Formal but fun: saying farewell to QE’s leavers

Formal but fun: saying farewell to QE’s leavers

QE’s Valediction event for the Class of 2023 saw the 450th anniversary year cohort gather with their parents for an afternoon celebration.

There were prizes for some, while the contribution of all the leavers – or graduands – was celebrated during an occasion in Shearly Hall that featured speeches and presentations, followed by afternoon tea on Staplyton Field.

The guest speaker was Sahil Handa (OE 2009–2016), the first-ever Elizabethan to take up a place at Harvard in the US, who has already blazed a trail in several different fields, from the arts to founding IT startups.

As befitting an event which embraced a sense of fun alongside its formal aspects, the afternoon’s musical interludes looked to the lighter side: staff reportedly enjoyed processing in to the accompaniment of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, performed by the QE Jazz Lounge.

Headmaster Neil Enright thanked parents for their “huge support, both moral and financial, over the years” and urged both them and their sons to stay in touch with the School.

He told the boys: “I hope in the years to come that you will come back and see us; tell us about your adventures and careers; and, more importantly, tell those following in your footsteps through the School: that you will show them and their families the great variety of things that an OE can do, and an Elizabethan can be.”

The guest speaker was himself an example of that variety. Currently a Visiting Fellow at The John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Sahil is, among many other things:

  • A writer: he was a founder of Persuasion, a non-profit magazine devoted to liberal values and the defence of free speech
  • An entrepreneur: he has worked on both Typos, a messaging app for creatives and Lines, a messaging app offering verifiable communications in the blockchain-based web3, for which his company has raised over $6.5m in funding
  • A dancer: he ran the QE dance club for four years and lists “dance battles at nightclubs” among his present interests
  • An artist: he was selected for the Royal Academy of Arts’ AttRAct scheme while at QE and still enjoys painting on canvas.

Sahil attended Valediction together with his mother, cousin, friends and his brother, Nikhil Handa (OE 2013–2020). He recalled his first encounter with Deputy Head (Pastoral) David Ryan, who hauled him over the coals after spotting him dancing outside the classroom window to entertain his classmates during afternoon form time. This less-than-auspicious beginning soon turned into a supportive relationship, however, when he became part of Mr Ryan’s English class. “I thought he’d make my life miserable. But to my surprise, it seemed as though he’d forgotten the whole episode entirely. I went on to learn everything from him… Mr Ryan was also the first person who complimented me for being a generalist.”

Sahil spoke of: the trials and tribulations of being a writer – “if I did not write, I would not be true to myself”; the importance of confidence and of learning from rejection, and of “maintaining and strengthening the relationships that matter”.

In conclusion, he alluded to the former TV show, Takashi’s Castle. “There’s an activity where contestants try to skip across stones on a lake, avoiding falling into the sea. I like to imagine. It’s how I feel when I’m dancing: like melodies are being created for my feet. You are now leaving a place of constraints and the world will create stones for you, if only you skip. Write the email. Ask the question. Start the conversation. Say the tough thing. Make the difficult choice. Take a posture towards the world that makes you look up and laugh at its wonder. It’ll be as though somebody is creating stones for you to walk on.”

A large majority of Year 13 students attended. All received a set of QE cufflinks, while the prizewinners also received a copy of former Headmaster Dr John Marincowitz’s new history of the School, Queen Elizabeth’s School: 1573–2023. Among the speakers was Theo Mama-Kahn, School Captain 2022, who was one of the leavers. He gave a vote of thanks.

During tea afterwards, there were performances by four forms who shone recently in an inter-House music competition.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Enright said: “We began a Valediction event both because we wanted to say farewell formally as a School, but also to give people an opportunity to say their own goodbyes: the chats and well-wishing out on the field, with boys, families and staff thanking each other for all they have done over the past seven years, was an important element of the occasion.

“The Class of 2023 have distinguished themselves not only as a highly able cohort, but one characterised by kindness and positivity. They have served as great ambassadors to those younger in the School and I look forward to them continuing this record within our alumni community.”