Address given at Shell Chapel at Marlborough College, Wednesday 8th January 2020
It is your second term now at Marlborough. I am sure that coming back yesterday felt very different from coming here the first time in September. Probably it feels a long time ago, that first afternoon when you all went to Court to meet your teachers; your first experience of Norwood and being lost quite a lot of the time, if you’re honest. Not so this time. You have learned a lot and grown a lot, but that also means that the expectations are now a little bit higher. You will get a blue chit if you’re late, if you have forgotten where you need to go, or if you’re not wearing your uniform properly. You are no longer newcomers, you are now part of this community as much as anyone else.
Part of growing up means that as you get older, you get more privileges, but also more responsibilities. The two go hand-in-hand. In your first term, you made friendships and learned to get to know the workings of this place, hopefully enjoying at least most of it. Now starts the time to build on those experiences. You start to know what it means to have real friends: people who support you when you need it, but they are the same who will need your support at times too. Friendship is a two-way process, you cannot only take, you will also have to give.
This pattern of not just taking, but also giving, is true for life in any community, not just with friendships. Yes, you are here to excel academically, to make the most of the opportunities that are offered to you. But, you are also here to learn how to be part of a community, to learn what it means to give and to take responsibility. You are not here just on your own, but with a lot of others.
Of course, in many ways you know this already. You know that if you are playing for a sports team, you can’t decide on Saturday morning that you don’t want to play, because you don’t really feel like it. You cannot let the others in your team down like that. Or if you have said you would wait for someone to go to lunch, you know that you cannot just go with other friends and leave this person waiting on their own. Those are the things you hopefully know already.
However, as you go through life, you’ll realise that it takes more than that. And to illustrate this, I’d like to tell you a story; I’d like you to imagine yourselves for a moment to be in Canterbury, in Kent. It is the first of January and you have decided to walk to Jerusalem in the Middle East. You don’t know how long it’s going to take, probably about sixth months at least. You don’t know the precise route you’ll be taking, or who or what you will meet. You only know that you’re going to walk in South-East direction to Jerusalem and all you take with you is a rucksack, a tent and a sleeping back.
The first part of the journey is not so unfamiliar. You see places you know and recognise places where you can spend the night. You speak the language to start with, or at least enough to get by as soon as you’ve crossed the Channel. But then it gets harder. A few weeks in, you find yourself in the Swiss Alps in the middle of winter. Snowstorms are blazing around you, and you don’t know where to go. At first you follow some signs of a ski trail, but soon they vanish as well. You keep going, not quite know where to, but it’s too cold to stand still.
Imagine the relief when you see a light in the ever-darker sky. It’s not just a deserted hut, but a house with people in it. You knock on the door and the first words you hear are ‘welcome, come in’. There is a warm meal for you and a bed, and you feel the tension flowing from your body. This story is a rewording of the experience of someone who indeed did walk from Canterbury to Jerusalem a few years ago, and I warmly recommend his book ‘The Crossway’ if you are interested. Although he is walking alone, time and time again he realises that what he really remembers is not so much his own achievements, but the kindness and welcome of so many strangers. As soon as he arrives at his destination, he realises that, although it is his unique journey, he could only have got this far, because of the endless people who gave him food, friendship and a place to stay.
I think that it’s not a bad metaphor for life and for your time here at Marlborough. You have each come with a goal, although you may not know yet what it is, you each have your own unique journey to complete, although you also don’t quite know what that will look like. Yet, as you have already realised, you cannot fulfil your goal, you cannot make this journey on your own. You need the kindness and support of others. When in years’ time you’ll look back, it will often be those moments that you will remember too.
As you go through the school, more and more you will begin to realise that you are not just a solitary traveller, but also one of the people who can and must help others along their journey. Because it is not only you yourself who cannot achieve your goal without others. In the same way, others will need you to fulfil their potential as well. So be clear about what you want to achieve in your time here at Marlborough. At the same time, don’t forget that you’re part of a community, in which you need others and others need you. Work hard, but don’t be selfish. Be focussed, but don’t be narrow-minded. Only then will you will reach the goal that is waiting for you.