Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 3 July 2020
Today marks the end of an historic and dramatic year at NCS. When I began my headship on 1 September last year, I am fairly certain that a pandemic was not on my radar. Nonetheless, we have had no choice but to adapt, to stay calm and purposeful, and to tack judiciously through this worldwide event. New College School is one of the oldest continually functioning schools in the world; it has seen its fair share of seismic events, and it will see this one through too. Very few of us, if any, would have predicted a lockdown that has seen us kept apart from our loved ones, and away from many of the activities that made up our ‘normal’ lives. Over the past few newsletters I have tried to highlight the positives that we can take from the situation, whether that be through reconnecting with friends and family online, slowing down to take stock, or appreciating those things in life that we used to bypass during our busy lives.
One by-product of lockdown has been, I suspect, an increase in the number of hours we spend watching television, whether that be for escapism or just for something to count down the hours until we can go outside freely again. Growing up in the 1980s and 90s, I probably watched more television than was good for me, even without the justification of lockdown. One beneficial side effect has been having an encyclopaedic knowledge of the kind of trashy TV that comes up in pub quiz questions. A lot of those programmes have not stood the test of time, but that does not mean they are not totally without merit and worthy of mention. One such programme that often comes to mind when I’m in New College chapel – the reason for which will hopefully become clear – is one called ‘Celebrity Squares’, hosted by the comedian Bob Monkhouse.
This quiz show pitted two contestants against one another in a giant game of naughts and crosses. The naughts and crosses board was a giant, vertical structure, with nine celebrities, each of whom sat in a section of that giant board. Each contestant would try to win the game of naughts and crosses by choosing a celebrity and then answering a question to turn that celebrity’s box blue with a cross or pink with a naught. The ingenious part of the quiz was that the contestant was able to ask for the relevant celebrity’s help when answering the question. One particular hurdle that the contestant had to face was that the contestant would not necessarily know the answer, or they could easily get the answer wrong. But more often than not the celebrity would help the contestant to get the right answer.
Why do I think of this when I go to New College chapel – the place I would normally be standing to address our leavers? Because – and I hope it’s not sacrilegious to say this – the reredos in chapel resembles a giant naughts and crosses board. And while we don’t have celebrities in each of the lozenge-shaped alcoves, we do have saints and other figures from the bible. And to me it is a constant reminder that, when we don’t know the answer to something, we are allowed to ask for help. As I said, today is my last newsletter of the academic year and it is a special one for our Year 8 leavers. And the message I would like you to take away from it is that, in life, you are not alone. There is always someone to ask for help - it may not be a celebrity or a saint, but there will be someone who has experienced the problem you are facing, or who is trained to help you find your own answer. But you must not face difficulties in silence. It is a strength to ask for help, whatever your need may be.
I want to finish by offering some advice from a very famous doctor. Not a medical doctor as such, but one you will almost certainly have encountered during your time at NCS: the wonderful Dr Seuss. You may be familiar with the classic Dr Seuss book, ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’. It is a famous text which is often given to children, or young adults, at times of transition in their lives. Unlike a lot of naively optimistic books aimed at children, it is a wonderful combination of looking to the future, while admitting that there may be difficulties. But those difficulties are seen as faceable, as tackleable, as defeatable:
OH! THE PLACES YOU'LL GO!
You'll be on your way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.
You won't lag behind, because you'll have the speed.
You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you'll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don't.
Because, sometimes, you won't.
I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
can happen to you.
But on you will go
though the weather be foul.
On you will go
though your enemies prowl.
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl.
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike,
And I know you'll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.
You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
One such way to face difficulties is to ask for help. I hope that we have been able to answer your questions over your years at NCS, and I would like to make it clear that we are still here for you should you want our advice in the future. But you have bright futures to look toward – new teachers, friends, mentors, who will help to guide you along the way. Let them do it – it is a privilege to be able to do so, in the same way that it has been an immense privilege to guide you through your formative years at New College School.
As we come to the end of this academic year, then, I want to say an enormous ‘thank you’ to everyone who has pulled together so nobly to get us through the first stages of a very difficult time. My colleagues have put in an incredible amount of work, and exercised some real ingenuity, to keep remote learning on the road. Our support staff have been tireless in keeping the school going, quite often in ways that you will not have seen or heard. The Warden and governors have kept a close, benign, eye on proceedings to ensure that the NCS quality remains as high as it can be. Parents and siblings have stoically put up with the realities of remote learning and the extra day care that this has involved. Grandparents and other friends have had to spend a few months keeping away from loved ones to keep themselves safe. It is a privilege to lead such a supportive and positive community. I wish you all a happy and extraordinarily well-deserved break.
Have a great summer.
Laurence K Gold Certificate
Laurence K Platinum Certificate
Herbie For completing stage 1 of the touch typing course
Arjun For consistent superb effort and high standards
Dan For his independent science experiments
Ashwin For an outstanding short story
Ashwin For outstanding recorder work this term
Augustin For an outstanding essay exploring the timelessness of Homer's Odyssey
James For an outstanding essay exploring the timelessness of Homer's Odyssey
Fraser For an outstanding essay exploring the timelessness of Homer's Odyssey