Speech Day 2009: The End of an Era
Date: Sunday 5 July 2009
Speech Day 2009, and, as ever, a chance to reflect on a year gone by, but at the same time to think positively about the future of St Edmund's School, and to take advice from our guest of honour, Mr Alastair Mckean. When the Headmaster suggested a sportsman as our special guest, I have to confess I was anticipating a Cowdrey, or a Tavare, and I have to admit that the name of 'Mckean' meant nothing to me. Now I know who he is, and what he has achieved, I share with all the members of yesterday's audience a sense of awe at having been in the presence of such a brave young man, a role model for us all.
'Speeches' followed the traditional pattern - Opening Prayer from the Chaplain, some very brief introductory words from the Chairman of the Governors, Mr Michael Terry, and we were straight into the Headmaster's report. This focussed on many of the myriad achievements of the last twelve months - the excellent public exam results, ever improving at A-level, the success of sports' teams, the quality of music, drama, and the arts - but also highlighted the new, with references to 'Interact', the School's branch of Rotary International, the introduction from September of the AqaBacc, linking traditional A-levels with a baccalaureate qualification, and the visits to and from Poland, and our new friends in Krakow. He paid particular tributes to two members of staff, the two 'Ians', Narburgh and Thompson, both retiring after 102 and 99 terms of service to the School respectively. Similar tributes were paid to two retiring governors, Paulette Holmes and Pat Stewart.
The speech was interspersed with Louise Garrett reading Robert Frost's poem, 'The Road Not Taken', a particular favourite of the Headmaster, and the brilliant duo of Belinfante and Vandepeer, with accompaniment from Spencer Payne, playing the 1st Movement from Vivaldi's Concerto in A Minor, for two violins.
Prizes were distributed with alacrity, and due recognition to those earning the highest accolade for service to the School. Joseph Rawlins, who won the Alfred Forder Prize, and Suzannah Benham, who won the Hand Oxborrow Cup, represent the best that is St Edmund's - giving their all without the honour of prefectship.
Then Alastair Mckean explained how his life had been shattered, and then transformed by a pigeon which flew into his visor as he drove his motorcycle back in 1999. A right arm broken in eight places, and the destruction of many nerve links, left him with no more opportunities to play rugby, or to pursue a career as a cabinet-maker, but the chance to rebuild his life - for the better, he says, - by going to university, and getting deeply involved in rowing, in which sport he has represented his country, won gold medals in world championships, and taken part in, and won a bronze medal at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008. Mr Mckean is a lesson to us all in how to rise from adversity, and, even if it means taking completely new avenues, life is there for the living, to the full.
House receptions then followed, each different with its offerings of liquid refreshment and pre-lunch nibbles, before Holroyd Howe, our caterers showed the range of their repertoire, with a superb cold buffet, strawberries in a variety of guises, and candy floss, popcorn, or home-made fudge to finish. All washed down with chilled sparkling white, or delicious fruit cordials, and with time to spare before the now familiar Leavers' Service.
And the staff leavers played the key roles in this part of the day: Ian Terry's address to the congregation, the Narburgh/Thompson duumvirate reading prayers from Sir Francis Drake, and, of course, possibly for the last time, Ian Thompson singing the first verse - solo and unaccompanied - of 'God be with You till We Meet Again'. Some tears were shed, some farewells shared before the Sixth Form leavers readied themselves for the Ball.
Others drifted quietly home to recover from the exhaustion of day, term, and year gone by!