Pupils, parents, teachers and staff gathered together, virtually, to celebrate pupils’ achievements during two Speech Day events; one for pupils in the Middle School and one for pupils in the Upper School.
Usually combined into a single event, held in a huge marquee on Oakham’s Doncaster Close, with a separate Sports Colours presentation ceremony, the challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic required some creative solutions. The result was two separate events with some common threads, plus elements that were specific to each ceremony. This feat of filming, editing and sound engineering was achieved by Senior Deputy Head, Arthur Mayhew, who also created the Lower School Prize Giving film.
Bookended by performances from the Concert Band, playing ‘The Greatest Show’ from The Greatest Showman and ‘Cool’ from West Side Story, the two ceremonies were a mix of speeches, prizes and photo montages.
In the opening speech, the Chair of Trustees, Neil Gorman, officially welcomed Headmaster Henry Price to his first Oakham School Speech Day, “albeit this is not the type of Speech Day he was expecting.” He spoke of how the Headmaster and his family have immersed themselves in School life since joining Oakham last September and thanked the whole of the Senior Leadership team for their “strong management of the School during this current crisis”, offering “calm and focused solutions with their primary concern being the pupils and their educational development”. He thanked pupils for adapting so well to the virtual classroom and parents for their support and understanding and expressed the wish that Speech Day next year would see a return to a more conventional affair.
The Headmaster, Henry Price, delivered his first Speech Day address virtually. He focused on the journey on which pupils have been, both throughout their time at Oakham and over the last few months during the Coronavirus lockdown. He urged pupils to “fly, to soar, and be free” both during and after their school days. He described the magical adventures of the TV character, Mr Benn, who always retained a souvenir of his journeys when he returned to normal life. He encouraged Oakhamians to do the same “When we return; please don’t stop trying on different outfits and having magical adventures; the souvenirs you bring back are knowledge, experience and wisdom.”
Given his love for the classics, the Headmaster turned to Homer’s Odyssey to describe the journey the School has been on in recent months. “Like Odysseus, we have been buffeted, but the thought, resilience and care of the Oakham community have been magnificent. I am grateful to everyone who has rowed hard and adjusted course amidst the choppy waters and I am certain that whatever gusts may blow in the future, the good ship Oakham will continue to steer a steady course.”
He particularly thanked pupils, parents and staff for their common sense, creativity and commitment in the last three months. As well as particularly thanking all School staff, in every guise, for their hard work throughout the year.
The Head of Upper School, Simone Lorenz-Weir, and Head of Middle School, James Robinson, awarded the prizes and paid tribute to the pupils, parents and staff who adapted so well to the distance learning environment.
In an Oakham ‘first’, Director of Sport, Iain Simpson, introduced a highly entertaining Sports Colours Presentation video, where pupils received their red and black caps from members of their family – both human and animal in a few cases!
The outgoing Heads of School, Catherine Johnson and Alex Anthony, also recorded their speeches as part of this year’s event. The Head Boy and Head Girl summed up their time at Oakham and gave their words of wisdom as they would do so normally; the reflections of their time at Oakham – perhaps made all the more poignant for the abrupt end to their Oakham years – are absolutely worth a watch.
Despite the “curious and confusing time” and “collective sense of loss” that Catherine describes, and Alex’s summation that “this hasn’t been the final term we all expected”, both looked to the positives. As Catherine outlined: “So who knows what is round the next corner? What I do know is that we are all the more capable of dealing with whatever the future holds thanks to what we have learned and the qualities we have developed whilst at this wonderful school. This may not be the way we wanted our time at Oakham to end, but viewed a whole, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.”
Alex summed up his speech wonderfully: “With the goodbyes must also go thanks, to everyone who has helped us on our journey through the School and made it so special: to our friends, our parents, our teachers, our Housemasters and Housemistresses. Thank you for all your efforts – we are all eternally grateful. You have helped us create so many positive memories to look back on, on which note I think it only right to end with a quote from my favourite book – an unlikely choice, perhaps – Winnie the Pooh: ‘We didn’t realise we were making memories; we just knew we were having fun.’”
Both ceremonies concluded with farewells to staff who are retiring or moving on to new opportunities, and the announcement of the new Decem and Heads of School.
Watch the Middle School Prize Giving
Watch the Upper School Prize Giving