A word of advice for school leavers: ‘know yourself and don’t be afraid to fail’

The Telegraph, 04.07.15, for school heads, the farewell address is a last chance to influence and inspire. So what's the message this year? HMC members Peter Green, headmaster, Rugby School; Kieran McLaughlin, headmaster, Durham School; Dr Michael Carslaw, headmaster, St Leonard's School, Fife; Dominic Oliver, headmaster, Lancing College; Nigel Lashbrook, headmaster, Oakham School, Rutland; Richard Cairns, headmaster, Brighton College; Dr Felicia Kirk, headmistress, St Mary's School, Calne, and Leo Winkley, headmaster, St Peter's School, York are quoted.

The parting words of head teachers to those leaving school at the end of the summer are intended to be remembered long after the intricacies of French grammar, Reformation politics and photosynthesis have been forgotten.

Heads may no longer sport whiskers like Mr Chips; they may never have had the magical powers of Albus Dumbledore but their role as founts of wisdom to sixth-formers remains as important as it has always been.

More school-leavers than ever before pass from school to university. But that does not mean life is any easier for the leavers, nor that they require less guidance. The qualifications that they need to succeed may have changed, and the pace of life has certainly increased, but that makes a little considered wisdom all the more important as a parting gift.

Columnist Mary Schmich’s celebrated and much-imitated “commencement address” published in 1997 in the Chicago Tribune was perhaps a little too sentimental, not to say funky, to serve as a model for the educationalists of the UK (“Floss!”; “You’re not as fat as you imagine”; “Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements”; “Be kind to your knees”; “Advice is a form of nostalgia”) But the threshold of adulthood seems to cry out for some formal acknowledgement.

So what will the head teachers of Britain be telling their charges this week, as the school gates close behind them for the last time?

Be brave and positive 

“Cast your net wide. Be courageous about meeting people, about having a go at something you haven’t done before.”

Peter Green, headmaster, Rugby School

Don’t stop learning 

“Take a piece of the school with you. (Not literally.) Over time you will have absorbed not only information, knowledge and skills, but also an institution’s values, culture and history. Take that experience and use it to make a difference in the world.”

Kieran McLaughlin, headmaster, Durham School

“A quote from the Duke of Wellington: 'Wise people learn when they can; fools learn when they must.’ Love of learning, is a habit that good schools inculcate in young people. You’ll need it at university, at work, and simply to make the most of enjoying life.”

Dr Michael Carslaw, headmaster, St Leonard’s School, Fife

“Sir Francis Bacon asserts that 'all knowledge and wonder (which is the seed of knowledge) is an impression of pleasure’. Make sure your energies are aimed at those pleasures built on knowledge.”

Dominic Oliver, headmaster, Lancing College, W Sussex

Know yourself and stay in touch with who you are 
“As you get older, you’ll get to know yourself better. Always, always be true to yourself. Never try to be what you are not. This is a recipe for disappointment and unhappiness. Back yourself, and be yourself.”

Nigel Lashbrook, headmaster, Oakham School, Rutland

“Never imagine that you are too small or insignificant to make a difference. Remember the words of Edmund Burke: 'Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only little.’ ”

Richard Cairns, headmaster, Brighton College, E Sussex

Look to the future; but take the time to get things right 

“Take time to enjoy this time of your life and keep your options open. When you look back, you will remember it as one of the best times of your life, a time of expanding horizons when the world feels full of possibility.

"Get acquainted with as many people as possible. The more you know, the more perspective and empathy you will have, as well as the vital connections to help you get to where you want to go.”

Dr Felicia Kirk, headmistress, St Mary’s School, Calne, Wilts

Keep a sense of perspective

“Think carefully about the difference between what is written on a person’s CV and what is said about them at their funeral. There is a difference between the words we use to convey our ambition and usefulness to the job market, and the qualities and character traits that tell the deeper story of our lives.”

Leo Winkley, headmaster, St Peter’s School, York

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