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Roland Martin - Issue #68

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Prize Day 2018 - My Headmaster's address - links as usual in blue text.
 

Roland Martin

July 2 · Issue #68 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London; Chair - Society of Heads - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Prize Day 2018 - My Headmaster’s address - links as usual in blue text.

City of London Freemen's School Prize Day
We enjoyed a glorious day at Freemen’s on Friday (29 June) with representatives from the City of London Corporation in attendance alongside our governing body - drawn in part from Members of the Court of Common Council. 
The shrieval Rolls Royce arrived with Sheriff’s consorts and Aldermanic Sheriff, Timothy Hailes. JP. Children were cheering, as is the custom, but an joyous twist occurred with the relaxed feel on the day. Not only were we encouraged to loosen our ties and shrug off our jackets in the blistering heat, but there was also much ‘high-fiving’ with the gathered junior children along the route from Main House to the ceremony venue. My thanks to pack leader Fiona Adler for her breath of fresh air!
My speech was duly addressed to Alderman Tim Hailes, representing the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Chairman of the Governing Body, Deputy Roger Chadwick, OBE, governors, parents, colleagues and members of the School.
High Fives on Prize Day: Tim Hailes, Roger Chadwick, Roland Martin
Speech! But first a story ...
A sincere welcome to you all and a particularly warm welcome to our guests from The City, from Guilds and from Livery Companies, to our Governors and of course to Alderman, Tim Hailes. Alderman Hailes spent some time as Governor at Freemen’s so knows us well and it is a particular pleasure to welcome him today representing The Lord Mayor.
Had you opened The Daily Telegraph almost exactly a year ago, you would have been confronted with the following rather bizarre story:
A superstitious passenger delayed a flight from Shanghai for several hours on Tuesday after throwing coins at the plane’s engine for good luck, Chinese officials said.
The elderly woman was detained by police at Shanghai Pudong International Airport following the bizarre incident, forcing nearly 150 passengers to be evacuated from the plane bound for Guangzhou in southern China.
The 80-year-old threw nine coins at an engine of China Southern Airlines flight CZ380 as she was boarding on the tarmac.
Eight of the coins missed their target but one nestled inside an engine, airport police said, adding that a passenger spotted her and reported it to authorities.
The incident was soon trending on Weibo and police added in a statement: “After investigation the involved passenger surnamed Qiu said she threw the coins to pray for safety.”
I am sure that you have all spotted the irony of the woman’s actions. Essentially, in trying to give herself and her family security for the flight ahead, she might have put them and the rest of the passengers at risk, had her behaviours not been reported. We need to be careful, don’t we, about how we go about finding our security in life and make sure that the things that give us purpose are justified. 
Optimistic pessimism
I have read recently that we are living in an age of pessimism. I must admit that my natural tendency is to lean towards the comic Jon Richardson’s inclinations on the optimist-pessimist/half-full half-empty dilemma, which is why I actively need to spend time with, listen to and read optimistic influences.
Last year, the Swedish epi-dem-i-ologist (you can look that up), statistician and purveyor of glad tidings, Hans Rosling, died. One couldn’t get more optimistic than him. He dared to suggest that in fact, we have never had it so good. In fact, he gave ten TED talks – more than any other person – saying as much. Hans Rosling believed that over the past 200 years, the world had become a much better place, and it has kept getting better. He showed how, as the world’s population grew, most people were healthier, wealthier, better educated and lived much longer. If you haven’t seen The Magic Washing Machine, it is worth a look. Probably, to be fair, a better nine minutes spent of your life than anything you will hear from me today.
Amiable prejudices of the young mind
The thing that makes me most optimistic, and the reason that I do what I do is a sincere belief that what we have most cause for optimism about is the capacity within our own children for facilitating change. If the Millenials have been bashed for being intelligent and techno-savvy but grumpy and self-serving at the same time as last month’s FT seemed to suggest, the generation that follow in their footsteps seem to have a bit more capacity for serving others; a greater sense of purpose.
Perhaps the most obvious example of young people standing united to make a point came back in February with the incredible scenes across the Atlantic post-Parkside where busloads of teenagers – many of whom were not old enough to vote – descended on the State Capitol to demand change to gun laws in the US. This protest led to demonstrations and walkouts across the country. Politically, the conversation is at least happening, though whether it will lead to radical change is still to be seen.
Former President Barack Obama praised the students, five of whom were named among Time Magazine’s most influential people of 2018, saying:
