We could not have wished for a more glorious, sunny day for the backdrop of our Founders’ Day, which took place on Saturday 30th June.
The Commemoration Service at the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin in Calne was a fitting way to start the day. The School Chaplain, Father Jonathan Beach, led the proceedings, after thanking the Revd Bob Kenway. Headmistress, Dr Felicia Kirk, read the Founders’ Day Prayer, remembering those who had founded and built the school, and the Readings were delivered eloquently by Olivia, Head of Chapel and Head Girl, Farida, with the Dedication by Deputy Head Girls Isobel and Anna, with Farida. We welcomed The Venerable Hedley Ringrose, the current Interim Deputy Chair of Governors at St Mary’s Calne and St Margaret’s Preparatory School (and Governor since 2011) to deliver the Address. Hedley began by thanking Dr Kirk and stating that he was grateful to have been given plenty of notice – compared to the last time he was asked to speak at a school in Bangalore, when he was given little notice for an event which was rather more grand than he had anticipated – complete with red carpet and an arena of 3,500 attendees! Only later did he discover that Desmond Tutu had delivered the address the previous year! Be prepared for the unexpected was the key message from this experience. Hedley’s Address covered different aspects on the theme of ‘leadership’, with examples from the ‘greatest leader, Jesus’. Using events from the Bible, Hedley demonstrated the different attributes required of a leader: the need to take responsibility; the importance of building a strong team , not being aloof and seeking help when you need it. Hedley’s final point was demonstrated via the story of Jesus' Day Off by author Nicholas Allan, with the message being that leaders also need to know when to take a break, relax and reinvigorate themselves.
The music at the Commemoration Service was performed by the Chamber Choir, who sang Brahms’ Geistliches Lied, as well as Handel’s Zadok the Priest, the composer being a favourite of Mr James Rothwell. Junior Consort gave a splendid performance of Jools Scott’s The Spheres, and the hymns were sung with great gusto.
The day was filled with music and celebration. In school, everyone was also able to view and appreciate the Art Trail on display – a celebration of the artistic talent and creativity of the girls, with more than 100 pieces featured and every year group represented. The quality of the work is exceptional and testament to the passion, determination and bravery of the girls.
Music in the Marquee commenced before lunch with performances by our UVI (Year 13) Leavers: Lucia, Millie, Maia, Meg, Thea, Jean, Maiya, Gabby, Bella, Alicia and Myra. It was a poignant and memorable concert, and was the last of seven years of performances at St Mary’s. Maia also performed Restless Youth, with which she won the school’s song-writing competition this year. Two vocal groups added to the line-up: Chamber Choir performed Stanford’s The Blue Bird, and the UVI Vocal Ensemble sang, very appropriately, So Long, Farewell from The Sound of Music.
While families enjoyed picnics on the field in the sunshine, the UVI Leavers and their parents, along with VIPs and Guests, also enjoyed a special champagne reception.
Following Music in the Marquee and the picnics, it was then on to the Prize Giving itself. Mrs Vicky Wilson, Interim Chair of Governors, opened the Prize Giving and thanked fellow Governors, with special thanks to The Venerable Hedley Ringrose and former Chairman, Simon Knight. She thanked the dedicated team of staff and Dr Kirk for her vision, her forward-thinking and her hard work, ensuring that the school is 'at the top of its game, with impressive accomplishments’. Vicky also congratulated the Grounds Staff on the wonderful floral arrangements and the beautiful grounds, before handing over to Dr Kirk. After a vote of thanks to all involved, Dr Kirk welcomed our Guest Speaker, Dame Katherine Grainger DBE, Britain’s most decorated female Olympian of all time and the first British woman to win medals at five consecutive Olympic Games, and, since last summer, Chair of UK Sport. Dr Kirk alluded to our own ‘Vision for Sport’ and how fitting it was to welcome Katherine in the year we opened our new Sports Complex. Dr Kirk praised the people at the heart of the school – the pupils themselves – and all those who have helped to make the school community so special – the outstanding teaching staff, the Governors, the non-teaching staff, the parents, the PGSM – who all make the school the thriving place it is. Dr Kirk paid tribute to those staff leaving us this term with special mentions to Mr James Rothwell, Senior Master, her PA, Bunny Briggs and interim Bursar, Mr John McCausland. She expressed her personal gratitude to Mr Simon Knight for his help and unstinting support as former Chair of Governors. Dr Kirk praised the whole Prefect Team, Head Girl and Deputy Heads for the great example they had set to all the girls and expressed her admiration for the whole year group for their prowess across the curriculum and their extra- curricular achievements, in particular highlighting their charity work and their involvement in the local community: 'You have shown true leadership in many ways, and one of the things I associate most with you is your commitment to giving back and helping others.'
