Pupils, parents, governors and staff gathered at Loretto School for on Saturday, 1st July for the annual Speech Day and Prize Giving.
The order of events was;
- Welcome by the Chair of the Loretto Governors, Mr Simon J.M. Graham
- Address by the Headmaster, Dr Graham R.W. Hawley
- Presentation of prizes by the Guest of Honour, Professor Mona Siddiqui, OBE, FRSE
- Vote of thanks by the Heads of School, Flora Mackenzie and Jason Sitte
Guests were also treated to moving musical performances on a Chinese Harp, by the String Group, an Upper Sixth close harmony group and the Pipe Band and Highland Dancers
Guest of Honour – Professor Mona Siddiqui, OBE, FRSE
Mona Siddiqui joined the University of Edinburgh’s Divinity school in December 2011 as the first person to hold a chair in Islamic and Interreligious Studies. She also holds the posts of Assistant Principal for Religion and Society and Dean international for the Middle-East at the University of Edinburgh. She is well known internationally as a public intellectual and a speaker on issues around religion, ethics and public life. She is a regular commentator in the media, known especially for her appearances on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland’s Thought for the Day.
Following the many requests for a transcript of Mona’s address, we are now able to provide this (if you would prefer to receive a PDF of the address, please contact Mr Jonathan Hewat, Director of Communications at Loretto School – firstname.lastname@example.org)
“Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, parents and students.
It is a great privilege to be standing here at and able to play a small part in what is a very important and special day for you all. I will keep this brief , this is the boring bit – get your prizes, eat and go home.
I never say no to prize giving invitations because I love being in educational environments – there’s something about the atmosphere that is unique to places of learning and days like this remind us that life is never about a destination but rather a continuum of endings and new beginnings. Today is your prize giving day, a day which marks the end of another year and for many your final academic year, that in itself is an achievement for all of you. Exams passed, school trips taken abroad, new friends made, – it may seem ordinary, daily routine, a typical school calendar, but it isn’t – being in a school which values you and which is ambitious for you, is a real blessing, never take your learning and the support of your parents and family for granted simply because it seems ordinary.
Let me start with where our stories begin - When my own parents came to the UK in the late 1960s, they came for the sake of education and they stayed for the sake of education. They saw their children’s achievements through the accumulation of various certificates and degrees but those were only the outward trophies. The essence of learning meant something far more profound for they knew that in an uncertain world a good education is the one thing no one can take away from you. Learning wasn’t only a means to a better life but a means to a more reflective life, a life where the individual doesn’t just better themselves and their own place in society but through thought and action develops a vision for the whole of society. It was TS Eliot who said that `It is in fact a part of the function of education to help us escape. Not from our own time, for we are bound by that, but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our time.
Remember we are sentient and moral beings. And that what we say and do in society matters at every stage of our lives and that serving and caring are essential to virtuous living - we should live with the moral obligation to give something back, sometimes for no other reason than it is the right thing to do - we flourish more as individuals when we help others to flourish around us. A life that is only about personal ambition is not morally deficient but it becomes a life of the self rather than a life of charity, and a life which is only about the fulfilment of your own desires, will eventually end up feeling rather empty. That is partly because our desires are never ending and because real success comes about when you dedicate yourself to a cause greater than yourself. No one can force you to think and do for others – that thought and that action has to come from you yourself, from a certain kind of consciousness, and you yourself have to discover purpose, charity and happiness in life. Sometimes these can only come from struggle, precisely when you don't get what you want in life, when a relationship fails, when a loved one dies, when a job opportunity is denied, it is often the bleakest of times in our lives which brings out our more noble spirit.
Know the difference between knowledge and information, knowing stuff may make you smart but it is what you do with your knowledge that marks you out as wise. All personal achievement starts in the mind, so don’t become complacent about your goals and your relationships. The truth is that our real learning takes place when we are confronted and challenged by the stuff that is not material, that is not about goals and targets, that cannot be measured, packaged or commodified, that is unsettling – this is what really gives shape and discernment to our lives as individuals.
Don’t’ get me wrong, we can all come up with strategies for life and things can go horribly wrong in all kinds of ways. There is only so much planning we can do in life – some of the best things that happen to us are the unplanned events. But don’t be afraid of what might happen, don’t be in a rush to get to your destination, to find all the answers, live the moments that life throws at you for it is in these moments where you will find some of the magic of life.
And a word about friendships because it seems to me that friendship is the defining relationship of the modern age. In an uncertain and often polarised world, why does friendship matter? You may, at the moment, feel very secure about the friends you have. But you see when you have a few more decades on you like me, you’ll realise that friendship is challenging. Who we choose to have as friends matters and says something about who we are, our cultural attitudes and individual desires. Your character is formed by the way you are with those around you, your parents, teachers and your peers. And what I’ve learnt is that even if life doesn’t give you constant opportunities to make really good friends, it does give you many opportunities to be a good friend.
Always be mindful of the bigger picture, don’t get caught up in the pettiness of life, the silly egotisms, taking yourself too seriously, look for the relationships which bring out the best in you, where you feel loved and are able to love back, the friendships that make you happy but also challenge you. Life gives us ample opportunities to think of our society, how to make it better, kinder, make your voice a kind and forgiving voice, a generous voice, a voice that reaches out and takes risks. Make your life one of gratitude where you never forget to say thank you.
For those leaving, remember you stood for something when you were at this school make sure you stand for something when you leave. Congratulations to all of you and may this day and its successes be only one of the many achievements of your life.”
Mona Siddiqui, 1st July 2017