QE celebrates its rising stars

More than 100 prizes were awarded to younger boys at the School’s Junior Awards ceremony.

Prize-winners gathered in the School hall with their parents and teachers and received their prizes from Guest of Honour and old boy Dr Benjamin Lichman (2000­–2007).

The ceremony rewards boys in Years 7, 8 and 9 for their achievements. It features musical interludes which this year included pieces by Mozart, Fauré and Devienne. VIP guests included the Mayor and Mayoress of Barnet, Cllr David Longstaff, and Ms Gillian Griffiths.

In his speech, Benjamin urged on the boys the importance of asking questions. He illustrated this by recalling in some detail the famous story of Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin. Fleming, instead of throwing away agar plates which had accidentally become contaminated, was curious enough to ask what the effects of the fungal growth had been on the bacteria that had previously been spread on the plates. “And experiment followed by question followed by experiment (and on and on) eventually led to…the birth of the golden age of antibacterials, which saw the elimination of many types of infectious disease.”

""It was important, too, that the boys persevere in asking questions, Benjamin said. The question “Are antibiotics good for human health?” would have been answered with a simple “yes” ten years ago, he pointed out, yet as the use of too many antibiotics has enabled some bacteria to gain resistance and become superbugs, it is now clear that that answer is not entirely true.

Benjamin followed in the footsteps of two older brothers when he came to QE. He was a keen flautist at School, playing in various QE ensembles, while also being involved in debating.

""After gaining straight As in his A-levels, he went on to gain a first-class degree in Natural Sciences at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Benjamin recalled his own first academic award: a Year 7 prize for public-speaking. Praising the School, which he said had been “central to my journey”, he urged the prize-winners not to be complacent in the future and warned them against excessive competitiveness and viewing their successes in comparison with others.

Benjamin arrived at Junior Awards just a few days after himself being a recipient at an awards ceremony – in his case, receiving his doctorate in Biochemistry from University College London. Writing his thesis, which comprised 316 pages and 86,729 words, had been a lengthy and laborious process, he told the assembled boys: “The whole four years involved working on an enzyme found in plants which helps create some of humanity’s most valuable medicines. You study so many different subjects. I think you are very lucky – I just spent the last four years studying a single molecule!”

""He recently took up a post-doctoral appointment at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, which is home to one of the world’s leading groups in the study of natural plant products.

Earlier in the afternoon, the Headmaster, Neil Enright, thanked Benjamin for attending and he spoke on the importance of reflection. Alluding to the annual appraisals that are a standard feature in the modern working world, Mr Enright said: “This time to stop and reflect is valued by both employers and employees alike, giving the opportunity to ask the questions that American poet and writer Carl Sandburg felt were so important to reflect on: ‘Who am I, where have I been, and where am I going?’”

""The Mayor gave a memorable speech about taking opportunities. The prize-winners should, he said, be very proud of themselves: they had been chosen as the top performers in one of the top schools in the country, an accolade indeed.

The musical interludes included performances from three soloists from Years 7, 8 and 9 respectively. Cellist Raphael Herberg played Fauré’s Elégie, pianist Guy Flint performed Mozart’s Allegro, movement 1 from Sonata in G, while Bhiramah Rammanohar tackled Francois Devienne’s Adagio, movement 2 from Sonata in B flat. All three boys featured among the prize-winners.

After the ceremony, refreshments were taken in the Main Hall, rather than the front field, because of the weather, but this did not dampen the celebratory atmosphere: winning boys and their families enjoyed chatting and mingling with their teachers and the Headmaster.