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Speech Day 2019

The academic year at St John’s has come to a close with the annual Speech Day on Saturday 30 June. The sun shone on the Quad as pupils, parents, staff and governors joined to celebrate the year, present prizes and bid farewell to this year’s departing Upper Sixth.

John Willis, Chair of Governors, opened the event by reviewing the breadth of what is offered at St John’s – from the range of subjects at A level to the many activities in the co-curricular programme. He talked about the many ways the School is investing in its future, including major projects such as the new sports centre and the creation of Hawkins House (a new girls’ day house). John commented on the sense of enthusiasm and interest surrounding St John’s, from both current and prospective families, and thanked Rowena Cole, The Head, for her vision and leadership. 

In her annual address, Rowena Cole, commented that it is easy, on occasions such as Speech Day, to focus on the big events of the year but that it is the smaller interactions along the way that give an academic year its colour and its character. She shared some of her favourite memories of the year and thanked the pupils – the “heartbeat of the School” – for their contribution to the academic year.  Reflecting on the enduring nature of the values that sit at the heart of St John’s, Rowena commented that the School has evolved and developed in many ways since 1856, from the development of its estate, the age range and gender of its pupils, to its offering and its size but that, in essence, nothing has changed. Talking about our recent Centenary OJ Day, Rowena recounted conversations she had with former pupils who recognised in our current prefects, those same values that they held dear from their own school years. A desire to work hard, an ability to have fun and live life to the full and, above all else, to contribute to and appreciate the strength that comes from being part of this very special community remains at the core of St John’s.   

We were also delighted to welcome OJ, Leah Chowdhry, as our guest speaker. Leah left St John’s just a decade ago and what she has achieved since is outstanding.  Not only the first British Asian woman to swim the English Channel, a feat of endurance that raised over £150,000 for charity, but she has also been named Woman of the Year 2018 at the Asian Business Awards and Most Inspirational Young Person 2019 at the Asian Voice Charity Awards.  Leah talked about how a trip to India as a child motivated her to do something positive in response to the shocking poverty and suffering she had seen. She began raising money for charity and has since pushed herself through increasingly gruelling challenges. When facing a new challenge, Leah believes that having a ‘can do’ mind-set is something that you should work on every day. From setting up her own business, to marathon running and swimming the English Channel, she says she has learnt to dream big and be bold and brave in everything she does. She told the audience that it does not matter how old you are, everyone can make a difference in people’s lives. In her closing comments, she explained that her next challenge would be writing a children’s book for Barnardo’s and she asked the pupils, staff and parents listening to think about what they will do next summer or next year.

Before Saturday’s Speech Day, the Lower School held its own Speech Day on Friday 28 June.  Richard Harvey, Head of Lower School, said what a tremendous pride he feels for Lower School and the happy, successful and productive community that it has become. He commented on what excellent role models the Upper Third have been and wished them well as they move up to Fourth Form. Rowena Cole said that the Lower School pupils are rays of sunshine and their zest for life adds immeasurably to the life of St John’s and a number of Lower School pupils then reviewed their highlights of the year. They talked about the friendships they have formed, the laughter, the sense of belonging, the teamwork and collaboration they have enjoyed through sports and the Lower School play, and how much they are looking forward to the next stage in their St John’s education.

Both occasions provided a special moment to pause and look back on the year ahead of the summer holiday.