Speech Day was held at Friends’ School on Friday 8 September
The Guest of Honour was artist and sculptor Ross Wilson who is known for his public works, including his bronze The Ulster Brewer at the Waterfront and the CS Lewis Centenary Sculpture at the Holywood Arches. Friends’ pupil Lucy Mulholland had drawn inspiration from Ross’s oeuvre when she was creating her final piece for her A-level Art examination, and he had been kind enough to offer her advice on her work. It was therefore fitting that he was able to come to congratulate Lucy and her peers as they received their A-level certificates.
Ryan Lunney and Anna Furey received the Sinton and Dunwoody Prizes in recognition of their services to Friends’ School.
The Chairman of the Board of Governors, Philip McDonagh opened proceedings by congratulating pupils on their achievements and thanking the staff of the School for their hard work in the past year. He also thanked parents for their role in the education of their children and expressed gratitude to his predecessor, Dan Sinton, for his commitment to School during his time in his second spell as Chairman.
Philip McDonagh, an Economist who worked for many years with PWC, is member of the Religious Society of Friends and has served for the last ten years as a Trustee and chair of Trustees of Brummana High School, a Quaker school of 1200 students just outside Beruit. He talked of his desire to encourage more links with Brummana and other schools, like Chongquing Friends School in China, which was founded by a former pupil of Friends’ School Lisburn, Robert Davidson, in the 1890s. He said that, although these schools were very different from Friends’, they shared the same commitment to encouraging all of their young people to develop their full potential and to live and work with others.
Friends’ A level student Olivia Novaes received the Greer Cup and Morgan Gregg and David Kearns were awarded the Manly Haughton Cup for top performance in their A Level examinations.
Ross Wilson received a warm reception and gave inspirational speech to those gathered in the assembly hall. He congratulated pupils on their achievements and encouraged them as they began the next steps in their lives. He began by telling the story of Benjamin West who, in his childhood, had painted a portrait of his sister, and in the process had made a mess in the nursery. His mother, instead of scolding him, kissed him – and it was this kiss, he later said, that had made him into the artist he had subsequently become. Benjamin West went on to paint for King George III and was later President of the Royal Academy.
Mr Wilson encouraged the Friends’ pupils and the Leavers to embrace creativity, saying that it was a window to the soul. He added that education was a very personal thing, and recounted how he had been inspired by one of his teachers who had been able to appreciate what he did well. To him, each educational journey was personal and involved passion, connecting people with their own sense of possibility. Referring to Seamus Heaney, he said that we should always move forward, going to the next stepping stone no matter how difficult things were mid-stream. His advice to the audience was for everyone to find their gift and to do what they loved doing.
James Edgar was awarded the Michael Thompson Sports Bursary and Sara McGucken received the Craig Lewsley Award.
Stephen Moore, Principal, welcomed new members of staff and thanked those who had moved on: Iris Bradfield, who had retired as Head of History, Nina Thompson who had retired from the PE Department, and Stephen Thompson, who had left the previous January to take up the post of Vice Principal at Cookstown High School. He also thanked outgoing Chair of the Board of Governors, Dan Sinton, for the support and encouragement he had provided over the past year. He added his thanks to the staff at Friends’:
“I also want to acknowledge the work done by their teachers in advising, cajoling and supporting our pupils – particularly at a time when education budgets are subject to considerable constraints, and public sector pay has seen significant cuts in real terms. Much of the work done by teachers remains unseen and goes beyond what they are required to do, and I am grateful to the staff here at Friends’ for the way in which that happens.”
The Principal said that he wanted to acknowledge that circumstances had meant that it had been a difficult year for some of those who had taken examinations:
“This year, I want to take a moment to recognise those pupils who have gone through difficult times in their personal lives over the last year: those who have unimaginable personal loss, or who have had to support others in their families going through illness and hardship. I admire them not so much for their bravery, since they did not choose the circumstances they faced, but for their fortitude in the face of adversity and in their ability to cope with the devastatingly unexpected. They have achieved a great deal.”
