Heads of School Prize Day Messages
Heads of School deliver their Prize Day messages by video from School Tour
Our Heads of School provided fabulous speeches at the 2019 Freemen's Prize Day....
Headmaster, Chairman, Sheriffs, ladies, gentlemen, and fellow pupils,
Some of you may have noticed that there are three heads of school listed in the programme, but only one standing on stage. Sadly, Lizzie and Taly cannot be here in person today, but thanks to the magic of technology, we get to enjoy their speech regardless. Over to them.
Elizabeth Curran and Natalya Robinson
Three weeks ago, Taly and I were happily planning our Prize Day speech, when an email concerning the school sports tour arrived in our inboxes. To cut a long story short, the two of us are currently on a nine hour flight to Barbados, where we will be spending the next ten days playing hockey and netball, and swimming and sunbathing. Originally, the two of us were upset that we couldn’t attend Prize Day, yet upon more reflection, we came to realise that our situation would make a good topic for a speech. Our sports tour is just one example of the rich and diverse opportunities the school has offered us, in all aspects of our education.
Academically, our experience in the Sixth Form may seem fairly conventional. Lizzie and I have taken exactly the same A Levels: English, History and Latin - arguably the most traditional of school subjects. However, what is unusual, is that in a Latin class of three, two of us are Heads of School, and we are both women. Our teacher has revelled in using this as a recruitment tool for Latin A Level, as he can now legitimately argue that learning the ancient language is fundamental to achieving your goals.
Our school lives, in many ways, have been closely intertwined. We once decided to break from the tradition of writing individual essays, and instead handed our slightly perplexed History teacher a collaborative paper on the Mid-Tudor Crisis. Needless to say, we hadn’t anticipated the challenge this would present her when assessing our individual marks. As it happened, she decided to not give us a mark.
Anyway, the slightly tenuous lesson learnt from this is that it is crucial to retain your unique voice, even when embarking on a joint venture, like our speech today. Although Lizzie and I share many similarities in interests, values and ethics, we recognise that we have our own particular strengths and identities, which Freemen's has helped to foster. We have grown up at Freemen's, attending from the age of seven. During that time, the school has grown and developed with us. This has been possible by a robust attitude to maintaining tradition when necessary, but most importantly, courageously challenging convention for the good of the entire community.
This has been a year of firsts. The first time we have been known as Heads of School, rather than the gender-specific Head Boy and Head Girl. The first time there have been three Heads of School, and three deputies. The first time a speech has been pre-recorded for Prize Day. Looking at the school as a whole, the launch of the Freemen’s Foundation this year - another first - has been inspiring, and has exemplified the ethos of a better education for all. The Masterplan spanning the next decade is also brave and visionary, and one of the most ambitious projects the school has ever attempted.
Breaking the mould in this way has required courage, conviction and vision. The ripples of change affect the entire community, and can be unsettling, as well as exciting. However, Freemen's has equipped the student body with the skills and resilience necessary to adapt to change, and embrace the unconventional and unexpected. As history students, we have learnt that change is achieved from both above and below, and we all have an active role in shaping our individual and collective futures.
It is also clear to see the ways in which the warmth and welcoming nature of the freemen’s community helps every pupil stretch beyond their comfort zones. Not only do teachers embrace active discussions and challenging questions but they also excel in allowing individuals to find their own unique role within these discussions, and more widely within the school community.
As I am going to continue my education across the Atlantic, choosing an American Liberal Arts curriculum over the British system, this aspect of the freemen’s education has recently become not only extremely evident to me, but also extremely important. For me, my decision to apply to American University was never about breaking from tradition, nor was it a deliberate rebellion against convention, yet I realise now that the environment of engagement, enthusiasm and exploration here at Freemen’s has allowed me to think about my future without restraint or boundaries. The overwhelming support I received from teachers throughout the process demonstrate perfectly the kind of community Freemen’s is, providing endless support and selflessly giving of their time in order to ensure I, like all freemen’s pupils, have a prosperous and purposeful future. I take great pride in the fact that I am going to Princeton University, and that I am the first Freemen’s pupil to attend an Ivy League College, but more than this, I take pride in the person that Freemen’s has helped me to become.
The school mission: Learn, Lead, Make a Difference, really does embody the atmosphere that is so unique and so treasured in the school. To me, it acts as a simplified checklist for life, albeit, a checklist where none of the options should ever be complete. Freemen’s ignites in pupils a zeal for learning and furthering understanding whether it be in the classroom, or on the netball court. It allows pupils the opportunities for leadership, whilst simultaneously nurturing the skills needed for it. And in every aspect of education here, freemen’s pupils are inspired to make a difference, as teachers and students alike welcome challenges and delight in finding solutions to the difficulties within our community.
Although we here are no strangers to tradition, just look around you, as it is one aspect which makes a Freemen’s education so unique and special, the progressive and forward looking nature of the school is also a crucial part of its ethos. The environment here prepares students for far more than just exams, realising that a rounded education makes for a rounded person. As Albert Einstein said, “A ship is always safe at the shore—but that is not what it is built for.”. And although at times it may seem far easier to stay on dry land, Freemen’s has certainly taught me to go after every opportunity, having given us all that we need to venture outwards, literally across the sea in my case, to a bright and exciting future.
