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Saying Goodbye to Pupils

The academic session 2020-1 is drawing to a close. Pupils are scattered around musical rehearsals, Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and Covid-induced isolation. This has been an academic year like no other, and yet life forges on.

My Form VI pupils are readying themselves for university, college and employment. What these scenarios will look like is, at this point, anyone's guess.

If I could speak or write to these young adults as an educator, this is what I would proffer:

As another academic session draws to a close, albeit a challenging and highly unusual session, I thought I would take this opportunity to express my gratitude to you for getting to this point. While many of us have been scathed in different ways by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have much to learn from this past year. These lessons could provide us with our North Star: our compass points as we forge ahead with the next phase of our lives.

You’ve spent the past 13 years learning at school and as Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, “Learning and living…they are really the same thing. There is no experience from which you can’t learn something. When you stop learning you stop living in any vital and meaningful sense.” So, while your school experiences will be filled up with learning, whether that be on the hockey pitch or in a History lesson, what you are really doing is living because all experiences make up your life. That hockey ball in the face and trying to remember how many of Henry VIII’s wives were called Catherine made you curious: curious about the hand to eye coordination of your hockey team mates and curious about the implications of a probable ‘Catherine compulsion’.

Roosevelt advised that it’s the choices we make that will make up our lives. We are responsible for this. We may believe some of our choices have been missteps but ultimately, we will learn something from all of them, and in fact we will probably learn more from these missteps than our successes. So, while we probably won’t deliberately seek out failure, we shouldn’t fear it either.

Seeking out happiness feels natural to us as human beings. Roosevelt believed that the four most important requirements for happiness were “A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; the ability to love others and the feeling that you are, in some way, useful”.

It has been said that meeting the needs of others brings deep satisfaction to all parties and makes life worth living. Being useful is one way that we can express love and respect. You may find yourself useful to your family and friends, your co-workers and your community. What you will realise when you are open to this idea is that the opportunities to be useful, understand others and experience happiness are endless. Working towards a common goal is how you and the world can achieve great things by solving problems, innovating, thriving and surviving. You have a significant role to play in your future and the futures of others; even those you will never meet.

The American novelist, Marge Piercy wrote, “Life is the first gift, love is the second, and understanding the third”. Perhaps all good things come in threes? The Three Musketeers, Aladdin and his three wishes…and the three Catherines married to Henry VIII? Or perhaps I could just sum up using the ‘rule of three’ to say, “Never give up and just keep going”.

You all leave today with my very best wishes for the future.

If you are a school leader interested in gaining support for speech, article or blog writing, please contact me.

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