But we all have a past and it has had a hand in shaping who we are now. There is no denying that, even though a lot of people do. But we should celebrate our pasts, acknowledge then for what they are and learn from them. Move on from them. There is certainly no point in worrying about what we did in the past; there’s even a bit in the Bible that says we shouldn’t waste time worrying about the past (Who of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to your life? – Matthew 6:27, if you want to look it up!)
One of my favourite poems is about making decisions and living by them. It’s called the Road not taken, by Robert Frost. It tells about the feeling of being made to choose between two routes and the emotions of choosing which one. But it’s not about choosing paths, it’s more a metaphor about choices we make in life.
Choose the route you want, rather than the ‘popular’ one. Don’t go with the crowd, but what feels right for you.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.
Reflect, however, and learn? Yes. That’s what History is all about – understanding the past so we can see what went wrong and learn from it.
What about my past? Well, I’ve been very public since getting this job, so there’s probably not a lot you don’t know about me. But, in a nutshell, covering stuff that’s not so well known – I went to a rural secondary school, but didn’t like it, mainly because the teachers didn’t seem to care about me. I was middle of the road in terms of grades, so not one of the high flyers, but not one of the who needed the ‘special’ attention either. So I was left to find my own way. And I did, going to college to do my A Levels, and getting an unconditional offer to study Physics at Imperial College, in London. Not bad, considering I was the first in my family to go to university too.
One thing I learnt from it, however, was, when I became a teacher, the determination that I would never do that; never let any student think they didn’t matter because they were doing ‘OK’. And now as Sandymoor’s head, I can promise you that I will never give up on any of you.
And although this is Sandymoor’s first day too, it also has a past. 16 months ago, 5 ordinary people, just like your mums and dads, aunties and uncles, decided that Sandymoor needed a school and, using a new piece of government law, went about doing so. Over that time, they have worked through countless long nights, sat in endless meetings and jumped through un-numbered hurdles to get to this point. In doing all that, they proved themselves to be anything but ordinary and at the same time proved that anyone can be extra-ordinary if they want to be.
Every one of you has the potential to be extra-ordinary and I see it as my duty to help you find that extra-ordinary spark inside you.
And not giving up is crucial. If we gave up whenever things got a bit tough, or changed our mind for the easier path all the time, we would not be in a good place now.
It is, I think, important that Sandymoor school has opened its doors in the year the Olympic and Para-Olympic games came to GB. These athletes have so much to teach all of us, in every way. Dedication, determination, regardless of their ‘past’, they have done everything necessary to be the very best they can be. And compete in the races & competitions, celebrating another’s victory as enthusiastically as their own win.
They all have pasts, in a lot of ways no different to yours or mine. In some cases, significantly more trying than ours. Mo Farah, for example, or Victoria Pendleton. Or any of the medal winners, both in the Olympics and Para-Olympics, still continuing.
But I want to finish by focussing on the South African sprinter, Oscar Pistorius. Before he was a year old, he had to have both his legs amputated below the knees. And yet by the age of 11, the age some of you are, he was playing Rugby, Water polo and Tennis for his school and competing in his region in Water polo and Tennis. Don’t ever say you can’t do something, until you’ve worked and worked and worked at trying to do it first.
When he was a baby, his mother wrote him a letter that he was not to open until he was an adult. In his autobiography, he quotes from that letter:
I have never sat on the side, the people who founded Sandymoor school have never sat on the side, the teachers who will teach you have never sat on the side. I expect each and every one of you to try your hardest, to aim to be the very best you can be and to never sit on the side.
“The real loser is never the person who crosses the finishing line last,” she wrote. “The real loser is the person who sits on the side, the person who does not even try to compete.”