Embracing Summer

10 July 2024

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Whatever the auguries invoked by the Met Office, summer has arrived at North London Collegiate School and, with it, a moment to breathe, and to anticipate living life at a different pace for the next few weeks. School communities experience a great ‘dispersal’ at this moment in the year, with some students and colleagues preferring to rest up close to home, and some criss-crossing the globe for adventures and family reunions.

In today’s final assembly, I took a moment to encourage our students, wherever they are planning to spend the summer holidays, to see the weeks to come not just as a chance to unwind, decompress, chillax, kick back or lounge around (one should choose the verb that best fits one’s own relaxing style!) but also a wonderful opportunity to open their minds to new horizons and be inspired. I think there are three main ways to do this over the summer of 2024.

First, be curious and continue to learn through contact with the stimulus of ideas, literature and culture. You don’t need to take an intercontinental flight or make a pan-European road or rail trip to be transported by a journey of the mind – one you might make in a gallery or museum, or in your favourite coffee shop with a good book. The other day, I asked my Senior Team what they were looking forward to reading over the break, and I was hugely excited by their urbane and varied suggestions of novels, histories, philosophical enquiries, political polemics and more.

Second, whether you’re a regular fan or not, open yourself to the triumphs and disappointments, despair and redemption, individual and shared endeavour inherent to the great sporting contests of the summer. Naturally I wish England a resounding victory in tonight’s Euros semi-final against the Netherlands and, if I dare hope, the chance to “bring it home” on Sunday under the admirable leadership of Gareth Southgate. Wimbledon is coming into the closing stages, and the Tour de France is at its mid-point. Of course, France is also hosting the Olympics, and I’ll be watching the progress of Team GB with great interest.

Third, take time to enjoy nature, whatever kind of landscape your plans take you to – including round the corner to your local park. Moving through space at holiday pace, with just that little bit more time to contemplate my surroundings, I am always comforted and reinvigorated by the natural world, its cycles, its showy splendours and quiet miracles, and its ability to heal. With that in mind, I offer this beautiful poem by Mary Oliver, Wild Geese, to ease us into the summer break.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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