Principal’s Assembly 11 Sept 2018


Good afternoon.

Like any lesson – especially those a week apart - it’s worth me recapping the main themes of last week’s assembly:

  • Success comes from practice and hard-work
  • Set yourself challenging targets – remember the Michelangelo quote?
  • It is possible for individuals to change the world – remember those Genius Award winners?
  • Make the most of the opportunity you have been given.

These are all choices you can make – and I want to continue on the theme of making choices today.

You may have heard the name John McCain in the news over the last fortnight. He died aged 81 and his funeral speakers included former American Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. There must have been something special about the man; indeed, he was regularly described as an American hero.

(Hero is an over-used term that I talked about with our Boarders on Sunday. If you believe I’ve used it incorrectly today, come and let me know later!)

McCain was born in 1936 on a US naval base by the Panama Canal in Central America. He was always destined for the military; his grandfather had commanded US forces during World War Two and his father was an Admiral in the US navy.

Inevitably, McCain graduated from the naval academy , but he became a pilot during the Vietnam War.

Flying his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam in 1967, he was shot down. McCain landed in a pond, breaking both arms and a leg. Locals pulled him out but started to beat him.

He was “rescued” by North Vietnamese troops (known as the VietCong) and taken to the Hanoi Hilton. Of course, that was no hotel – it was ironically named that as the worst Prisoner of War camp in Vietnam. However, he was given emergency care because they knew who his Dad was and thought McCain could be a useful asset or bargaining chip.

He did get two years in solitary confinement, though.

In 1969, McCain’s father was made commander of all US forces in Vietnam. The VietCong knew this and called McCain from his cell. They allowed him to leave, knowing that it would make them look good in the media.

But, the US military Code of Conduct states that any release of POWs must be in order of arrest and there were plenty of soldiers who had been in longer than him. McCain alerted the prison command to this and refused to leave unless his comrades joined him. They were equally clear that this was not an option on offer!

What would you have done? I fear I know what I would have done.

Over the next few years, you are going to make many choices, none as serious as McCain’s, but all with consequences. Some will determine your career:

  • Which GCSE subjects will you opt for?
  • Which A Levels or Btecs will you study?
  • Which university course or apprenticeship is for you?

Others will determine how quickly you make progress:

  • Will you finish that homework in peace and quiet tonight or will you rush it tomorrow morning?
  • Will you bounce back from that test that went badly and do things differently or will you sulk for a week?

Some choices will affect your reputation:

  • Will you pause and think again before sending that text?
  • Will you stop and help someone who looks lost or upset?

John McCain, by the way, refused unless earlier prisoners were also released. The consequences for him were three and a half more years in prison, severe illness and beatings, and torture that left him permanently unable to raise his arms above shoulder height.

Already a celebrity of sorts on release, he later became a politician and even ran to become President on two occasions. His reputation was as a straight-talker, maverick and values-driven politician.

When you make your decisions, what will drive the choices that you make?

Will you seek advice? Will you think through the implications first? Will you consider the impact on others? Can you remain true to your moral principles?


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