A very good morning to everyone and welcome back to the College after the long summer break. It is great to be here at last and speaking to you all in this wonderful setting of the Boys’ Chapel as we start this new academic year together. A particularly warm welcome to the 88 boys who are starting out this morning on their Clongowes journey. A warm welcome also to the staff who are joining the College: Mr Maxwell (Higher Line Prefect); Mrs Liston (Economics and Geography); Mr McAuley (Mathematics and Business); and Mr Beere (Learning Support with Mathematics). I wish all new starters, boys and staff, good luck and best wishes.
I imagine that you are curious to know something about me. I was born and brought up in Manchester. I went to a boys’ grammar school in the city and on to Manchester University where I graduated in Chemistry. [In case you are curious at this point, yes I do support the football team from the red half of the city]. I join the Clongowes community with my family from our home in the north of England in what is my twenty-ninth year as a teacher. During all this time, I have worked in 5 schools, 3 of them as a Headmaster, in schools in the north and south of England. Prior to that I was the Assistant Headmaster at Mount St Mary’s College, a sister Jesuit boarding school, near Sheffield in the north of England.
As I begin my time as the College’s first lay Headmaster, I know that I am treading where others have gone before me for over 200 years, and it is beholden upon me to be mindful of that. I am very much looking forward to coming to understand what makes Clongowes such a special school.
For a moment let me ask you to reflect a little about the school. What does make Clongowes a special place? What makes it special for you? What do you like so much about it? What have you come to really cherish? Above all, what does it mean to you that we are a Catholic school in the Jesuit tradition and very proud of it too?
Let me share some of my initial thoughts with you.
We live in a society where the idea of ‘community’ is all too often seen as something which is old fashioned, where the needs of the individual seem to be more important than the greater good or benefit of all. Well, not here.
As a member of the school community (a community which is your home for much of the year), you are charged with playing your part to the full in the day-to-day life of the school. The way in which we work and live alongside one another on a daily basis is governed by our values … our Jesuit ethos which is most important to us when we are ‘at our best’. The absolute quality of the personal relationships between students, and between students and their teachers and prefects, and all who work at the College, is at the very heart of any civilised community, and I am sure that is the case here. So what are these special values?
It is about being considerate of one another,
Having a sense of respect for one another, and a sense of self-respect.
Co-operating with each other
Working for others inside and outside of school – volunteering, charity work, concern for the marginalised in our society so that we truly are ‘men for others’.
Each one of you is given every opportunity at the College to reach your full potential and develop your talents to the full be that inside or outside the classroom.
My expectation of each of you is just that – that you do your very best, and put maximum effort into all you do … I can ask no more than that. Remember that we can only be a truly outstanding school (which is what we want to be) if you are outstanding students.
If I were to see you in your lessons in class, what would I want to see? I would want to see you enjoying your work, being lively, creative, and confident. I would want to see you showing that you are curious and inquisitive in class, asking lots of questions and really taking part.
You can expect from your teachers, in return, that you are well-taught and well supported; that they ‘go the extra mile’ for you. You can expect your teachers to be passionate about their teaching, encouraging your curiosity, having high expectations of you, and encouraging you to be active in the classroom and working hard.
Your academic studies are at the heart of your education but the great colour and breadth of the Clongowes experience comes from you being fully active in so much of what the College has to offer you, whether you are the youngest boys in Elements through to the senior boys in Rhetoric. That means, for example, developing friendships in the dorms, taking part in the Ethos Programme and the Sunday Mass, involving yourself in sport, music, drama, art or one of the many co-curricular opportunities. The challenge for you is to contribute to the all-round life of the school with equal gusto, and in doing so, be the best you can be in all that you do.
So as we begin our time together at this start of this academic year, I thought it might be natural to look at some ‘new academic year’ resolutions. I have picked out 4 resolutions for you to consider this morning.
Firstly, begin with the end in mind. Where do you want to get to? May be it’s you saying: I want to get a higher report grade for English next term. I want to get top grades in my Junior Cert exams. I want to pass grade 5 music theory. I want to get into the 1st XV.
But the larger and more specific the goal, the more motivating it will be. It might be the entry requirements for the university course that you have set your heart on. If you are not exactly sure what grades you will need to study (say) Medicine at Trinity College, Dublin or Chemical Engineering in Manchester, then go and find out now.
And remember the goal is only powerful if it is yours. Where do you want to get to?
Secondly, be honest. Nothing is harder than changing your habits, and distractions shout loudly at times. Be honest about the potential barriers – not enough sleep, disorganisation, social media, on-line games, chat that fritters your study time away…? So then make yourself some specific plans to deal with them this year.
It might be: I will do an extra half hour’s work at weekends. I will meet every History essay deadline this year. Or even, I will commit to learning the irregular French verbs. No excuses!
Maybe those examples don’t ring true for you – but you can improve on them. Tell someone else your plans. Perhaps write down the small, specific, honest steps that will work for you.
Thirdly, expect some set-backs. Sometimes encounters with the external realities of life can be bruising. Sometimes our own mistakes and motivation seem to be our most powerful enemies.
There will be some ups and downs through the dark days of November and February. It won’t be easy. In fact, if it’s easy, then you have set your sights too low. As the writer Oscar Wilde said: “All of us are lying in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.” We need to make sure we keep those stars in view!
Finally, enjoy the journey. There is nothing more satisfying than a long-planned route accomplished. Celebrate the milestones and make sure that you enjoy the smaller successes along the way.
And remember, we (that is your teachers and all who work at the College) are all here to support you.
So, I am very much looking forward to living and working here at Clongowes and leading our wonderful school over the months and years ahead, getting to know you and your parents. I find the College in very good health; it is a truly great school. The challenge for each one of us is how we build upon our distinctive Jesuit roots and living tradition, and continue to grow and develop. The challenge quite simply for you and me and all who work here at Clongowes is to be the best we can be, and strive for excellence in all that we do!
Boys, I wish you all a happy and fruitful year.