Dr Kirk’s powerful and memorable address focused on the importance of ‘purpose’ and the necessity of keeping abreast of changes in society (for example, Brexit) and changing technology, communications and social media, of not existing in a vacuum: 'We need to be clear about our purpose and about our vision for how we put that purpose into practice…we can’t assume that it will always stay the same. Like other organisations, we need to adapt, while building on our traditions.' Dr Kirk used the analogy of chef Galton Blackiston’s book, A Return to Real Cooking – reacting against the foams and molecular concoctions of some chefs - to the school’s own approach: ‘A return to real education.’ At the heart of the education is the focus on achievement, but with a real educational ‘substance’ behind the results, ensuring that the girls have a deep understanding of what they are studying and take time to do this (a ‘slow food’ rather than the ‘fast food’ approach). Dr Kirk concluded her speech with some rousing words for the Leavers; 'having had a St Mary’s education is a privilege – I know many of you recognise that. To make the most of that privilege, I hope you take with you the purpose, values and vision that you have experienced here. And I hope that each of you, in your own way, changes the world.'
Our Guest Speaker, Dame Katherine Grainger DBE, then took to the podium to deliver a truly inspirational and uplifting speech, based on her own remarkable experiences. Katherine grew up in Glasgow but had no real life plan when leaving school and, having studied Law at Edinburgh University and also pursued the Martial Arts, knew that she wanted to make an impact, but was not sure how. She urged the girls to pursue all paths open to them as much as possible, to keep an open mind, to do what they love and push this as far as they can. Talking about her first experience at the Olympic Games, Katherine humorously recounted how commentator, Sir Matthew Pincent, had been interviewed and said their team might come 4th if they raced their best – and how the team gave the race of their lives to win a Bronze Medal. She recounted the euphoria of getting the Bronze and then the change in their expectations and hopes during a long wait on the photo finish review, when they then hoped for a Silver – which indeed was the outcome! At the Bejing Olympics, Katherine described the team’s heartbreak and sense of failure finishing 2nd to the Chinese, after years of training. Her message was the importance of learning through failure and the ultimate test being how you respond, come back and learn from this: 'Failure can make you tougher and smarter… don’t be afraid of it going wrong.' Following a two-year break from rowing and completing her PhD, Katherine re-joined the GB Rowing Squad, resulting in a Silver medal at Rio 2016. She urged the girls to do things in their own individual styles and reassured them that they will each make an impact in their own way, be that on a global scale or a small scale, concluding by quoting the words of Oscar Wilde: 'Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.'
The Prize Giving then followed and Dr Kirk praised the girls, before introducing Head Girl, Farida, who gave the vote of thanks and tokens of appreciation to The Venerable Hedley Ringrose, Dame Katherine Grainger and Mr Simon Knight and his wife for his 21 years as Governor. Simon then spoke of the ‘visionary Heads’ during his time with St Mary’s and gave a heartfelt ‘farewell’ to the school, which is going ‘from strength to strength.’
Farida concluded with a witty speech, extolling the virtues and foibles of her year group and recounting her fondest memories of the ‘most nurturing phase of my education’, re-iterating thanks to Mr Rothwell and the House Staff before concluding on a humorous note, by citing Beyoncé – 'Be strong, fearless, brave!' Dr Kirk closed the proceedings by wishing the Leavers well and reminding them that they will always be a member of this community and always a ‘Calne Girl’. She then invited them to take to the podium one final time for their Leavers’ parting gifts from the school, before they exited the marquee to the music of The Great Escape!
It was then time to enjoy some more music. Tea-time performances were given by many of our major ensembles: String Sinfonia, Big Band, String Quartet, Strictly Strings, Wind Band and Chamber Choir all appeared, with two numbers from the big-screen hit The Greatest Showman completing the line-up: A million dreams was sung with great commitment by the combined LIV Choir and Junior Consort, and the Staff Choir gave an uplifting rendition of This is me with accompaniment by the Big Band.
It was truly a day to remember for all and a special way to bid farewell to our Leavers, who then went on to enjoy their magical evening at the Lily Ball.
To view the slideshow of prize winners for the named prizes, see below: