Joy and sorrow – Will le Fleming


This sun-drenched week brought experiences so vividly contrasting that the effect was disorienting.

On Wednesday The Abbey was hosting (and, naturally, winning…) a Fast5 netball tournament. The skill, passion and commitment on show were exhilarating. There was also a spectacular blend of grit and insouciance. The rules in Fast5 allow for shots from outside the circle, powerplays, all kinds of bells and whistles. One of our team lined up an ambitious shot that sailed wide, turned, grinned, shrugged – not a care in the world. The next moment play was breaking and she was chasing it down with remorseless determination.

It was a wonderful moment that encapsulated such admirable spirit: endeavour worn lightly; humour, ease, confidence, engagement, fun. In a word, joy.

In a similar vein: walking through the Rose Garden ahead of the opening night of Hairspray – a group of students, in 50s costume, chatting and laughing beneath the magnolia tree as blossom floated from its branches. Again, it was an example of complete dedication – to their roles, to the work they had put in for the show alongside all their other busy commitments – and lightness of touch. The hard work to seize and make the most of opportunity and the assurance to take time to enjoy and savour it.

And then also this week, the Senior School gathered for our first whole school assembly in over two years, still in glorious sunshine, outside on the same netball courts – to contemplate some of the darkest and most difficult events taking place in the world. We were responding to President Zelensky’s call to gather, to think of the suffering in Ukraine, and to celebrate and demand freedom for all.

It was a moment to think of all young people denied education and in fear of their lives. We thought of young people in Ukraine; those caught up in other global conflicts; and of the awful stories from Afghanistan of girls at last returning to school only to be turned away once again.

It is always hard to hold in our minds the reality of such injustice and pain. Gathered together in spring sunshine and as a community so full of the hope and opportunity all young people deserve as their right, it felt as if hearts could truly break.

We could despair. We could become lost in grief and anger. But to do so would be to throw away the freedom we are so fortunate to enjoy. Our resolve across the community remains to show and hold close our solidarity; to do all we can to help and be of practical benefit; and to celebrate and be glad of our freedom and our right to education. To use it to help, in big ways or small. To live brightly and live well and live thinking of others.

At our gathering, Kate and Bhaavya as Head Girls shared some of President Zelensky’s words with the school community. Those words urged us to affirm three core truths: that freedom matters; that peace matters; above all – that people matter. It was a sombre and yet inspiring reminder of what education must always strive to achieve, not just for the fortunate, but for all.

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