Years later, we look back and remember our days at school and sixth form.
And what do we remember?
We remember …
- The embarrassing moments. Those toe-curling, bottom-clenching moments that still make us shudder years later.
- And we do remember the bad times, the sad times and the mad times. The stress, the ups and downs.
- But most of all, we remember the good, the fun, the friends, the jokes and the laughter. We remember the exuberance of being young and living life full on.
Of course we remember our studies too. A bit. Not much, if we are honest, about the content. We don’t remember how to solve a quadratic equation or the date of the liberation of the serfs. But we remember working hard, and we remember with some pride the grades we achieved when we worked hard and we also sometimes remember with regret the grades we achieved when we didn’t work so hard.
And, we know, actually, that the secret of A levels is nothing to do with the content or the knowledge or the skills. The real value is the sheer bloody hard work it takes to do well in them, harder for most people than a degree, harder than a masters.
So you do remember the grades that you get and you are proud of them even years later.
But it is the people that you remember most. Your friends. Those who inspired you, or supported you when life got tough, the bonds you forged. Your funny, kind, caring friends.
People have asked me: please Mr Rubinstein, we are going out now into the cruel world out there. We are going to be adults, living an adult life. Have you any words of advice? How should we live our life?
So, if you insist, here is the best advice I can offer – in the full knowledge that no general advice can be right for everyone, and that it’s the old people who got the world into the terrible mess it is today, so maybe you need to do something different.
But for what it’s worth:
Keep hold of your friends. Sometimes you will have to work at it, sometimes you will have to roll with the punches and forgive them. Don’t lose touch out of laziness. And be open to making new friends. Be generous and warm.
You are going to need all your people skills when you start sharing accommodation at university, sharing bathrooms, sharing kitchens, with people who have a different approach to cleanliness, people who don’t do their fair share around the house, people who take your food from the fridge. And you will sometimes need to keep perspective and remember who you are and your common humanity.
Stay the generous, loving, supportive people you are now. Don’t rush to judge others; don’t be quick to take offence. Don’t divide the world into two camps, us and them, whatever us and them are. Be wary of certainty, of anyone who says they have all the answers, of a fixed and uncritical mindframe.
Don’t be that person in the car getting so upset by the traffic, hooting your horn and making hand signs to other people. Be the person who cheerily lets others in, relaxed and good humoured.
Be on the side of the underdog. Support those fighting for justice or a better life. Don’t blame the victims for their lot, you might be one too. At work, join a union – all the advantages people have today, all the rights, all the entitlements, they all come from union action in the past.
And lastly, look after yourself. Keep fit. You are going to universities, most of you, with brilliant subsidised sport facilities. Use them. Use the gyms and the swimming pools. Eat half-way well, and go easy on the drinking.
I have been talking all week with students about what they will remember from their time at Woodhouse, the things they will miss (Mr Martin’s emails and curly fries) and the things they won’t (the girls’ loos).
One student, a while ago in somewhat philosophical mood: … What will you remember most from your time at Woodhouse? – “the crippling dread of impending adulthood that prepares us all for monotonous and insignificant lives”.
Actually, I disagree. I think that Woodhouse students are heading for extraordinary lives. We the staff think that Woodhouse is a special place. Special because the students are special. Special in that the students are smart and funny and they care for each other and look after each other; because they volunteer and they take part; because they are good people special people, extraordinary people.
In fact, the College is full of extraordinary people. Swimmers and athletes who get up in the small hours to train every day before College; musicians and artists and models already working at a professional standard. Students who have blogs or youtube channels that are followed by thousands of people. Students who care for sick family members or younger siblings, or who have to work hours and hours each week to contribute to the family income. Students who are abused or who are homeless or who are ill, students who have suffered trauma but who have nonetheless had the grit and determination to carry on. Students who are shy and quiet and perhaps think they are less worthy of admiration that their louder peers, but actually are quiet centres of stillness, the real rocks on whom everyone else depends. The College is full of extraordinary people.
And today, we are going to celebrate all of you. We are going to present awards to a few students – those who have worked hard, really made the most of their talents; and those who help other people and contribute to the College in many ways. But they are representing you. And in applauding and celebrating them, we are really applauding and celebrating all of you.
Finally, one more word: as we say goodbye and farewell, we obviously wish you all the best of luck in your exams. We will be here for you throughout the exam period, and we will be here for you at results day and afterwards to help with university places, and we will be here for you next year when some of you come back to do applications and exam retakes, and we will want to hear from you in the years to come, and we will want you to come back and tell us how and what you’re doing, and we will want you to be in our alumni organisation and be forever Woodhouse. As far as we are concerned, once a Woodhouse student, always a Woodhouse student. On behalf of all staff I want to say it has been a pleasure and a privilege having you here these two years. Good luck in the exams, and we will see you on book return day and at the prom.