Albam Exorna

So much has happened over the past 10 days that I barely know where to begin this week’s Master’s Voice. Barnard Castle? Minneapolis? Durdle Door? As it happens, I would like to take you back to Sunday 6 September, 2015. The location? Wellington College Chapel. The time? 4.30pm. The current Upper Sixth were just 13 years old, fresh-faced, dressed in ill-fitting uniform (“You’ll grow into it!”), only an hour into their careers as Wellingtonians. Mr Thomas was also on his first official day as the 14th Master of Wellington College and he addressed the incoming cohort with a message that has lasted with me ever since.

He referred to the motto of St Dunstan’s College in South London, where he had his first teaching job. The motto is Latin – Albam Exorna – which literally means “Adorn the white”. Like so many Latin mottoes, it is better interpreted more loosely, something along the lines of “Fill the blank page”. The point Mr Thomas made on that sunny afternoon was that every Wellingtonian is the master of their own destiny, the painter of their own picture. They start in September of the Third Form with a blank canvas in front of them and it is their responsibility to fill the page. Teachers and tutors, parents and HMs will support, encourage and guide each Wellingtonian as they begin to think about what picture it is that they want to paint. After all, not all 13 year olds even know what colours, stories and pictures will make up their final work. Ultimately, however, the pupil is the painter; their actions and choices will determine what their canvas will look like when they depart in the summer of Upper Sixth.

I hope that I am not the only member of the Wellington Community to be stunned by virtual Speech Day – so much of both the Friday night concert and the Saturday morning film encapsulated exactly why I believe Wellington College is one of the most remarkable schools in the country, if not the world – but the speech which left the largest lump in my throat was that of Issie Thorneycroft and Charlie Bradbury, our Heads of College. They likened their time at the College to a wonderful painting which they have spent the past four and a half years embellishing with the most remarkable colours, shapes and textures. Their canvases naturally feel incomplete due to the current situation, but how much more fulfilling it is to revel in and celebrate everything which has depicted on the page, rather than to focus narrowly on the areas which have been left unfinished. It was a remarkably mature, thoughtful and powerful address to give in what must be an incredibly emotional time of their lives, and echoes the very message which was delivered to them on their first day as Wellingtonians almost five years ago.

For the second time in two weeks, I am also reminded of Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, in which he posits that successful adults (and children, too) develop the habit of beginning with the end in mind. I urged all Wellingtonians in this morning’s Assembly to do exactly this. Issie, Charlie and every member of the Upper Sixth will confirm that their time at the College has gone incredibly quickly. Wellingtonians have less time than they think to fill their canvas! Crucially, this is no less true simply because we are not physically present in Crowthorne currently. What we are all going through right now is part of our Wellington experience, it is material for our canvases, and it will shape us all as human beings in the months, years and decades to come. But we remain in control of the paintbrush and the palette of colours available in front of us. The question is: “What picture do we want to see when we look back in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time?” and, when we’ve answered that question, it is time to start painting.

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