Being asked to give a speech to boys age about 6 and their parents, on the last day of their Jesuit school term, when the boys' headmaster is also retiring after 20 years, is slightly difficult for someone about twelve times older than the boys. Thus this blog practice run seems apt:
A few days ago on a very hot day the headmaster was speaking to a parent and myself on the Donhead school lawn. The parent was accompanied by her 4 year old daughter in Ursuline Prep school uniform. You are all about 50% older than that little girl. The girl decided that cooling off was more fun than the conversations of the three grown-ups. She suddenly let go the hand of her mother and darted over to the lawn sprayer the Donhead gardener had turned on for such a sweltering day and splashed in the water right under the lawn sprayer in full uniform.
Mother, Mr McGrath and myself all laughed and the little girl was cool though a bit wet.
Possibly by the time you are 6 years old, jumping into spraying water in full school uniform, would still be such a cause for laughter but as a Jesuit once famously said" Give me the boy at age 5 and I will give you the man at age 12" so 12 is probably the age at which growing up really takes place and when anyway, your mums and dads would not be too pleased at.a soaking in school uniform.
Growing up does take place very quickly; time flies but one of the greatnesses of
a Jesuit school is that it teaches you to make the best use of time for others and yourself. Look at what some old Donhead boys have achieved or are achieving with their time -
Nicholas Hudson is now a bishop
Christian Barraclough is a brilliant trumpet player many of you will have heard at Mr McGrath's farewell mass last week.
Tom Holland is Spider Man
Danny Cipriani has played rugby for England
HCPT The Pilgrimage Trust - many boys from Jesuit Schools help disabled children on this week away in Lourdes.
And so it goes on.
My own school Beaumont College, was also Jesuit school before it closed 50 years ago. St John's Beaumont which you all know through sports matches there, was its prep school.
Donhead has many of the same traditions as Beaumont. Indeed David Fettes who was in my school class, has visited Donhead several times, to show boys here some of the many photographs of wild life and animals he has seen around the world.
Sadly though some hundred boys at Beaumont died for their country in WWI and II and even now mass is said for them all at the huge war memorial at the old place each Remembrance Sunday. Hopefully you will all lead your lives in times of peace though some of you may join the armed forces to help others who are less fortunate.
Perhaps a true story from Beaumont will illustrate to your parents and yourselves one of the greatnesses and difficulties of being a boy at a Jesuit school.
Many years ago Queen Victoria was alone driving a horse and carriage through the streets of Eton. By chance two Beaumont boys were nearby, having broken the school rule forbidding boys to leave Beaumont's grounds. The Queen's horse and carriage then became stuck in the railway line just as a steam train was travelling towards her at speed. The two boys dashed over and pushed the carriage out of the path of the oncoming train, in a nick of time.
Upon the boys returning to Beaumont they said nothing, because the punishment at that time for breaking bounds. would have been a beating - twice nine ferulas - (beatings with ferulas or canes thankfully have long since banned!).
However Queen Victoria came up to the school gates shortly afterwards to say thank you. In C19 the Queen was not allowed by law to enter Catholic properties so the Jesuit headmaster was called to meet her at the foot of the drive to Beaumont College, where she expressed her gratitude for what had occurred. After the Queen left the two boys were called to the headmaster's study where they were given their tough 2 X 9 punishment for breaking bounds.
Many years later in C20 when the silly rule rule about the Queen visiting a Catholic school had gone, Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria's great great grand daughter, visited the school again but this time went up the drive to the School's main door to thank Beaumont College and boys for that life saving act so many years previously.
So boys, whatever your life holds, go for it with courage and to the best of your abilities.
Keep in mind though nothing really worthwhile comes without pain- look at Andy Murray's or Paula Radcliffe's battles, and even though thankfully, punishments like ferulas have long since gone, you should still accept that difficulties like being laughed at, or examinations, or illnesses or hurts, will occur but always work your way through them as best you can.
50 years after leaving my old Jesuit School, all those in our year are to meet there again in November this year for dinner in the old higher line refectory and a laugh. Let us hope that you too will in the years ahead, remember Donhead:
"Ad Majorem Dei Glorium Long Live those Donhead days."