In May this year, I left school. It was definitely as surreal as I expected it to be, especially as I’ve still been going in most days to revise. However, that was the last time we would ever be together as a year group with our teachers, the people who have supported and encouraged us endlessly over the past few years. To ‘commemorate’ it, I wrote a speech about ‘The Notre Dame experience’ and read it at the leavers liturgy. I thought it would be good to post it here, so those of you who have no idea of how special ND Plymouth is can gain a little insight, and those who do can hopefully agree with the experiences we’ve had. Here goes, enjoy… and to all those in the class of 2014, thank you, its been the best seven years anyone could have asked for.
I want to start by asking you a question, where were you seven years ago? If you were anything like me, you were wearing a skirt that was around your ankles, a tie that was so tight around your neck it nearly strangled you, and a royal blue jumper so bright it shouldn’t have been legal. Alongside that, you probably had mixed feelings of excitement and uncontrollable nervousness as you approached Notre Dame for the first time as an actual student. It all sounds very cliché, but for me, it was true. In fact, within the first few months of year seven, I told my parents I was ill because I was too scared to go in and (true story) Miss Darragh had to come out to my dad’s car and walk me into school holding my hand. I look back at this story and laugh because, the truth being told, whilst seven years ago Miss Darragh was begging me to come into school, seven years on I am pretty comfortable and she will probably be begging me to leave. I wanted to share that embarrassing story with you, because it represents for me, the way that Notre Dame has changed me. All embarrassing anecdotes aside, whilst we will spend a considerable amount of time this afternoon laughing at how unattractive we used to be and remembering the days that we thought a particular hairstyle was the best thing ever, I want you to also think about your experience at Notre Dame. For some of us, that has been seven years of sports days, enrichment weeks and food from the school canteen, whilst for some others it has been two years experiencing what for me has been the best and most stressful two years of my school life; sixth form. Regardless of the differences, whilst we have all had our own individual ND experiences, we can all say that we have had ‘THE Notre Dame experience’.
I thought the best way to sum up this ND experience was to turn to the key part of our mission statement which proudly states that Notre Dame educates the whole person; head, heart and hands. The head part of this mission statement refers not only to our academic successes, but also to our ability to work hard towards a goal and achieve it, regardless of challenges. In the class of 2014, we have 13 universities or higher education centres represented, as well as numerous gap year experiences ranging from employment to travel and volunteering. Not only this, but we also have several students hoping to go into apprenticeships and start earning money straight away in a career path that they love and are passionate about. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we have our teachers to thank in so many ways for the successes we have had through our time here; through dealing with our distaste to a particular English coursework question, to trying to support us whilst we had mental breakdowns about our futures. I hope I speak on behalf of the whole year group when I say thank you to all of you staff members here today, and those who are absent, who have invested time into helping us achieve the best that we possibly can.
Secondly, Notre Dame educates the heart of a person. Regardless of your own personal level of faith, I doubt any of you can deny the unique ethos that Notre Dame boast and the way that it individually values each one of its students. Whilst some other schools primarily focus on exam success and preparing students solely for university, the fact that Notre Dame is a comprehensive school is arguably one of its best assets. For me personally, this school has acted as anchor for my faith for four years- and whether this applies to you or not it certainly prepares us well for communicating with people in the ‘real world’, by constantly encouraging us to be better, more confident people. Just this year, I have been empowered by the message of mother Teresa in which she calls us to do small things with great love, and I hope and pray that this is something that we carry into the world with us when we depart on our separate journeys. As she also once wrote, ‘spread love wherever you go, let no one ever come to you without leaving happier’. Let’s be honest, not all of us are going to be the next prime minister (except Charly) but whether we become teachers, accountants, physicists or doctors, the compassion and faith that this school has taught us is something that we can take wherever we go. On that note, I’d also like to take this opportunity on behalf of us all to thank all of those teachers who have played any kind of pastoral role in our time here at Notre Dame, making sure that our wellbeing is about more than whether we get As. We owe our sanity to you!
Notre Dame also educates us practically through our hands. On reflecting what this meant to me, it struck me that this is a school of action. Throughout my time here, I have had many opportunities, ranging from the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme to being a member of the senior student team. Alongside my personal experiences, the school sent a team last year to Tanzania, many people were lead learners and sports leaders, and of course we have a lovely team of senior house captains. One thing that has stood out to me massively during the past seven years is the schools enthusiasm for fundraising- not only is this something I was able to benefit from, but it also demonstrates to the following year groups of ‘leavers’ both the importance of working in the community- and the joy that comes from doing exactly that. Sure, we have to sit our exams, but we’ve also always had opportunities to take part in other activities outside of lessons which have enabled us to excel in many areas, try new skills and develop ourselves as leaders- as well as helping to create hilarious memories. Of course, we have many teachers to thank for these opportunities- whether it is the PE teachers who had a pretty hard time making us feel excitement towards any sport other than bench ball, the DofE staff who watched us slave for hours over a stove for the sake of some supernoodles, or other staff in independent departments to have worked tirelessly for so long to provide opportunities for us to excel in their subjects. Thank you.
Finally, in a throwback to our childhoods, I was reminded of a quote from Winnie the Pooh and the author AA Milne who wrote, ‘how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard’. That’s how I’m feeling right now. I cant believe that it is finally time to leave, but at the same time I hope that I echo some of your own thoughts when I say that I feel privileged to have been a part of this community for seven years, and I will look back at these days, and the photographs you will see this afternoon, for many years to come. So, for now, I hope you enjoy your liturgy: sit back, relax, laugh and remember.