Our Head Girl, Eleanor, addressed the School in Prayers last week with these words of encouragement. We felt they deserved a wider audience, so reproduce them here:
Good afternoon everyone, it’s so fabulous to have the opportunity as Head Girl of Walthamstow Hall, to welcome you all back at the start of what, I know, will be a great autumn term. I really hope you all enjoyed a well-deserved summer holiday and that you are excited by the opportunities that lie ahead. I must of course offer a special welcome to all of you new to the School.
I can speak from experience having joined the Wally Hall family in the middle of Year 7, so I know exactly how you are all feeling. Six years on, and I never would have thought that I would be asked to say a few words to you all today. I’m going to be honest with you, those of you who know me will know that I’m OK when I am in character, when I’m performing a role, but let me tell you this is MY FIRST CHALLENGE OF THE YEAR.
Whether this is your very first week, your first, fourth or your last year here at Wally, we are all starting afresh this September. That great feeling of carrying your pristine new school bag containing your brand new pencil case, unused sharpened pencils and untouched exercise books through the Holly Bush gate, will honestly still continue to please you even to your last first day back at school.
Throw yourself in and commit to change
The opening line of a book immediately engages and sets the tone for what you are about to read. I am looking at all those English teachers out there who would be able instantly to quote the opening of their favourite novel, from ‘The Great Gatsby’ to ‘Pride and Prejudice’. This new year marks a new brand new chapter for everyone, whether you are starting your first page or your last few paragraphs, no one can flip the pages to know what this term has in store.
Although it can be daunting to start a new chapter, it can also be challenging to reset and refocus our own self-determination and drive after such a long break away from our familiar routines. Whether you are in Year 7 starting new friendships, new subjects, new teams, or in Year 10 starting your GCSE courses, or even at the top of the School, myself and fellow Year 13s are still having to refocus our motivation ready for our dreaded exams next summer. Dare I even mention how the staff are feeling! We all have that slight apprehension about the twists and turns we are yet to face in the next few months.
Today, I want to talk to you all about something all of us in this room have in common: the challenge of coping with change.
Undergoing change can make us all aware of how much we have become used to, dependent upon or even immune to its value. Change often forces us to consider the purpose and true value of that change and why we are making those adjustments. Whether we are required to or want to alter our routine, we often want to return quickly to the safety of familiarity.
Initiate that conversation with someone different
However hard it is to believe at the time, the fear of the unknown is momentary and will simply pass. Just like a new topic you learn in class, it soon becomes all too familiar and you find you are easily able to recite that quotation from ‘Of Mice and Men’, explain how that Bunsen burner works or play that instrument perfectly. The danger lies when we become too complacent, start to assume the usual and consequently fear the unexpected. We find it becomes increasingly troublesome to adapt to changes and use our initiative to take on board new opportunities.
So how should we start embracing change? Throw yourself in, immerse yourself and commit to whatever that change may be. This takes confidence but can be as small and mighty as walking into your form room with a smile each morning, which can be the catalyst for, well, a change amongst others. No matter what kind of person you are, we are so fortunate to be in a community where we all contribute to the supportive, nurturing and healthy a place it can be.
In this new chapter, challenge yourself to embrace this time when everything is new; the plot twists and cliff hangers may not go quite to plan; this is normal, however abnormal you may feel. Let’s challenge ourselves to initiate that conversation with someone different, or to study with somebody you wouldn’t normally, we may surprise ourselves.
I will end with the opening line from ‘The Great Gatsby’: “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. Whenever you feel like criticising anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
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