Friends' School welcomes Al Mennie as Guest of Honour at GCSE Reception
Surfer and adventurer Al Mennie received a warm welcome back to Friends’ School when he was the Guest of Honour at the annual GCSE Reception. In an entertaining address, he talked about his experiences since he had left school. He said that, although it had seemed unlikely that someone who lived in the countryside on the outskirts of Belfast would ever become a successful surfer, he had been allowed during his time at school to develop this interest and was grateful for the support and encouragement he had been given during his time at Friends’. He reminisced about the old swimming pool and how small things had helped him achieve his goals.
Al told pupils that if they wanted to achieve something, they should not allow potential obstacles to come in their way. He said that they should ‘follow their dreams’, and that they could make things happen if they wanted to. He talked about his own pathway through A-levels, Technical College and University and said that this was also important to him. He advised pupils not to neglect this aspect of their lives: no matter what they ended up doing, their education would be vitally important to them. Pupils and parents found what he said inspirational, and his speech was warmly received.
After presenting GCSE certificates and Progress Files to all who had taken GCSE examinations last summer, Al Mennie and his fiancée, Sara O’Neill, joined pupils, their families and members of staff for refreshments in the Dining Hall. He proved popular with the pupils, with many lining up for photographs and asking him about his exploits in surfing.
At the Reception, Stephen Moore, Principal of Friends’, spoke about the Friends’ pupils who had taken GCSE exams last summer, noting that, in awarding Progress Files and GCSE certificates to each one, the School recognised and valued the achievements, talents and interests of each individual, both within the classroom and beyond.
Mr Moore said that all of the pupils present should be congratulated on their success.:
“Collectively, this cohort of young people can be very proud of what they have attained at GCSE, and their results count amongst the best ever achieved by pupils at Friends’. Tonight I can report on the highest proportion of A* and A*- A grades ever recorded in School: in fact, 35% of entries were awarded an A* grade, up from an already impressive total of 27% in 2016 and 29% in 2015; 74% - almost three quarters – of entries were at A*/A, up from a previous best of 67%. Sometimes it is hard to appreciate the significance of statistics, but I do hope that we can acknowledge the scale of the success these young people here tonight have achieved.”
Mr Moore said that it would be impossible to list all of the individual successes, but that it was appropriate to mention some individual achievements:
“A total of 51 pupils – more than one third of the cohort – achieved 5 or more A*s, which represents a very high standard indeed. Katie Bowden, Rachel Collins, Emma Harkin, Cailtin Lenfesty, Taylor Lunney and Diana Nesbitt each achieved 8 A*s, and ten pupils – Olivia Agnew, Emma Herd, Grace Malcomson, Pippa Dugan, Laura Fong, Victoria Hunter, Jack Mawhinney, Ruby McElhinney and Jessica Sanford – achieved 9A*s and 1 A. Old Scholars’ Prizes will be awarded this evening to a further ten pupils, who each had a perfect record of ten A* grades: Rachel Acheson, Kathryn Allen, Zoe Dickey, Hugo Henderson, Amy Laird, Joshua Lindsay, Alannah Millar, Conor Taylor, Louise Treacy and Cameron Watson. This shows remarkable consistency across a broad and challenging curriculum: all of these pupils sat Maths, English, English Literature, at least one Science subject and one Modern Language, as well as Religious Studies.”
Mr Moore said that he was full of admiration for the way in which pupils were able to balance their commitment to academic success with their interest in a broad range of activities. He said that the first term in Sixth Form had been a busy one with pupils involved in the School Council, the Charity Council, Young Enterprise and debating; they had also managed to take part in Silver Duke of Edinburgh Expeditions to the Mournes, a Senior Girls’ Hockey tour to Hamburg and a Scripture Union weekend to Coleraine. He added that over the next two weeks, pupils would be taking part in the German Exchange to Weinstadt and a Spanish homestay visit to Santander.
The Principal also spoke of the wide range of interests the pupils present enjoyed outside the classroom, and talked about individual and collective successes in a number of activities, including the Maths Challenge, public speaking, music and sport. He highlighted achievements in sport, including hockey, rugby, netball, badminton, swimming, orienteering and sailing. He said that the number of pupils with representative honours, particularly in boys’ and girls’ hockey, meant that there was much promise for the future and that he looked forward to reporting on a successful season at the end of the year.
Mr Moore concluded:
“Life in School is busy, and there is much more that could be mentioned if time permitted. Having successfully navigated their way through the tides and eddies of GCSEs, it is good to see our pupils embrace with such enthusiasm the challenges and opportunities School offers them. Moving into Sixth Form brings fresh opportunities, new responsibilities and a different relationship with school: it is an exciting time. I know that our young people have the work ethic, the curiosity and the independence of mind to excel at this next stage of their lives. Their achievements prove that they have the ability to compete with the very best from across the United Kingdom and Ireland, so they should have no hesitation in setting themselves bold and ambitious targets for what they wish to achieve. And as they take a leading role in many of the enrichment activities we offer here, they will develop their interests and, increasingly, inspire and motivate younger pupils to follow in their footsteps. I know that these young people here tonight have the creativity, the drive and the ability to make a difference in our society, and I look forward to watching their progress through A level and beyond.”