Speech Day 2019

There was a wonderful sense of community at this year’s Speech Day – even the sunshine joined in.  The grounds looked wonderful; the prefects’ ushers’ carnations were in full bloom; the Dome was at its best – dazzlingly full of Mrs Mulcahy’s beautiful flowers; and the Swing Band upped the tempo and raised the smiles with its own fantastic set of joyful melodies under Mr Shepherd’s expert baton.

Mr Finbow set the scene with a perfectly judged overview of the Foundation’s aims, aims which seeks to nurture and guide young and old through its impressively diverse set of responsibilities, with our School main amongst them.  Miss Norman, building on an early spontaneous round of applause to acknowledge the first female Head of the School, embraced the ideals of community and care in her inspirational vision for what a Woodbridge education stands for: young people growing into adults who understand their central commitment to others, and with a keen understanding of their responsibilities to each other and to the world around us.  Of course this played well with Miss Norman’s guest, Professor Pretty, who, having enjoyed the potted biographies and admired the book choices of our prizewinners, laid out his own vision for all of our futures.

Despite the bleakness of some of his statistics, and where simple extrapolation would leave the world in as little as seventeen years, his message was full of hope.  Hope, because he sees the power in small actions, and the relative unnecessariness of so many ‘things’.  He exhorted us to look around, to enjoy moments, to see colours anew, to relish flavours, to preserve rather than use or destroy, to plant rather than cut.  His eleven essential props, bracketed by an oak timber 8000 years old and an oak sapling no more than a year or two, each told vital stories – destruction and spoilage; but also redemption and harmony – Balinese rice fields and the Avocet, but plastic from the Arctic and avian extinction too. He called us to arms.  Every little bit we can do matters.  Hence the oak tree as Britain’s greatest home for biodiversity.  And the richest nations must take the lead, so we should start if no one else will.  So, consider your actions (or inactions) and work for the next generation (perhaps something the last few generations have begun to forget). And by way of advice, he offered the Japanese ideals: eat properly (four colours on your plate!), exercise regularly, socialise, keep on learning, and garden!; he reminded us to find value in ‘things that are not things’: a sunset, birdsong, colours, harvest and growth; he exhorted us to produce less carbon dioxide; and he left us with Mary Oliver’s poem:

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

And then to cap a truly inspiring and uplifting occasion, Head girl and boy, Poppy and Toby, offered our thanks to Professor Pretty with a beautifully judged, and immensely sincere and touching, double act.  And the day’s best joke.