Start of Term Address

Category: Community, General

Below is a transcript of the Master’s start of term address, given in Chapel on Sunday 11th September at the beginning of the Michaelmas Term.

Extract from a Prize Day Speech at Ridley College, Ontario, 1924 given by Sir Arthur Currie

Keep your hearts young; and do not fall into the modern habit of complaining about the world or into the modern desire to uproot established conventions. You did not make the world. You cannot spoil it; you can only make it better; enter into its joy with hope and faith. The tear-stained world needs your smile and your bright outlook from the eyes of youth….

Prizes are incentives to work, but they are not the object of work… Do not think if you do not win, you have failed or that your struggle does not avail [you]…. Most of the great poets and artists, most of the successful business men have struggled with difficulties and have wrought out of their conditions their success.

If youth but knew there are so many songs
For youth to sing!
Lay down, then, youth, your foolish, fancied wrongs,
Your questioning,
Take up your harp of joy where faith belongs
And wake each string!
Ah, heart of youth, there are so many songs –
Go forth and sing!

Sir Arthur Currie was the Canadian Commander in Chief during WW1 and later Principal of McGill University. He was a figure who rose to become a full General having been a gunner in the ranks in 1913, hero from the battle of Vinny Bridge.

This summer the strapline of airport HSBC advertisements was about ambition. “Today’s ambition is tomorrow’s legacy.”

As a new academic year begins, everyone is full of new ambitions but, for these to be realised, you need some assistance in being shown the way.

So, firstly, a question - If they made a film of your life who would be in the credits? Whatever age and stage you are at Marlborough (it is worth thinking this through):

Who would feature?
•    Today?
•    By Christmas?
•    By the end of the Academic year?
•    At university or maybe not – should you choose another route?
•    At 30/40/50?
•    Retirement?
•    In old age when you look back – who helped fulfil ambition?
•    Just what will you value, what will inform and what will inspire?
•    And what price encouragement and optimism?

Who were/ are the key defining influences? They should be positive but it is possible that they may be reactions as a result of something negative that happened.

“The present defines the future. The future builds on the foundations of the past” (Lailah Gifty Akita, Founder of Smart Youth Volunteers Foundation and author of “Think Great”).

The American futurologist, Alvin Toffler, who died this June, challenged the world to “search out new ways to anchor ourselves, for all the old roots – religion, nation, community, family, or profession – are now shaking under the hurricane of the accelerative thrust.”

We can aspire to rise or conspire to fall... Luck is not just a matter of chance but about "Carpe diem!" – “Seize the day!” Incidentally, Latin phrases may no longer be permitted in government papers but that should not stop you knowing them. Post Brexit, our world is a wide open oyster of opportunity... Not necessarily worse nor better... It is still up to us to strive for something better, more humane.

What does the world owe us which we don't owe to the world? Or to put it in modern terms – to what are you entitled? Nothing perhaps? Except, maybe, freedom of thought...

So what is ambition? Is there anything wrong with pride and ambitious achievement so long as it is sensitive and not at a cost to others but rather deployed for their benefit? The attitude of me first / out front /not listening, the rest nowhere, is not an option

Then what price is responsibility? Surely not resigning and heading for the hills. It has been a summer of political walk aways. What kind of message does one get from that? Living with what you have opted for is important. Seeing things through is about loyalty primarily, and about long suffering, picking oneself up and trying again... perseverance.

Let’s be optimistic, despite the association of this day, the 15th year since the Twin Towers terrorism, a new book came out two weeks ago “Ten Reasons to look forward to the future” (Johan Norberg).

Let’s pick out 5 quick facts:

-    In 1981, 9/10 Chinese people lived in extreme poverty – Today 1 out of 10
-    In 1981, ½ of the world had access to safe water. Today 91% do.
-    Since the Cold War concluded (25 years ago) gross domestic product per capita has increased by as much as in the previous 25,000 years.
-    25 years ago, ½ the world was democratic, now 2/3 are (Freedom is still increasing)
-    In the last generation extreme poverty decreased from 37% to 9.6%. Rightly, of course, charities continue to do their best to raise money to alleviate conditions.

We know it cannot all be good news but we should feel encouraged and not weighed down by the pronouncements of dreary pessimists. It is our adult responsibility to encourage you, the carefree youth to hear the call of Sir Arthur Currie just six years after World War 1.  

"Take up your harp of joy and to know that the tear stained world needs your smile."

Every one of you can be an inspiration but you have to work it out and only you can do it.

Jonathan Leigh


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