Headmaster's Blog Archive

Ending in Style

Sunday, July 13, 2014 by Richard Biggs

The dust of the end of term has settled. Reports, all 460 of them, are written. This first week of the holidays has been a quiet time of gratifying industry – tying up loose ends, clearing desks and crunching my way through a mountain of overdue paperwork.

Parents’ Day was glorious. I have an app on my iPhone which predicts the weather a week in advance. On the Monday of the final week of term the forecast for Saturday was dire. The icon on my screen looked about as gloomy as it could possibly be: a black cloud a deluge falling below it.

Telekinesis is the ability to influence physical events using the mind alone. Well….I stared at that black cloud on my screen, willing it to lighten up. Day by day I dared it to change, and each day it stubbornly refused. Then on Friday morning the icon finally conceded to my powers and lost the rain. Then on Friday evening it added a small half-circle of sunshine. And indeed the day was lovely – at least after a petulant little shower at the start of prize giving it was lovely.

The power of the mind? Or did God notice that on Parents’ Day we had no fewer than four clergy in attendance: Fathers Mark and Mike (Chaplain at the Taunton Academy), the Senior Provost and Bishop John, the Acting Provost of Taunton? Who could disappoint such clerical line-up?

Maureen Willson, once Head of King’s Hall, distributed the prizes with expert ease and with a kind word to each of the pupils. She spoke in typically forthright fashion to the leavers – the sort of “get on your bike and make the most of it” speech which is always good for them to hear. She quoted Bill Gates’ advice to graduates, which I append below in case you haven’t come across it before.

The Leaver’s Eucharist was as moving as ever. There is a moment which I always find particularly affecting, when, during the final hymn, the upper sixth members of the choir begin to take off their cassocks and surplices. They leave the robes behind in the choir stalls and join the procession of leavers walking out towards the West Door. As they pass through the door they formally leave the school and join the ranks of OAs. Not surprisingly, many were in tears.

Two years ago the weather was so bad that the lunch which we normally hold in our garden for governors and other guests had to be moved into an IT room – a rather cramped, unromantic affair it was too. The warm sunshine last Saturday was therefore doubly welcome…we knew how awful the alternative would be. And the lunch was definitely the best ever. England as legend: Salmon and strawberry’s, cold white wine, hollyhocks and Bishops in straw hats. Perfect. We are extremely lucky to have a beautiful garden, it was looking at its best and we were delighted to be able to share it with so many guests on a glorious day. What a fine end to the year!

The Leavers’ Ball that evening was also one of the best. The leavers took it in exactly the right spirit. They danced with their mothers, they danced with their teachers, they had a wonderful time, as did we, for whom this ritual is always fraught with angst – we regret their leaving, we worry about what they’ll get up to. In fact it needs saying: a big thank you to all the leavers for making such a civilised job of a difficult and poignant time. You were brilliant.

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of attending the Exeter Cathedral Prep School prize giving, the third in a week for me. ECS has the edge in terms of venues, I think, the Cathedral being a little more glamorous than our sports hall. And a bit cooler. It was a wonderful occasion, full of hope and energy and superb music, as you can imagine.

Now, paperwork done, reports written, car serviced and cleaned, we are on the verge of a week’s holiday. We’re off to a cottage in Northumberland, packing dogs, pub guide, walking boots, a week’s supply of crosswords, several novels and a bottle opener. I’m sure every family takes something on cottage holidays which is peculiar to them. For us it’s a knife sharpener. I love cooking in strange kitchens and with food bought locally, but the knives are always blunt!

Here are those eleven rules which Bill Gates supposedly* passed on to graduates:

Rule 1: Life is not fair -- get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping -- they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you are. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

*I say supposedly, because there is some question about whether these really are his words, or whether they were written by somebody claiming that this would be the sort of thing he would say. Does it matter?

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