Image by Donna Grayson

Image by Donna Grayson

If we were to wind back the years to September 2006 when the majority of Year 13 were  Year 7s, in most cases we would see a huge change to whom we are now. Some of us have changed very little, maybe got a little rougher around the edges but not much. Others are almost unrecognisable from their podgy youthful frames, put down to plenty of hard work in the gym no doubt.  One common element we all possessed at this very early stage was the potential to achieve. Amongst this potential lay a natural ability for a vast array of talents, known or yet unknown at this point.

I stand here today having had the opportunity to identify and nurture some of my own talent that I was totally unaware of those seven years ago. Opportunities that most would cast aside are often in my experience the most useful and influential. When we were younger, the idea of deliberately placing ourselves in a room full of people we did not know and having to talk about anything was nothing short of a nightmare situation. I agree that back then I would never have willingly put myself there and quite happily just shied away from it.  Now, like many of my peers in year 13, I see it as a challenge. How clear can I be and how can I keep my audience awake? These are both elements I try to achieve – but particularly the latter I have varying degrees of success with…

From the smidgen of leadership potential I may have displayed in my youth I feel this has been transformed as I now stand here as School Vice-captain, Regimental Sergeant-major and hopefully a potential Officer of the British army in the very near future. I am not alone with realising and developing potential in my time in the school. Amongst my cohort we have successful footballers, bloggers, artists and less successful gamblers to name just a few of the many talents possessed by those at the back of this hall. If we had have said seven years ago that we possessed some of the talents we do now, I doubt many could have foreseen this.

This progression is a prime example of gaining ‘life skills’ or in other words growing up. Whilst ‘life skills’ can be seen as an arbitrary thing, in this current climate with competition for jobs and university places incredibly high; could experience be slowly overcoming academic achievement?

If we listen to ministers talking about university education, it is as if Britain has entered an academic arms race with the rest of the world. China’s universities, we’re told, are spewing out six million graduates a year: we must compete, or we’ll never be able to keep up. In the recent past, having some letters after your name has meant going further in your careers, and earning far more than those without a degree. By implication, those that enter the workplace are at a disadvantage without a degree.

But then came the proliferation of courses and institutions. The definition of a degree is changing massively and in many ways so is the value of it. A degree becomes in some cases, not all, an expectation or a right, not an academic achievement.

So what can we conclude and learn from this? Most of Year 13 will soon head into a university degree where accumulation of a student debt is a given. But maybe we should sit back and evaluate our own situation to decide on the value of the experiences we have gained over our seven years at the school and decide on our own pathway forward. Some of us stand to earn a degree through apprenticeships and work, others are set to embark on a career without the backing of a degree. The direction that we, as school leavers will now take is less clear cut than it has been over past years.

To the younger members of the school I urge you to take any opportunities to do something that will give you an experience, no matter how small; it should be taken and relished. Looking back at my time at the High School, every moment has contributed to my direction next year and the years ahead. I have had the opportunity to meet and work with great people and can but wholeheartedly thank them all for putting up with me on this long and often treacherous journey. It has been in these last few years as a senior that I have truly benefited from the extra time that the teachers have given to me. The help is there if you want it, so don’t be afraid to speak out and ask. Take it from me, a true nostalgic, I have been there and got many t-shirts, so go out there and do the same.

Josh Winter, Vice Captain 2012 – 13

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