As the summer term drew to a close, we bid our fond farewells to the wonderful class of 2019 at a special prizegiving and leavers’ dinner. Our guest of honour and alumna Despina Tsatsas, Executive Director of the Young Vic, encouraged the girls to look forward to the adventures that lie ahead, recalling South Hampstead as “a wonderful place to begin a cultural education.”
I hope that this year’s students too leave South Hampstead with a sense that this has been a wonderful place to begin a lifelong education. I also hope they leave with unadulterated joy at the contemplation of the summer holidays ahead, excited to be opening the next chapters of their lives, and ready to embrace the glorious and exhilarating uncertainties that lie ahead.
In my own address to the girls, I reflected on a university reunion I’d attended a few years ago, where I caught sight of my university library card from Freshers’ Week – the photo made me stop in my tracks. I was 18, but looked like a child. Of course at the time I thought I looked terribly grown up. I was and I wasn’t and the same went for all my peers. Yes, all our leavers are more than ready for the world – so poised, so mature, so intellectually sophisticated, and so capable. But on the other hand, and I suspect in the eyes of their parents, there is still something of the child about them – something very precious that is indubitably worth retaining.
To their teachers, and perhaps to their parents, it seems like only yesterday that these very same girls were just joining the Senior School, charging around school with overfilled rucksacks… cheerfully signing up for ludicrous amounts of co-curricular clubs… excitedly preparing for the Year 7 disco. The years really do fly by. Parental fears of our children growing up more quickly than we would like seem to be exacerbated in a digital age. We worry about the allure and pressures of social media, about their burgeoning independence, their adolescent insouciance… But however they act at home, your daughters are a delight at school.
As a Head, it is a joy and a privilege to witness so many moments of childlike excitement each and every day… the girls’ heart-warming reactions to Maple, our new school dog; the enthusiastic cheers at Sports Day; the chatter and buzz over lunch; spontaneous games of football kicking off on the MUGA; the constant – sometimes relentless – questions in lessons; the whole school erupting into dance and laughter after the House Dance Off. Personally, I relished recapturing a childlike joy just last week, as we closed the doors to the old Waterlow Hall. Armed with a spray gun of colourful paint, I let loose on the walls with abstract expressionist glee (as the photos will testify), attempting to channel Gillian Ayres. It was rather messy – and a lot of fun!
So my message to the girls is this: don’t lose your inner child. Keep asking annoying questions, especially ‘why?’ Keep saying, ‘It’s not fair.’ Don’t bother tidying your room – nobody ever died of un-ironed sheets. Keep rolling down hills. Keep passing naughty notes in meetings just as you did in lessons. Keep dreaming. Keep thinking you can change the world because I don’t think you’ve ever had a better chance to do so. In a period where age-old assumptions about how we should work, live and run our country are questioned, young women have a golden opportunity to thrive and to shape change.
As the summer holidays stretch out before you, take the time to rediscover some innocent, childhood fun: explore; learn a new skill; go on an adventure; try something different; seek out green spaces; climb a tree; jump into a pool; dance; read books (voraciously). Most importantly, do lots of things that make you laugh, whatever helps you to rekindle some childlike joys.