Principal's Assembly 25th May 2021
In some ways it is hard to believe that a whole year has passed since the murder of George Floyd. As we watched the video of his brutal final moments, we might have done so with as much fear of what violence might erupt as a consequence of the police actions as optimism for a brighter future.
So much has happened in the last 12 months, not least the conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin for murder. “I can’t breathe” became the words around which the Black Lives Matter organisation regained momentum, just as Everyone’s Invited became an on-line forum months later, catching the testimonies of so many women targeted and abused because of their gender.
It’s obvious to say, really, that there is such a difference between events – stuff happening – and actual long-term progress. It’s too early to know whether the murders of George Floyd and Sarah Everard will have a long-lasting and positive impact on society.
Walking through Leeds on Saturday afternoon, I watched a large gathering of pro-Palestinian demonstrators beginning their march. Hundreds of people had met to show solidarity with the people of Gaza. As I write, the ceasefire appears to be holding.
I have a vested interest. One of my former pupils, Zainah, who you met when she came here to talk about the Syrian crisis, is covering the crisis for Reuters Press Agency. I always knew she wrote beautifully; she is also a very brave young woman.
I am optimistic about the future for two reasons that I’ve started to explore today.
Firstly, I strongly believe that as a generation you are generally more open to change and more accepting of differences than older generations. In due course, you will become the voice of the majority on moral and social issues. I think you will stand on the right side of history.
Secondly, whether it be on social media or on the streets, your generation is willing to stand up for what matters. Getting involved with traditional political parties is not the only way that you can impact on the law-making process. Organising and participating in mass movements is equally valid if done in a peaceful and lawful manner.
I hate it when old people accuse you of being apathetic, uninterested in politics. I disagree: you might be fed up of politicians – understandably – but I know you care deeply about the issues and the challenges that other people face. And that is why we will see progress.
I want to finish today with a message to and about our Upper Sixth, a group who for other reasons will have been looking back on the last year with mixed emotions. The Sixth Form should be the best days of your school lives. It’s when you get to choose just the subjects you really want to study, develop different relationships with teachers, start to plan your careers, visit universities and, at the same time, enjoy social activities and responsibilities that come with your age.
Of course, very little of that has actually been possible and you have also faced the uncertainty over how your final grades will be calculated. It would have been easy to have descended into collective misery or anger, I know, at the situation.
I tend to think that in life you get dealt a hand of cards. You have no say in which playing cards you get – good, bad or indifferent - but you have every say in how you play them. You do determine your own futures. Your past does not define you.
Having got to know you as a very special group of people over the last three years, your actual approach has not surprised me in the least. Positive, supportive of each other and full of endeavour, your industrious nature will lead to great results, whatever the current or future conditions.
As staff, we will miss you. You have always set great examples, living our values of working hard and being kind. Maybe you are even positive enough to think that you have gained from the experiences of living and working through the pandemic.
As a Year 11 reminded me this morning, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”
Good luck, look after yourselves and go change the world.