Principal’s Assembly 08 Jan 2019

Good afternoon and welcome back.  I hope you all had a lovely holiday, built around revision timetables, I’m sure, for our Upper Sixth who begin their mock exams today. 
In particular a very warm welcome to several new starters.  I know you will be made very welcome by everyone around you.  All I ask, as the school community already knows, is that you make the most of this opportunity by working hard and being kind. 
If you celebrated Christmas, I wonder how many of you gave or received a book as a gift?  Whether you celebrated Christmas or not, I wonder how many of you read a book over the holiday. 
I’m not judgemental over what you read – for all sorts of reasons we’ll come back to another day, it’s vital that you do read – but there are some books I will avoid. 
John Bieber, for example, published First Step 2 Forever.  That title doesn’t even make sense.  Even more annoyingly, he used the number 2.  He couldn’t even be bothered spelling it out.  Amazon told me that if I liked this, which I hadn’t, I might also like Miley Cyrus’ Miles to Go.  That’s a good attempt at a pun. Having listened to one of her tunes, I can’t disagree with that title.  To her credit though, many of the book reviews lauded her remarkable commitment t’werk. 
Some books will disappoint you.  I stated the holiday with the autobiography of one of the greatest footballers of the 1980s, someone I idolised as a teenager, but he turned out to be self-obsessed and I couldn’t wait to finish it. 
Other books live up to your expectations and Michelle Obama’s autobiography is certainly one of those. 
Wise, tireless, feisty, Obama is an amazing role model.  She grew up on the South Side of Chicago – I’m not sure we have many places in the UK with the same levels of deprivation, crime and pure racial discrimination. 
In many ways, Michelle Obama is a fine example of the American Dream – that anyone can make it – she attended an Ivy League (like our Oxford or Cambridge) University and became a top lawyer – regardless of their background, if they work hard. 
Two words that crop up regularly in the early chapters are ‘drive’ and ‘stubborn’.  The former tends to be more positive in our understanding than the latter.  For example, she was: ‘Driven’ to learn every song in her piano book  ‘Stubborn’ in ignoring her teacher’s advice to concentrate on technique not quantity of songs. ‘Driven’ to apply for a place at Princetown University ‘Stubborn’ in ignoring the early advances of a young associate lawyer called Barack. 
Driven, then, equates to being motivated, stubborn equals cutting off your nose to spite your face.  I’m sure there are stubborn streaks within us all.  When I first took Kirstie home to meet my Mum and Dad, my Mum greeted her with “The first thing you need to know about him is that he’s very stubborn”.  My Mum reads my assemblies on the blog so I can expect a phone-call tonight! 
Not that she’s wrong, but I’ve learnt there are many times when it is better to admit you’re wrong, take advice and move on.  This will inevitably be the case at times for you – accepting and acting on advice of experienced teachers will be the right thing to do.  But it’s not an entirely negative trait. 
Obama’s careers adviser at school told her that she simply wasn’t Princetown material.  Quite rightly, she didn’t back down. 
Nor is being driven an unchallengeable positive.  What if your ambition leads to self-obsession and the ignoring of important people around you?  Successful people can be deeply unhappy people. 
Assemblies this half term will focus on meeting challenges and dealing with setbacks.  A little stubbornness – not the unthinking, self-defeating, refusal to see sense kind – but the Michelle Obama steely determination kind – is not a bad character trait. 
Thought for the start of a new term: 
As we face inevitable challenges – some intellectual, some conditional, some physical – have the courage, drive and tenacity to meet and beat those challenges.   At the same time, pause to consider and help those who find the challenges harder to overcome. 

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