We have been proud to be part of a school community that helps to create young people who want the best for themselves, for those around them and for the wider world. The eleven years we’ve spent here have taught us that changing the status quo while respecting tradition is possible, and we hope that Freemen’s pupils will always have the courage and conviction to stand up and speak out. If our time studying History has taught us anything, it is that if you’re going to quote anyone in a speech, it has to be an American President. So in the words of JFK, “the one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.”
I’d like to begin by talking briefly about my great uncle Michael. Now, in many ways Michael was the archetypal English gentleman. Born and raised in the Home Counties, he went to Kings’ College to read Geography and then spent a few years in the Navy before leaving to pursue a long and successful career in consulting. He certainly had some old-school mannerisms - things were “jolly good” or “bloody brilliant”, and my mum, my brother and I were never referred to as Ingrid, Adam and Tom, but would always be greeted with a “good to see you, lass!” or “good lad”.
But underneath this rather old-fashioned exterior, Michael was, at heart, a forward-looking man who loved fun and adventure. He and his wife Jean spent over fifty years of marriage travelling all across the world, and he refused to be slowed down by age. His family photo albums are full of pictures from every continent, as well as one of him in a rather fetching pirate costume at my cousin’s birthday party. The rest of the family were quite amazed last summer when Michael announced that he and Jean would be making the five hundred mile journey to Northern Ireland to visit her family, on their own, with an eighty-nine year old Michael driving his trusty Rover (in British Racing Green, of course) the whole way there and back. Concerned relatives offered plane tickets and lifts to and from the airport, but Michael would have none of it, and, true to his word, drove there and back without fuss or incident.
And so, it seemed fitting to me when I learned that when Michael and his wife had children, they sent them to school here, at Freemen’s. Because, in my eyes, a lot of the things I remember about Michael are reflected in the character of the school. As Lizzie and Taly have said, we have our fair share of tradition and history - not many people get to eat lunch in a seventeenth-century manor house five days a week - but in other aspects we remain forward thinking and up to date. And I’ve certainly had a lot of fun and enjoyed a few adventures in the eleven years I’ve spent here.
There was the CCF trip to Benidorm, several unforgettable ski trips, and the almost legendary Rhineland trip in Lower Four, which I’m sure will be remembered fondly by all the pupils, and perhaps somewhat less fondly by some of the staff - I hope our occasional mischief can be forgiven. I’ve had the chance to hike up an active volcano in Sicily, to help put on a musical in a professional theatre, and even to attend the Lord Mayor’s Banquet and shake hands with Theresa May. And these are just some of my own experiences - everyone leaving Freemen’s this year will have their own fond memories and stories to share.
And I’ve been lucky enough to do all this surrounded by the best classmates that anyone could ask for. Some schools have a reputation for being one trick ponies - oh yes, that’s a real sporting school, or, yes, they’re all about drama there. But that is not true of Freemen’s. If you look across at my fellow Upper Sixth students - and I’m afraid that’s a metaphorical “look”, since apparently most of them would rather be on
a beach in Barbados than sitting here listening to me - you will find some fantastic sportspeople, brilliant actors and actresses, and incredibly talented musicians, some of whom I have no doubt will be filling the ranks of some of the country’s top orchestras in a few years time. I cannot wait to see what we all get up to in the years to come, and I hope that the end of our time at Freemen's will not be the end of our time in contact with each other.
And of course, there are the staff. The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw coined that now infamous phrase “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Clearly, Mr Shaw was not educated here at Freemen’s. Because at the heart of this school are dozens and dozens of incredibly committed, knowledgeable, caring, funny, and talented staff. I would love to be able to thank each one of you here individually, but to do justice to all of you would require quite a bit more time than I have left - and besides, I’m sure you’re just as keen as I am to get out of this hall and enjoy the cake and ice cream that Sodexo have very kindly put out for everyone. So instead, I want to say to all the teachers, technicians, coaches, and other staff that have helped to shape my experience here over the past eleven years: you have been absolutely wonderful, and I can confidently speak for all of the Upper Sixth leavers when I say that we are immensely grateful to you all.
Finally, I must thank everyone in my family for all the support they have given me over the past few years, especially my wonderful parents, without whom I would never have been able to attend this school.
Mark Twain once remarked that one should never let their schooling interfere with their education. Thankfully, at Freemen’s, I haven’t had to make a distinction between the two. This school has helped shape my character, build my confidence, and given me so many opportunities that many people could not even dream of. To those of you in the audience who still have a few years left as Freemen’s pupils - I urge you to take advantage of as many of these opportunities as they arise as you possibly can. It is easy to forget how lucky we all are to attend a school that offers as much as this one.
As excited as I am about going to university and getting on with life, I am still struggling to come to terms with the fact that today will be the last time I drive out of these grounds as a Freemens' pupil. But although I and my fellow Upper Sixth will go our separate ways and leave the school buildings behind, the memories made, friendships formed, and lessons learned will endure for decades to come. Now, I was planning to end this speech with a deep and profound quote by some prominent historical figure...but it seems that my fellow Heads of School beat me to it. So instead, I leave you with the final words of the dolphins from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. So long, Freemen's - and thanks for all the fish.