A (female) life well lived

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It is testament to the respect felt for Queen Elizabeth II that she was honoured this week by perhaps the most moving spectacle in British history. Her state funeral brought together one of the greatest gatherings of heads of state, prime ministers and dignitaries on British soil since the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965. The unmatched display of grandeur and public mourning – the immaculate, meticulously-planned processions flanking the Queen’s coffin from Balmoral to Westminster and finally to Windsor, through to the outpouring of many of our students and teachers flocking to lay flowers outside royal residences – was perhaps a reflection of a reassuring beacon that had been extinguished from our lives.

The absence of Her Majesty will take some getting used to. So much has changed since the day in 1952 on which Queen Elizabeth II inherited the throne. That country and this one would barely recognise each other; the Queen was our last bridge between those worlds, woven into the cloth of our lives so completely. We mourn not just a person and a monarch, but rather a figure of continuity.

Such loss could represent a profoundly unsettling moment for our country in the aftermath of Brexit, the pandemic and in the eye of political and economic challenge. We lose our key unifying figure, a calming presence, providing comfort and a source of such pride. Queen Elizabeth infused the idea of royalty with a deep sense of devotion to public service, grace and charity. She won personal respect through exemplifying a profound commitment to her duty, with resilience, good humour and dignity. As the world’s longest serving head of state and of the Commonwealth, her air of authority – fused with fortitude and remarkable elegance – commanded widespread respect for the “soft power” she held on the world stage far beyond any other global influence.

We have reflected on these values, in the context of today’s world, during our morning assemblies in the Junior School this week, sharing what we can learn from this profoundly impressive female figurehead. Our Upper Junior classes are making commemorative wreaths with personal memories of her reign. In Early Years and Lower Juniors, we have written letters to Paddington to share our thanks for all that Her Majesty and her family continue to bring to our school, nation and the Commonwealth, as well as sharing the emotions we are feeling at this moment. Our children’s thoughts and pictures were chosen to be displayed in Windsor Museum, which I hope will bring joy to our wider community at this very difficult time. 

This week also saw a virtual visit to The Abbey of British sportswriter and journalist Anna Kessel MBE, fearlessly talking to our students, parents and alumnae about women in sport. Although her particular focus is women in football, she passionately promoted turning the lens on diversity – in every sense of the word – and sharing a voice on enabling inclusive, equitable participation across all sports. Her message to our girls was an important one: no matter the scale of your ambition, do not become overwhelmed by its enormity or how you will reach it. Take one day at a time; focus on the opportunity available to you to take one small step toward your end game. Talent and effort may play a part, but ultimately the way we respond to the moment in front of us is what matters.

Advice of which our late Queen would be proud.

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