Heads of School

First address from new Heads of School

Good morning, my name is TJ and this is Sean, and we have the honour of serving this year as your Heads of School. The start of term has brought with it many changes and hundreds of new faces and names to learn; the first of many challenges that we will all face throughout the year. New pupils will probably still be preoccupied with the challenges of establishing firm friendships and learning all the ins and outs of the School while, for others, huge academic or sporting challenges may be on the horizon. Daunting though these things may seem, they are essential to the whole experience of school, because where would be the value of staying permanently in our comfort zones?

For TJ and I, writing this very speech has been the first hurdle of a very exciting year, and having put it off relentlessly for the entire 10 week holiday, the task loomed over us at the start of this week. What can we say to all of you to interest and inspire? Should we try to say similar things to previous Heads of School, and risk falling into the endless pile of clich? In the end, we decided that the whole experience of trying to tackle the challenge had itself given us a theme.

Every pupil here today has potential in many areas of life, and you are privileged to attend a school where there is every chance of turning that potential into a reality. We have excellent, supportive staff, great facilities and the kind of atmosphere that kindles creativity and determination. However, it is definitely true that not all students justify the money their parents spend on their fees, leaving the school having cruised through their education, shying away from challenges and therefore leaving potential success untapped.

The difference between pupils who are successful here, and those who aren’t, is all down to their attitude, something the Chaplain made clear in his Welcoming Service on Saturday. Some people treat every day of school as just another day to get through, every class as another lecture to endure and every challenge as a new opportunity to embarrass themselves. This term might be seen as a long dark tunnel with a dim light at the end of perhaps some faraway Christmas lights, or even the warm glow of a Facebook notification on an iPhone when LightSpeed is no longer the reigning power.

But this is, of course, the wrong way entirely to approach school life. When you have left school and look back on time spent here, the things you will remember best will not be the evenings wasted playing video games or lounging around. Instead, we will remember the times we did something challenging, attempting something that does not come so easily and achieving something in the process.

We must not turn down challenges because we are afraid to fail. If we all took this approach, Andy Murray would not enter Wimbledon next year, since he might not improve on his 2013 win; TJ would never perform another song, for fear of hitting the wrong note or chord; I would never play rugby again, in case I trip over my own laces and land flat on my back while re-joining the back line, as happened in the match against Sudbury last Friday! Failure is part of life, and something that we have to accept will happen to us occasionally. But we must have an attitude that allows us to laugh off a mistake and come back stronger.

This is clearly easier said than done, but we can take inspiration from some very high profile examples of people making mistakes, which are sometimes very funny, but not being fazed by these setbacks. While collecting her Best Actress Oscar in 2013, Jennifer Lawrence famously tripped on the stairs and went sprawling in her huge dress in front of all the world’s media. However, she quickly composed herself and received a standing ovation for her speech, partly because the mistake was such a natural thing that the crowd all fell in love with her. In a press conference, US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly declared that ‘the Syrian Crisis needs a safe pair of hands’. To illustrate his point, he was then thrown an American football by one of his team but, in a panic, he fumbled the ball and dropped it on the floor.

These are the sorts of things that can happen to any of us, but if we learn to see that failure does not mean the end of the world, then we need no longer fear any challenge that the year ahead can pose us. So we ask you how you intend to challenge and stretch your own abilities this year: setting academic targets, physically challenging yourself by entering the Mini Marathon or perhaps something more personal? If you ever find yourself with hours and hours of free time, ask yourselves why?

As your Heads of School, we look forward to an excellent year and witnessing all the success and achievements that you will enjoy as you respond positively to your challenges.