“You’ve had the golden ticket: now shine!” Final inspiration for leavers at Valediction

“You’ve had the golden ticket: now shine!” Final inspiration for leavers at Valediction

Lord Simon Woolley, Principal of Homerton College, Cambridge, challenged this year’s leavers to make the world a better place when he came to QE as guest speaker for Valediction.

All of Year 13 gathered in the Shearly Hall with their parents for the ceremony – a last chance to celebrate the contribution of the Class of 2024 to Queen Elizabeth’s School and to mark the start of their new status as Old Elizabethans.

As well as presentations to all leavers and music played by the School’s senior musicians, the afternoon included a prizegiving for those who had excelled in their studies and extra-curricular activities.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “This was a super afternoon, with a great atmosphere. Lord Woolley was a brilliant and charismatic guest speaker. Amusing and inspiring in his address, he then happily spent time at the afternoon tea reception speaking to the students and their families.

“Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, even if, after all the miserable weather we’ve had this year, it was possibly just a little too hot and sunny for some!”

In his address, the Headmaster told the leavers: “You sit here holding the most spectacular array of university offers of any Elizabethan cohort to date. Collectively, you’ve received offers from 46 UK institutions across 187 individual courses, including from 22 of the 24 Russell Group unis. We know that this year has seen a record 62 Oxbridge offers and, perhaps even more staggeringly, 55% of you hold offers from a World Top 5 university.”

Not only did many of them, now 18, have their first opportunity to vote in the forthcoming General Election, but many more opportunities were now available to them in life more generally.

“You are always welcome at Queen Elizabeth’s and can be part of our community for as long as you like. There is a growing network, online and in person, from which you can hopefully benefit. Do keep in touch,” the Headmaster concluded.

Year 13’s Darren Lee, who was School Captain in 2023, delivered an entertaining speech: “Though some of us may look different, with growth spurts and beards, we are the same 192 who sat the entrance test and joined in Year 7….. We did it and we did it together.”

He acknowledged the facilities and extra-curricular opportunities the School provides, as well as the care of the teachers, while noting that some of the best ‘lessons’ came from spending time with each other: the experience is as much about the moments around and between lessons, as what happens within them, he said. He implored his peers to keep in touch.

The guest speaker, who is Baron Woolley of Woodford, became Principal of Homerton in October 2021 ­– the third Black person to be elected head of a college at Cambridge or Oxford. He sits as a cross-bencher in the House of Lords. He has a focus on building consensus across political and community lines, and is passionate about educational access and supporting those with potential who are marginalised.

Lord Woolley began by celebrating the role of parents and families, asking them to stand up to be applauded by the boys. Having an 18-year-old son of his own, he identified with them, saying he knows it is not always easy, but is absolutely worth it. He celebrated the staff of the School, reminding the leavers that they turn up each day “to educate you, but also to make you shine”. They genuinely care and want you to succeed, he said.

He also called back up some individual students who had caught his attention: Darren Lee (“Our future Prime Minister!”) for his leadership and eloquent speech; Isher Jagdev (Latin prize winner) to help him with the Latin that he will need on Saturday when he conducts the graduation ceremony for Homerton undergraduates at the Senate House in Cambridge; and Nathan Woodcock (“Mr 100%”) whose perfect attendance had been noted. “To achieve change you have to be present; you have to turn up. He’s someone I’d want on my team.”

He spoke a little about his journey from a tough council estate in Leicester, where you had to learn to fight and where “the reason to go to school was to see your mates”. No one went to university from his school, but, he told the leavers: “You are going to the best universities on the planet.” Coming to Queen Elizabeth’s School was like being among the winning children in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: “You’ve had the golden ticket. Not everyone gets that chance, so the question is: what are you going to do with it?

“Be the people to stand up to inequality, to help people out of poverty, to find the cure, or build something better. The Headmaster and I are not asking you to be brilliant, to share your abilities, to make an impact on the world… we are demanding it. Not everyone can be the principal or the CEO, but every one of you can do something that makes a difference.”

The music during the afternoon included a remix composed by Indrajit Datta, as well as a medley of popular hits that had formed the soundtrack to their school years, played by Indrajit’s Year 13 peers.

Music during the afternoon tea outside following the ceremony was played by the Year 8 and 9 Music Colours winners.

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