Year 13 Muck-up Day

Today marked our Year 13 Muck-up Day, where we said goodbye to our Year 13 students and had one last hurrah before they head off for study leave and start the next chapter of their journey.

Prison Break was the theme this year, with the Senior School being turned into a crime scene fit for a detective series and staff joining in with the themed outfits.

During the day our Year 13 students had the opportunity to cause a little chaos, whilst celebrating in style with a farewell parade around the school and a BBQ in the Sixth Form garden.

In a tribute to our leavers this year our Head of Sixth Form, Mr Benedict, gave a heartwarming speech during their final assembly which you can read below.

"Let us begin with an ending: ‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’

Those final lines of The Great Gatsby frame this occasion neatly: that what has come before defines what comes next. In this context, the ending of an education begins your next adventure.

And just as the queen has many birthdays, so our Year 13s have many goodbyes. While this is not the most formal, it is the most public, and so my job is to say farewell in front of our community.

In many respects it doesn’t feel right that I’m the person standing here and saying goodbye.

For starters, I should be sharing the stage with Mr Hayward, who has overseen your Sixth Form years as much as I have. Secondly, and more pressingly still, there will be many people in this room who have known you or taught you for longer than I have. I would like you to imagine, therefore, that I stand before you as a mere conduit for the collective feelings of us all.

But while our time has been brief, it has also been rich, mad and significant. I will miss you. You are an amazing bunch of humans. Thank you for letting me share the wonder of a little bit of your journey, and I have learned so much along the way.

I have learned that you are an amazingly kind year group. Whether baking biscuits to pick up a friend after some bad news, or staying late for solidarity in the study room, it is noticed. You will cherish that camaraderie when you remember this place.

I have learned you are a fun and a funny year group. I laugh every day in your company. And I am certain, if a little nervous, that you will get the tone right for today.

I have learned that you are stronger and braver than you realise; confronted by so much that none of us could have predicted. You have had rites of passage taken away from you and navigated the storm with fortitude. You do not yet know the power in this.

I have also learned that so many of my heroes were desperately flawed men, that tears are not the same as weakness, that Danny the dog is the most important member of the pastoral team, that there is an intrinsic goodness in this year group, and that I use the word ‘intrinsic’ too often.

And, if you are to be believed, you have even taught Year 12 how to use a dishwasher.

Convention dictates that I should write you a poem, but if you will forgive me, I have instead gone for a parable. In fact, I’ve gone for two.

The first is an excerpt from a speech given by David Foster Wallace to a group of American college graduates in the year you were born.

Wallace is one of my all-time favourites; a fiercely clever writer, philosopher, essayist, cynic and intellect, and I would like to share the opening of his speech:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

This is a standard requirement of graduation speeches, the deployment of didactic little stories, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.

Of course, I’m supposed to talk about your education’s meaning, to try to explain why the qualifications you are working so hard towards have actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let’s tackle the most pervasive cliché, which is that education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge before you enter the real world as it is about “teaching you how to think.”

The problem is the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of frustration and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But there are different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unexotic ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging sermon.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: “This is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

So there is the first parable. And I wonder if the ‘Prison Break’ theme of today’s festivities betrays a propensity to fall into that trap of forgetting that ‘This is Water’. Or maybe, as ever, I’m over-thinking it and ruining the fun.

You can relax now because my second reference is a book aimed at one-year-olds. It is my son’s favourite story and it just so happens also to be about water.

It is a masterpiece called ‘Don’t Worry Little Crab’ and it is life-affirmingly beautiful. The plot is simple enough and I’ve reduced it further to five essential acts. I hope you’ll spot the obvious metaphor for today. And so it begins:

Little Crab and Very Big Crab live in a tiny rockpool

It opens with Little Crab wanting to see the sea, full of ambition and dreams. And Little Crab, escorted and encouraged by Very Big Crab, goes on a journey from his rockpool to the lip of the ocean.

They go TIC-A-TIC, TIC-A-TIC over the rocks… SPLISH SPLASH, SPLISH SPLASH across the pools.

The journey is fun and exciting and noisy, but there is a looming naivety about the challenges to come.

Finally they get to the very edge. “Here we are,” says Very Big Crab.

On arriving at the sea, it all looks very scary and intimidating and Little Crab suddenly just wants to go home.


Wave after wave comes crashing over the rocks and Little Crab is scared to jump in, but with the constant reassurance and help of Very Big Crab, Little Crab finally musters the courage.

“LOOK, Little Crab!”

Once underwater, Little Crab has the time of his little life. He makes lots of colourful friends and plays games with them. At the end of the day, Little Crab doesn’t want to go home, but asks if they can at least go the long way home.

“I think you can go anywhere,” says Very Big Crab. And off they went.

The story might lack the zip of Wallace’s cadence, but it’s equally pertinent for today: as off you go.

So, Year 13s, I make two requests of you. One for today and one for the future.

For today, find a teacher or a friend or a member of the school community who deserves your gratitude. Tell them what they did for you. This is the ‘petty, unexotic’ thing Wallace was on about and it’s also the most important thing you can do.

For the future, stay in touch with us. Write to us. Visit. Share your wisdom with us. Tell us about your journey across the ocean. It will keep reminding us, too, that ‘This is Water’.

And, finally, to return to Wallace’s speech, on behalf of everyone here: we wish you way more than luck."

We can't wait to find out what awaits our leavers over the coming years.