Dear Ever-Changing Thing

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It was Heraclitus who observed that there is nothing permanent except change.

The great thing about institutions, such as well-established schools, is that this change takes place within the stable context of a long-held identity.

No institution should stand still. Equally, we should not be blown about by passing fads.

Culture is like a colloid: it has a shape but it gently morphs over time. There must be change, but usually it is gentle, measured, deliberate. And fuelled by reflection, listening, honest self-criticism. This is willed change.

A wave of communal optimism seemed to flow from the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations. So much was rightly said about the constancy, certainty and loyalty that Her Majesty has brought in her 70 years on the throne. For millions, she has been the still and dignified centre of an ever-changing world.

Times have changed. Some change has been rapid; other change more of a creeping thing. The Queen herself has changed, of course – gathered experience, matured, aged. Yet, she has been constant. Because the things she stands for, the virtues she embodies, are timeless. They do not change. That is what we mean by integrity. If right within…

When Sir Michael Palin (OS) stayed with us during his visit [May 2022] to Shrewsbury, he told me how the place felt reassuringly familiar but better in so many ways. It was not just the physical things – the many new buildings and facilities – but the feel and buzz of the place which he said was both true to its past but felt fresher, kinder, contemporary. You’d hope so, really, but it was lovely to hear him speak so warmly of the School he left in 1961. The change he saw was evolution rather than revolution. A forward journey plotted with a familiar and trusty compass.

Sir Michael Palin – with Charles Darwin behind him


Nothing stays the same. Language itself is, of course, an ever-changing thing. For example, I discovered recently that the word ‘fun’ (which I love to couple oxymoronically with the word ‘serious’), originally meant ‘to cheat or hoax’. Hence ‘to make fun of’. However, its meaning gradually shifted to take on the positive connotation of having a good time. The words ‘terrific’ and ‘tremendous’ – undoubtedly good ones to see in your children’s end of term reports – were originally about fear and trembling. To ‘grin’ was to bare teeth in pain; it then became the word for a fake or forced smile, before becoming the real thing.

To be ‘egregious’ was a compliment – ‘eminent’, rather than the modern negative ‘offensive’. ‘Sad’ used to mean ‘satisfied’, then it went to meaning ‘serious’, then ‘grave’ then ‘sorrowful’. ‘Smug’ once meant ‘crisp and tidy’ – a good thing, surely? – but nowadays, it’s undoubtedly something to avoid.

As we enter the closing weeks of an academic year, the pupils are grinning and bearing the seriousness of exam season (public and internal); and our Upper Sixth are approaching the major change of leaving school. The school will change again as new pupils and staff join in September. As times roll on, we must do all we can to avoid being smug or egregious; and to embrace positive change with a tremendous spirit of serious fun…

As our Shrewsbury School motto states: ‘Intus Si Recte, Ne Labora’. If right within, worry not. The right things within us are constant. It is virtues and values of integrity that remain steady and true.

The challenge is to keep hold of them amidst a world of ever-changing things.

Dear Emma

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It seems that the whole world wants a tiny slice of your time and your head must be spinning. Yet, as with everything else apparently, you have it all under control.

18 years old, Grand Slam champion, instant global icon. Seeing how you played; seeing how you talk about how you played, sends us all to raid the thesaurus.

Gutsy, courageous, spirited.

Composed, cool-headed, calm under pressure.

Exuberant, joyful, zesty.

Authentic, grounded, genuine.

The real deal.

A champion.

Already an icon.

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Emma Raducanu – Image from SkySports

Your style of play makes you a mesmerising watch. Your conduct off the court is equally compelling.

Few will experience the scrutiny that you have already been exposed to – and at such a young age. Not many have accomplished a breakthrough quite as explosive as yours. And at the age of 18.

I think back to my 18 year old self. Best not to dwell too long on the messy mix of self-doubt and self-righteousness; flashes of confidence undercut by a need for acceptance, validation, the applause of the crowd. Faults and double faults smoke-screened by bluster. It was all McEnroe and not enough Borg in my case. (That dates me). It was the line judges. The racquet. The sun in my eyes. The cross wind that made me fluff the ball toss. Yes, it took me a long while to take responsibility.

Then there’s you. Not only a champion, an athlete, a history-maker, an achiever of sporting miracles. But also, it seems, utterly unfazed by the feverish swirl of the moment. You are at home with yourself and your surroundings. Poised. At one with yourself. Real.

We have a saying at my school – Intus Si Recte Ne Labora: “If right within, worry not“. In your game, you have to stay within the lines. Yet you do it with such freedom. You make exceptional look so easy. Something so sublime, so uncomplicated in its excellence is the fruit of hard work; of gifts diligently cultivated.

You praised your parents – for their strong values and demanding standards; you deflected glory onto your team; the support of others. All true, and deserved praise, no doubt.

But let’s be honest. This is about you. You radiate something purely brilliant. You are right within. And you will inspire others – many many others – to discover and share their light.

Character as true and as luminous as yours can only come from within. From the person you are. You have lit up the sporting world. As you go on, surely to further glories, I hope your unique light shines on unfiltered and true.