know, Robin Williams tragically committed suicide over the summer; after a long battle with addiction and depression, he was 63.

In the Dead Poets Society, Williams played an inspirational English teacher at a strict New England boys school. He took his pupils out of the classroom to focus on the idea of carpe diem, and encouraged them to think for themselves. At the start a new academic year, I want to set you the challenge to seize the day, to believe that anything and everything is possible.

I recently received a card which reads as follows, look famous, be legendary, appear complex, act easy, radiate presence, travel light, seem a dream, prove real. I don't know about you, but I've always found it very hard to travel light!

Even though its pretty corny, I like the quote because it speaks to all of us about being remarkable, doing things which might seem impossible today but which with confidence, resolve and hard work, can indeed be achievable tomorrow. None of us should settle for second best but, in order to prevent this from happening, we all need to act with purpose to make things happen and, in the Chaplains words, strive to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.

Of course, we are all fortunate enough to be part of this unique school community. This school has always enjoyed a deserved reputation for good manners, courtesy, behaviour and a high standard of dress. These values have only come about as a result of many years of effort and consolidation. Unlike other institutions, schools need a higher degree of vigilance to ensure that these values are safeguarded, because the turnover of pupils, and in some instances staff, is relatively short. It would not take long for a small incremental deterioration of, for example, dress codes in pupils and staff to become the norm. And, before you know it, the values and ensuing ethos which have been built up over many years can, within a short period of time, disappear. It takes a long time for a school to establish crediability and a very short time to lose it. In order to maintain this legacy, you, our pupil body, needs to realise and utilise all your talents. The high quality of our teaching staff will also enable your talent to be nurtured.

But beyond this talent and this quality, we need more. We need other ingredients to help us seize the day. We need honesty and a preparedness to face up to things as they are; to confront our weaknesses, mediocrity, lack of ambition and anything undermining of our purpose to succeed. This takes real moral courage – an elusive and rare quality.

I am looking for pupils with moral courage and integrity; for pupils with enthusiasm and commitment; for pupils with determination and strength of character and those who relish a challenge. I am, of course, looking for leaders. Leadership is about having the vision, nerve and perspective to see what really needs to be done and possessing the courage to serve the greatest good. True leaders are honest and genuine and able to adapt to the needs of the moment without seeking reward or recognition for their efforts; these are the qualities that we seek to nurture at the Royal Hospital School.

You all each have a great opportunity here to shape your own futures. You have excellent teachers and superb pastoral support. The School is here to help you achieve your goals and aspirations. It is here to help you take responsibility for your own lives. Work out what it is you want and we will work with you to help you achieve your objectives. But if you abuse the School or those in it, or the opportunities on offer, you will only be cheating yourself.

We all need to have an appetite to set ambitious goals for ourselves and the resolution to work hard to achieve them. Most of all, we need to act as a community in concert and in harmony, so that we can grow through sharing, helping those who falter, offering our own insights and learning from the skills of others. Honesty, moral courage, an appetite for hard work and a sharing our talents with others will take us there. This is a cause which is well worth fighting for if we are really genuine about seizing the day.
I want to end with one of my favourite readings and to which, by sheer coincidence, the Chaplain made reference in his sermon last night.

This is an extract from a speech made by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1910. He refers to man and men, but we should take this to refer to woman and women too. The speech is entitled, The Man in the Arena:

"It is not the critic who countsnot the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory, nor defeat."

Each individual here today counts. I ask nothing more from you than for you to have the courage to be not ordinary, but extraordinary, and to strive for the very best that you have ever achieved. We will succeed in this if we all work together.
So: be committed, be involved, be independent, be strong and most of all, be yourself.