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“Be who you are meant to be and you will set the world on fire!”

At the start of this new academic year these words of St Catherine of Siena, quoted by the Bishop of London when he married Prince William and Catherine in 2011, seem particularly apt. Like Catherine who is expecting her second child, the new school year is full of excitement and possibility, opportunity and dreams. And I have on various occasions used these words to focus our minds on what the real job of being in a school like Bryanston is all about. 

Each year I speak to the new Ds (year 9) at the end of assembly on Monday of week 2 and give them some ‘top tips’ about settling in and making a success of a new school. One of the list is about being yourself. This week Peter Hardy, my irreplaceable deputy, and I spoke to the C year group (year 10) about the year ahead for them and I asked them which of those top tips had, as Ds, proved the most difficult to achieve over the course of the year. A particularly brave young man answered, “To be organised”. I was so pleased that being yourself had not proved a problem for this cohort of Bryanstonians and I hope it never will. 

How do you find out who you are meant to be? How can we allow our young men and women to be themselves? It’s about offering a goodly amount of opportunity and encouraging engagement. It’s about making sure that individuals are understood and recognised and that each can contribute to the larger body of the house and then school. We want all our 682 individuals to feel that they belong: that they are recognised and valued. It’s no use, in my view, being an individual if you are also lonely. It’s about seeing where you fit in to something worthwhile. Are you going to be a supersonic runner? Or a fantastic friend? Or a genius Germanist? Thorold Coade (Headmaster from 1932 to 1959) believed that it didn’t matter what you chose, as long as you engaged with and contributed to the abundant life of the school. 

I agree with him, not least because I found my niche when I discovered first Latin and then Greek, and then because I saw my own two daughters flourish at Bryanston in the hands of the Classics department and on the river as devoted rowers. Keep the curriculum wide and rich and offer an outstanding co-curriculum and we can at least get our pupils and children close to St Catherine’s rallying cry. For us as adults too it is no bad thing perhaps to remind ourselves, though long past adolescence and the school curriculum, of the imperative to be authentic and of using our full range of talents. To aim to keep on learning. To be who we are meant to be so we too can set the world on fire.