THURSDAY 28th MARCH
All those who attended the Annual Prizegiving at the Leas Cliff Hall could be in no doubt that the Harvey is in excellent shape. An event that is never less than highly impressive was, even by its own high standards, a wonderful snapshot of remarkable achievements by the current generation of Harveians.
John Dennis’s tenure as Chairman of Governors has been characterised by a real feel for what the Harvey stands for, what it represents in the community, and what it means to those who have worked and learnt there. As usual, he presided over Prizegiving with considerable skill.
Bill Wright’s swansong report of the School’s activities painted a comprehensive picture of individual and collective achievement – record exam results, sporting success, trips and tours… and so on. A truly amazing year for the School.
The warmth of the occasion was emphasised when the guest speaker, Reverend Anthony Buckley, spoke in such positive terms about the Harvey. As a former parents and Vice-Chairman of Governors, he knows the School well. It was typical of him to highlight the importance of valuing every pupil as a special individual – one of the Harvey’s unique qualities.
And then, as is customary, we heard from the Head Boy. His role is to propose a vote of thanks to the guest speaker, and to reflect on his time at the School. Over the years, successive Head Boys have entertained us with a maturity beyond their years, but never before have we been treated to such a barnstorming (to use John Dennis’s description) speech as that delivered on this occasion by Harry Stevens.
Having been friends with Harry’s father Nick since we were at school together in Dover, I know how proud he is (and rightly so) of Harry’s achievements. It is difficult to believe that it is seven years ago when he told me that Harry had been offered a place at the Harvey. At tea in the Leas Cliff Hall after prizegiving, he told me that Harry’s speech spoke for the whole family, who are delighted with the education that Harry has received at the Harvey, which has culminated in him being given an offer to read English at Cambridge. As staff will readily testify, he is a highly impressive young man.
Harry’s speech is reproduced here in full – for all to appreciate:
I must start by apologising to many of you, because what I intend to say is actually directed to a specific group among you: the younger members of the school, those at the opposite end of the school to my friends and I.
Though I am a long, long way down the list of people qualified to give advice in this hall, if I have any knowledge to impart it is to that group of young men – since they are at the beginning of a process and a journey which my friends and I are approaching the end of.
I must add, that if I say anything of any value, if I offer those young men anything which helps them in any way – I in turn learnt that at this institution, I was taught it by my teachers and my schoolmates combined, to whom I am unspeakably indebted, in a way that I will never be able to convey fully.
I start by telling those young men: never make the mistake of assuming the distance between you and I is long. It is not. The next few years will happen quickly, you will change rapidly and you will change significantly. Do not fear this. Embrace the brevity of your adolescence.
As Roger Walters so brilliantly identified once, young people are often made to believe that education and adolescence are about preparing for a life which is going to start later – after school, after university. This is not true. Shun anyone who tries to make you believe that. Your life is happening now, it has been happening for years and you must take responsibility for it.
Take risks and break rules. I’ve learnt that there is nothing wrong with breaking rules – so long as you break the right rules at the right time. Believe me, you will certainly know about it if you get your timing wrong.
Avoid arrogance – it is the one of the most vile human traits. Never believe your own hype. There are very few people in this world who can get away with being arrogant – assume that you are not one of them.
Attend as many of those joint discos with the Folkestone Girls School as possible. Girls are considerably easier to understand at your age now than they will be in couple of years. My advice to you lads is: get on their good side early.
Throughout your education, the government will bombard you with disgusting and unhelpful little phrases such as “job-market”, “employability”, “transferable skills”. Ignore them all, they are of no use to you. Focus on nothing but the cultivation of your own character. I live in faith, as should you, that the rest will follow.
When writing an essay, it always helps to get the title right. A special mention here goes to my friend, who, upon handing in an English Literature essay had his knowledge of the texts questioned by our teacher, thusly: “It just seems like you haven’t even read the novel – it’s called ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ not ‘How To Kill A Mockingbird’.”
The most important choices you will make in your time here are those between instant gratification and gratification in a week, a month, a year’s time. You are absolutely right choose either way at different times, but it is true that gratification that you wait for and that you earn is far more valuable.
Never be afraid to contradict yourself. Be a paradox, be ironic. I can’t tell you how much I love these lines from Walt Whitman:
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
Changing your opinions is the best part of learning. People afraid to contradict themselves become one-dimensional.
Learn for the sake of learning, treat all knowledge with caution and understand what a huge task the pursuit of knowledge is – answers easily obtained are answers easily discarded.
Know your town. Know its virtues and its many limitations. About 100 years ago someone asked the first ever headmaster of Stowe School in Buckinghamshire what the purpose of his school was and he answered: “To turn out boys who will be acceptable at a dance and invaluable in a shipwreck.”
Now I don’t think that applies to Folkestone, not least because anyone who’s been down the Parisian nightclub will know that a dance and shipwreck can actually be the same thing.
Shun anyone who patronises you. Don’t allow people to tell you that you are unable to understand certain things because of your age.
But never take yourself too seriously and if you must do so, do so in private – there are few less attractive things than one who takes themself too seriously in public.
To this end, being a terrible footballer should not prevent you from playing football. It certainly never stopped me.
Some will tell you to ignore what others think of you. That is ridiculous. Always be aware of how others perceive you, but just never become dependent on the opinions of others. Never measure yourself solely in the mirrors of other men.
Be dissatisfied with yourself more readily than you are proud of yourself. Dissatisfaction is a vastly more useful emotion than pride. Pride will make you stand still, dissatisfaction moves you on.
Use each other. Your classmates are a far more useful resource to you than any textbook ever will be. Stephen Fry is right when he says that education, to some degree at least, happens when students talk to each other between lessons. Find a balance between supporting one another and competing against one another – this way everyone will go further.
And finally, understand that many things over the next few years will be out of your control. I can tell you with certainty that the only thing you can maintain control over in the next seven years is your own character. People talk about things being against young people and you might think many things are against you. It may well be that the national education system you are experiencing has flaws, it may well be that examinations do not represent you in the way you think you are best represented, it may well be that society will view you incorrectly and not always offer you what you deserve – but never become one of those useless people who are prepared to use that as an excuse.
We go to a remarkable school. I am convinced that it is as good as any other. I, truly, have nothing but praise and gratitude for this institution and the thing I am most grateful for is that this school taught me that yes the education system – like all things – may not be perfect; yes organisations and procedures will risk impeding you; yes this small corner of the world feels, at times, oppressive – but everyone who comes here has the opportunity not to be limited by that.
Indeed, why this school is different to so many others, this school’s superior achievement in my view, is that it said to me and it said to my friends and it will say to all of you (to use someone else’s words, not my own, with which I end): “the system might fail you, but don’t fail yourself.
“Shipwrecked at the Parisian” – that will bring back memories for many! I am sure that we have not heard the last of Harry Stevens. Knowing Scott Norman as I do, I am equally sure that, as he looks forward to taking up the reins of Headship in January, he will have made a mental note that a future Prizegiving with Harry Stevens as guest speaker will be another treat for us all.