The Principal went on to highlight the School’s performance in examinations:
“It is right that today we celebrate achievements in examinations. 135 pupils sat AS level exams this year and faced new challenges, as they were following new specifications which meant that this year the AS was worth 40% of the overall qualification rather than 50%. 28 pupils achieved three or more As, and of these, 11 pupils scored 4 As: Rachel Barnes, Amy Brown, Niamh Clarke, David Cleland, Niamh Doyle, Georgia Edmonds, Emily Hassard, Ella Hickland, Lauren Irwin, Matthew Mackinnon and Charlotte Moore. Overall grades were very pleasing, with 38% of entries at A, 70% at A-B and 90% at A-C. Although there is much work to be done over the course of the next year, especially with 60% of the marks still at stake, I have no doubt that this cohort will follow the example of our Leavers here today, who worked extremely hard to achieve the success they enjoyed at A-level.
“Results at A2 were excellent: 87% of our pupils achieved 3 or more grades at A*- C, with three pupils achieving 4 A*s: Morgan Gregg, David Kearns and Olivia Novaes. A further seven achieved 3 A*s: Aisling Broder-Rodgers, Peter Drayne, Curtis Dundas, Rheo Hue, Alexandra Hunter, Andrew Joyce and Matthew Lewis. This is no mean feat, as to achieve an A*, candidates have to gain more than 90% in their A2 modules. In total, 37 pupils achieved 3 or more grades at A*/A, and overall, the quality of entries was very pleasing, with 21% at A*, 51% at A*/A, 80% at A*/B and 94% at A*-C.
“The list of Leavers’ destinations in your programme makes fascinating reading and shows the diversity of interests amongst our pupils. Many will be entering very competitive courses at top universities, including Eve McCready who, with 2 A*s and 1 A will go up to St Catharine’s College Cambridge to read Land Economy; David Elliott (1 A* and 2 As) is taking up a place at Lincoln College, Oxford to read Modern History; and Hannah Al-Qaryooti (2A*s and 1 A) will be reading Jurisprudence at Keble. We wish everyone well as they move to the next stage in their education, or in their lives, and I look forward to hearing of their adventures as well as their successes in the future.”
In reporting some of the highlights in the life of the Sixth Form over the past year, the Principal said that it was humbling to see how much the pupils at Friends’ were able to achieve alongside their academic work. He talked about achievements in competitions and sport, both in teams and in individual disciplines. He also commended those who had taken opportunities to develop leadership and who had devoted time to the service of others:
“Our young people have also sought out opportunities to develop leadership and service and have been busy in the community. Our Leavers took opportunities last year to serve in local care homes, primary schools and with the National Trust. Our Year 13 Charity Committee, chaired by Rory McNeight and Emily Hassard, involved over 50 pupils, and organised events to raise funds for organisations including Habitat for Humanity, Breast Cancer Awareness and Jenes4Genes. And over the summer, a group of our current pupils gave up a week of their holiday to work with mothers and their children at Quaker Cottage in North Belfast. Four of our Leavers took up bursaries offered by old scholar and former Head Girl Charlotte Lewis, whose DGO Foundation provides funds for them to work overseas in projects whose aim is to provide service to others.”
At the end of his speech, the Principal talked about the memories pupils would be left with when they had moved on from Friends’:
“When we talk of outcomes, very often that is shorthand in educational circles for examination results. But although those results are important, and are rightly the focus for much of what happens today, when we talk about outcomes, we mean so much more: the personal development that has taken place, the intellectual curiosity that has been sparked, the opportunities that have been grasped, the obstacles and disappointments that have been overcome, and the service that has been given. And when these are past, there is a residue that remains. Our leavers here today will move on and forget the precise details of the lessons, the events, the concerts, the sports fixtures, the trips and the chats in the common room; but I am confident that something will endure, that all that experience of being a pupil here will be distilled into something of real value. And I hope that as they leave, they will have a memory of what that means, and that they will carry the values and lessons they have learned into their own futures and to the other people they encounter along the way.”
Head Girl Lauren Irwin and Head Boy Peter Fox thanked Ross Wilson for taking the time to come to Friends’ and, on behalf of the pupils, staff, parents and guests, expressed their appreciation for what he had said. Following the ceremony, pupils, parents and guests gathered in the Dining Hall for afternoon tea.