“They have the power so often inherent in youth: to see the world anew; to reject the old constraints, out-dated conventions and cowardice too often dressed up as wisdom.”
The point is that these young people were not prepared to be bystanders. And we have all read stories in the press, haven’t we, about former death camp guards such as Reinhold Hanning being accused of being accessories to murder seventy plus years after the atrocities that were committed. However we feel about nonagenarians being brought to justice, we must all understand that there is a carelessness about being an observer just as there can be cowardice dressed up as wisdom. This message is relevant to any context but pertinently to schools and workplaces: if we don’t agree with the way someone is being treated, we have a responsibility to say or do something about it. That takes courage. But it saves us from being careless observers. Intelligent people need to know what their decisions mean and I hope that at Freemen’s, we do our best to ensure that the intelligent pupils in our care, our future, come to understand this point. Indifference is more dangerous than anger and hatred. I would ask our pupils to ask themselves what attitudes have you developed at School. Or at home? I would challenge them to know and crystalise that purpose rather than becoming indifferent at any stage in their lives. Bill Clinton, another former President, suggested: ‘More people can be great leaders than think they can. But they need a purpose greater than themselves’. 
Empathy, optimism and purpose
In the headhunting manual of global executive recruiters, Heidrick and Struggles, the qualities that it is suggested that future employees desire are: a thriving mindset; a deep commitment to learning; situational awareness; empathy and optimism. The other asset they desire is a clear sense of purpose, about which I spoke at some length last year. But it is still relevant. It is relevant not least in the context of a Gallup Poll completed a few years ago from 133k people around the world in 135 countries. The poll revealed that the world faces a shortage of purpose. And a lack of wellbeing. Only 18% of people overall in the world feel they have a purpose, in Europe, that figure is a meager 22%.
Perhaps these percentages do not shock you. But they might disappoint you. I should suggest that it is no wonder that the percentages are as low as they are given the behaviours that we have developed as humans: demanding instant gratification and satisfaction; becoming increasingly self-indulgent and self-absorbed; thinking less of others. How many of us spend more time on screen than we do in the moment? How many of us live for the weekend as an escape from the reality of today? What are we going to do about it?
I was recently privileged to hear Lord Dr Michael Hastings of Scarisbrick address a group of Headteachers in Brighton. He suggested that ‘Purpose is about giving ourselves away for other people’s freedoms and bending ourselves to the interests of others’. It has been exactly 50 years since the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, someone who gave himself – and was prepared to give his family - away for other people’s freedoms. As we remember this particular anniversary, I would ask our children three further questions: What will I do with my education? Where will the curiosity lead? What will I gift my life to?
Make a difference
Those of you who know me realize that I am very unlikely to spend the very few minutes remaining with me giving a report on everything that has happened in the School during the course of the year; though it is worth us reflecting and celebrating record examination results, a successful Independent Schools’ Inspectorate Inspection, enriching evenings in the Music Schools, Ferndale and Leatherhead Theatres, plenty of victories on the games fields and a multitude of individual and group achievements by pupils. This really is a remarkable School, made so by ambitious, talented (but often modest) pupils and supported by dedicated professionals both in the teaching and non teaching teams and I should like to thank all of them for the work that they have done this year. In particular, I should like to thank everyone who has contributed to making this our Prize Day a successful occasion and joyful celebration of the work that we do at Freemen’s. And that often under-thanked group – parents – for the support that they give to Freemen’s in so many contexts.
I should also like to say a special thank you to our Chairman, Roger Chadwick, who has entered his final year at the helm and for whom this will be his last Prize Day in this important role. I – and the School – are very grateful for your support.
It is worth remembering that our engagement as a School with The City of London Corporation, Guilds and Livery Companies often puts us in touch with a host of women and men who have a tremendous sense of purpose themselves and we are grateful for your engagement with this community in Ashtead.
And with that in mind, I will leave you with a few wise words from Ralph Waldo Emerson, something I shared with the School earlier this year:
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 
Christine Chadwick, Emma Redcliffe, Fiona Adler, Sian Goddard, Kerri Martin at Prize Day 2018
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