A handshake, a smile and a thank you … and they were on their way

Ever since our annual Founders’ Day at St Mary’s Calne on Saturday 23rd June – my last at the school before I head to Australia in December – I have been reflecting on the departure of our UVI Formers. There were many special moments during the day – the service in the morning, the speeches in the afternoon, the Lily Ball in the evening – but one of the most special for me was the moment at the end of the prizegiving, after the Head Girl’s speech, when each of these young women came up to the stage to receive a final gift to mark the school’s appreciation of all that they had given to the school during their years here, and I shook each one by the hand before they walked down the steps, and on, out of the marquee. It was a symbolic moment, but also a beautiful one. To a young woman, they all smiled and looked me confidently in the eye; many said thank you, and with many we had a quick laugh at the realisation that they had – finally – made it!

I spoke in the marquee – and in the final service at the end of the day – about how wonderful they were, and how their futures stretched ahead of them, but I do not think that I said enough about what really defines them: their warmth, and the affection which they have for others and for the school, as well as the regard the school has for them. They are all, of course, marvellous, very different, individuals, and, as is to be expected, they are all only human, which means that they are gloriously imperfect, although they came pretty close to perfection on that Saturday, in every respect, and I am proud of them for that! What they share, however, is a strong bond, a togetherness, and an understanding of themselves and of the fact that they have a valuable role to play in the world. They could not have a better starting point for the rest of their lives.

Ahead of them lie many different paths – not all of them easy, and few of them entirely predictable. They will have many hurdles, but they know what these are, and the Head Girl herself reminded them – most topically and most humorously(!) – not to succumb to the lures of an airbrushed celebrity culture. These girls are more than equal to the task ahead of them, however, and I wish them the very, very best for the future. I really do hope, as I said to them all, that they will find happiness and fulfilment in their lives, their careers, their relationships and their families in due course. There is a lot to be done in the world, and it begins with each of us, and each of them. I am so very proud of them.

This was of course my last Founders’ Day, and next year I will be in Sydney, forging new relationships with girls from another great school, which is to become my new home for a while. I am looking forward to it tremendously. But I shall never forget the girls of St Mary’s Calne, and the leavers of 2012. If you are reading this, girls, I wish you the very, very best of luck. Go for it in life, and be the people you are meant to be. Onwards …

You are amazing.


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