Ten years ago to this day, I was sitting right up there in the back row of the gallery with my best friend at Inst. We probably would have been snoozing lightly through assembly or praying that someone fell flat on their face getting an award. My friend and I were very different. I was pretty diligent, and did all of my homework. He was more laid back and rarely worried about his studies. He is now living in Brazil with his model girlfriend, so I am not sure whether you’ve asked the right person to address you about what success entails after school.
It’s great to be back here, for only the second time since I left all those years ago. Rather than bore you about journalism or advertising in London, I want to tell you about things I have learnt since school which were never taught in any textbook. Hopefully it’s useful.
First thing. Please don’t define yourself only by your academic successes or failures. When I was here, I would worry about an exam result with the same frequency as I might worry about Russia starting World War 3 as an adult. Stop worrying. Academic work is important of course, but your character that you are developing here is just as important, if not more so. I didn’t believe this either, but this is what you will be ultimately judged on when you leave school for the last time.
Recently, a friend from school sent me an old photo from my year on our last day in 2004 on Facebook. This is what happens when you get old, people get nostalgic. It got me wondering, what was the one thing that made some of those boys huge successes in life so many years later. Some were academic or good at sport, but most weren’t. The one thing that united them, was their character. They were the boys at school who made the difficult decisions out of the classroom. They were the boys who united the whole year group. They stood up for the boy who was getting picking on and made sure that everyone felt included. These aren’t easy things to do, but there is a huge strength to the people that do them. These are things you can never be taught, but they mark you out as a leader early.
After you’ve walked out of here for the last time, you will be faced with a huge variety of people you will have to work with professionally. People who you wouldn’t normally associate with, but these people can be crucial to how you succeed. The boys who made that early decision to be judged on their character are now the adults who have thrived in life and became leaders. They are surgeons, pilots, bankers all over the world. It’s up to you to make that decision while you can.
Finally, I don’t ever think it’s too early to have your eyes on a dream. I think once you are working towards a purpose, that is when you can become unstoppable. Along the way, there will be numerous obstacles. I still face them every week of my life, as I faced them academically every single day at your age. But if you can keep your end goal in your mind, it makes those difficult days you sometimes face at school manageable. Those lonely Sunday nights when you are staring at a Maths paper that never seems to get completed or those panicked mornings walking to exams. You will get through it, I promise you that. Just always keep your eyes on the end goal.
Once you have an idea of where you want to go in your life, the obstacles you face here are simply things that you just have to get through. I made an early decision here that I wanted to be a journalist, it helped me put pressure in perspective, and realise everyday I was working on my dream. At Inst you have teachers who will help you achieve whatever you want to. But it’s up to you to make that first step, and decide what you want to do. Once you have that purpose you will have no limits.