I’ve said before that I’m not really a fan of the hype which inevitably accompanies the start of a new year. But as we returned to school this week and I prepared for our first assembly of 2022, I did pause to think about the year we’ve said goodbye to and the one which lies ahead.

I tried to identify the most positive moments of 2021 and asked my husband what his three standout moments had been.  His (rather dispiriting) response was that he couldn’t think of any as it hadn’t been a good year.  Being a naturally more optimistic person, I took him to task and reminded him of the puppy who joined our family, the holiday we went on, and the wedding of a close friend which we were finally able to celebrate after three Covid-related cancellations.  He conceded that those had been good moments, despite the uncertainty and the restrictions which punctuated much of last year.

The national press is always full of reviews of the year, taking one angle or another, so I went in search of the positive moments they had identified.  I found countless examples of sporting highlights, with England’s progress through to the final of the Euros featuring high on the list.  As England progressed further than expected through the competition last summer, the national mood became increasingly buoyant and many people with next to no interest in football got caught up in the excitement.  There was talk of an extra bank holiday if the team won and, while that was sadly not to be, for a brief moment the unity and shared anticipation was quite something.

And it wasn’t just football we had to thank for special sporting memories. Positive stand out moments a plenty came from the Olympics, such as Tom Daly and Matty Lee’s diving gold and the Kennys’ cycling achievements.  To cap it all off we also shared the joy and exhilaration of Emma Raducanu’s astonishing US Open win aged just 18.

Away from sport, science gave us some pretty special moments in 2021 as well; from the creation of multiple successful vaccinations against Covid, to the successful landing of Perseverance, the Mars rover, on that distant planet.  We can’t yet say what the long-term impact will be, but Cop 26 seemed to signify an increased momentum and motivation from world leaders to combat climate change and deforestation. And there were green shoots of hope amongst the tragic realisation that poorer Covid-related outcomes amongst black and other ethnic minority groups with darker skin were caused by the fact that pulse oximeters were far less effective in recognising their blood oxygen saturation levels. However, this understanding drew vital attention to an inequality in our care system, with action now promised in the UK and US.

For anyone who shares my soft spot for Strictly Come Dancing, the same sex pairing of John and Johannes, and the inspiring win by the show’s first deaf contestant, Rose Ayling-Ellis, were things that I can’t imagine happening when the show first launched in 2004. As well as brightening up winter evenings, it demonstrated how far we’ve come and that positive change can and does happen.  So, yes, it was a tough year. But amongst it all there were positive moments: of unity, acceptance, advancement and of brilliance.

So back to my husband’s initial thoughts that 2021 had been all bad. Well, with a bit of thought, even he remembered the weekly themed dinners he forced us all into as family on Saturday nights during that January to March lockdown.  I was a reluctant participant on week one but was quickly converted and, on dark days, they brought sparks of fun.  And maybe this is the crux of the message to us all: even in really difficult times, there can be moments of happiness and fun, moments of celebration, of connection, of achievement or brilliance. The challenge is either to look for them, recognise and appreciate them or, perhaps even more importantly, to set out intentionally to create them. It might sometimes feel a bit like panning for gold but they can provide hope going forward. So, if you haven’t done it already, why not cast your mind back over 2021 and think about the positive moments or experiences you had?

And what of 2022? What are you looking forward to and hoping will bring standout moments of happy reflection by this time next year?  There may be moments for each of us that will be difficult in the months ahead. But there will also be wonderful surprises that we can’t predict today. And alongside these there are the things we’re already looking forward to – a holiday abroad, a long overdue party, enjoying the results of your hard work by securing the place at your first-choice university, a sporting victory, or a theatrical performance. These special moments will be personal to each of us. But I want to encourage everyone in the St John’s community to think about these personal hopes for 2022 and the opportunities that are there to be seized.

The Archbishop of Canterbury gave his New Year address from Kew Gardens this year, an apt location for a time of year associated with new beginnings and personal growth.  He reminded people that: “When we plant a seed, we don’t see the fruit immediately.”  As we reflect on the year that has been, I’d encourage us all to think also about the seeds we are planting. What are our hopes and aspirations for the next 12 months, and what do we each, individually and collectively, need to do to make those hopes and aspirations grow into reality?  I, for one, can’t wait to see what wonderful things 2022 will bring.