Speech Day at Friends' School

Speech Day was held at Friends’ School on Friday 9 September. 

 

The Guest of Honour was Old Scholar Christine McCartney who is the Campaigns and Advocacy Executive for Oxfam Ireland.  A Quaker, Christine left Friends’ twenty years ago and worked as in journalism and in politics in Scotland before returning to Belfast to work with Oxfam.

The Chairman of the Board of Governors, Dan Sinton opened proceedings by congratulating pupils on their achievements.  He thanked the staff of the School for their hard work in the past year.  He also passed on best wishes from the Board of Governors to recently retired Vice Principal, Linda Heggarty, and congratulated Stephen Moore on his first year as Principal.  He also paid tribute to his predecessor, Margrit Grey, who had served as Chairman for seven years and had overseen several important projects.  He did, however, warn that there were difficulties ahead:

“These are tough times for the School - our operational budget has been reduced again by the Department of Education and their budget projections for the immediate future do not look promising.  Governors have struggled to keep the straight and narrow path through this but the pressure being applied by the Department of Education appears to be relentless and there may still be a few corners ahead.”

The Chairman finished by quoting from two passages from Quaker Faith and Practice, saying that even if the words were written in a language of another time, they were still appropriate today. He concluded by saying that it was his hope that the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland would continue to support schools and that, in Friends’ School Lisburn, there was that ‘extra something’, a community that consisted of teachers, parents, pupils and others in the locality who were keen to support the Quaker ethos in the school.

Christine McCartney received a warm reception for an inspirational speech.  She began by drawing comparisons between the opportunities and facilities pupils here enjoy compared with those available to children in some of the poorest areas in the world, and in particular in Malawi, where she had worked with Oxfam.  She said that school was about opportunity and that it was important for the young people gathered in the hall to take what opportunities they had and to be bold and ambitious about what they could achieve. Talking about her career in journalism and politics, and latterly with Oxfam, she said that she drew inspiration from the words of the Old Testament prophet Micah, who was to ‘love mercy, act justly and walk humbly with his God.’

She finished her speech with some reflections that she had gathered from former classmates, whom she had contacted on Facebook to ask what advice would they give to their younger selves.  One of her contemporaries said that she would suggest listening  to advice given by parents and grandparents, as they won’t always be there to provide it.

Stephen Moore, Principal talked about how the Friends’ School community could cherish both the old and the new.  He said that as well as drawing on the stability and security offered by the School’s heritage, with a history stretching back to the school’s foundation in 1774 by the Religious Society of Friends, the School could also look forward to a future bursting with opportunity.  This was symbolised by the character of the school buildings and grounds, with their blend of old and new: the recently refurbished Middle House, dating from 1880, and the new Maths and Music block which offered state of the art facilities to pupils.  He said that School was grateful to the Department of Education for providing the majority of the funding for this project, but warned that schools across Northern Ireland are facing financial difficulty that means that meeting teaching costs is becoming a real challenge.

He thanked those who had left Friends’ over the past year, including Sarah Collins from the Chemistry Department and Marian Mateer, who had retired from the Mathematics Department in June.  He paid tribute to Vice Principal Linda Heggarty, who had retired at the end of August, saying that her knowledge and experience would be greatly missed.  He also thanked outgoing Chair of the Board of Governors, Margrit Grey for her help and support over the past year.

Stephen Moore said the School Concert in the Ulster Hall last April epitomised much of what went on in Friends’.

“One of the highlights of the last school year – and there were many – was the concert that took place in the Ulster Hall in March, a fitting climax to the enrichment many of our Leavers have experienced through music during their time at school.  It was a wonderful occasion, celebrating the talent we have here at Friends’ and communicating exuberance and enjoyment as well as technical accomplishment in every item on the programme.  Like Moses, our Leavers never made it to the Promised Land that is the new Music Department – for them, that was for the future, for generations who followed after them.  And I think there is a lesson there, too.  Even without the modern facilities and everything the Department of Education Handbook requires, even with the cramped and inadequate spaces they had to make do with, pupils here, under the guidance of their teachers, were able to put on a remarkable show. Having made do with very little, they can now appreciate all the more what they now have.” 

The Principal went on to highlight the School’s performance in examinations:

“It is one of the great pleasures of working in a school to see pupils flourish and to be able to recognise their achievements, as we do today.  In trying to pick out some of the highlights, I will of course leave some triumphs unmentioned – and I know young people here today who have overcome immense difficulties to achieve excellent results, and others who have shown loyalty, commitment and service to a team or society without making headlines.  All deserve recognition. And I want to acknowledge, with gratitude, the work done by their teachers in advising, cajoling, supporting and assisting them – also often in ways unseen.

It is only right that we celebrate achievements in examinations. At AS level this year, some 35 pupils gained at least 3 A grades; of these 20 were awarded four or more A grades, with Alexandra Hunter and Jinkun Zhong both achieving 5 A grades. At A level, although our overall A* -C figures were down, 45% of the grades awarded were at A* or A, with 17% at A*, our highest total to date.  Altogether, 40 pupils, nearly one third of the year group, achieved 3 or more grades at A*/A.  9 pupils gained three or more A* grades – John Dawson with six, Ross Irwin with 3 A*s and 1 A, and Alice Boyd, Emer Drayne, Jill Holley, Catherine Magee, Jordan Rowan, Daniel Magennis and Emma Rutter each with three A*s. Five of our pupils were holding offers from Oxford and Cambridge, and I am delighted that all five of them were successful.  John Dawson will go up to Cambridge to read Mathematics, where he will be joined by Emma Rutter and Daniel Magennis, who will be reading Modern Languages.  Jill Holley is taking up a place at Oxford to read History alongside Jenny Kirkpatrick who, with 2 A*s and one A, will be reading Arabic.  We wish all of our Leavers well in their various destinations and I look forward to hearing of their success in the future.” In reporting some of the highlights in the life of the Sixth Form over the past year, the Principal went on to say that it was remarkable that pupils were able to combine hard work with so many other activities, and that it was humbling to see the excellent standard they achieved in many of their extra-curricular disciplines.  He talked about achievements in competitions and sport, both in teams and in individual disciplines.  He also commended those who had done so much in the service of others and of the community and said that this was one of the most important aspects of school life, epitomised by the trip undertaken by a group of Year 13 pupils to Romania, where they took part in a building project with Habitat for Humanity.  He also spoke of the many opportunities pupils had had to travel over the past year: “Opportunities to make new contacts and experience the world beyond school have not been lacking.  These experiences leave an indelible mark; they ignite curiosity and will, for some, spark an interest that leads to a study visit or a career that would otherwise have been left unimagined.”

At the end of his speech, the Principal returned to the theme with which he had begun:

“And one final thing for our leavers.  Today you are leaving the old behind and entering the new.  In one sense, Friends’ is now in your past, and your future lies elsewhere.  But we hope that Friends’ will continue to feature in all of your futures, both when you come back to visit and indeed in your everyday lives, as the  experience you have had here shapes and colours the contribution you will go on to make to the world beyond these grounds.”