An extract from Mr Hewlett's opening assembly - Monday 2 September 2019
A very warm welcome back to a new academic year at St Dunstan’s. I hope that you all had fantastic summer holidays, wherever they took you, and I am sure that you are now looking forward to all that this new academic year presents.
I would like to begin by welcoming new members of our community – all our new students across the year groups, and particularly in Year 7 and Year 12, as well as our new staff members.
I know that everyone who is not new will remember very well being new. That feeling of excitement mixed with nerves. It can feel very daunting being new in this big Victorian building and large site. I would ask everyone please to remember that one of the very special features of our College that is commented upon regularly is its welcoming, friendly nature and should someone seem a bit lost or unhappy over these next few days, please do stop and take care of them. St Dunstan’s is a very warm-hearted place and this first few days of a new school year can often require that extension of friendship and kindness most particularly.
The values focus of this year is curiosity. I will reflect more on this in assemblies to follow but for now I want to consider the year ahead. I wonder what you read this summer. I very much hope that you all read at least one book. I am sure many of you read many books and I am sure the variation between them would have been extraordinarily broad. Well I chose to read a book that I imagine some of you might consider rather ‘niche’ – it brings together various tales and stories from Saxon, Viking, Norman and Medieval Britain. Not a particularly difficult read but it did bring to life chapters of Britain’s history that are lesser known in our modern-day curriculum and yet equally as captivating and equally as educational. There was one chapter in this book that I was particularly struck by. It reflected on the life of a man called Bede – he lived from 672 – 735, quite a long time for the period. Having been orphaned and placed into a monastery, Bede began writing – and that was not easy at that time. No pens or pencils, but rather goose quill dripped in acid. The word for ink was ‘Encaustum’ from the same Latin name that gives us ‘caustic’ meaning burning or biting. The ink would have bitten not into paper but into stretched animal skin. And in this way, Bede sat, in the cold of north east England (not far from Newcastle) writing no less than 68 books. He reminds me of Dunstan in the variety of his interest – he wrote guides to the Bible, to spelling, works on science, the art of poetry, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, carpentry, music and many more. Bede loved cooking, walking and studying nature. It is largely because of Bede that we have our calendar today – our years anno domini – in the year of the lord. His writing shows us that he was intelligent, but also funny. He was also insightful. I will read you one piece of his writing:
‘It seems to me that the life of man on earth is like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your captains and counsellors. In the middle there is a comforting fire to warm the hall. Outside, the storms of winter rain and snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly through one window of the hall and out through another. While he is inside, the bird is safe from the winter storms but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. So man appears on earth for a little while – but of what went before this life, or what follows, we know nothing.’
It is a beautiful sentiment. Life is short. Your time at St Dunstan’s is short. Like the sparrow in the banqueting hall you are blessed with great opportunities – a wonderful, welcoming, warm hearted community with countless activities and societies, diverse people of different backgrounds and ideas, a Wellness Centre, a broad curriculum and a history to enjoy and be proud of. Make the most of it. Be like Bede, and for that matter St Dunstan, embracing the wide variety of opportunity that this, our banqueting hall, enables for you, and enjoy it. For some of you at the beginning of this journey, it is only now starting, for others it is in its closing stages, but it really doesn’t matter. It is never too late to enjoy the riches of an excellent education. For when the time comes to fly out and onwards, it will be this place that equips you with everything you need to make a success of the next stage of your life.
- Headmaster's Blog