Mr Antony Spencer - Principal's Speech

OL Dinner 2019

This will of course be my last OL dinner as Principal, and I find myself in a reflective mood this evening.

I guess I could take for inspiration for my farewell speech the way John Bercow bade goodbye to the House of Commons, which would involve me smugly sitting down for about three hours of fawning praise about my greatness- and then as soon as I’m gone everyone says “thank goodness we’ve got rid of him!”.

But I won’t, because unlike John Bercow I have no pretence of greatness.

 I have said before that in my job I stand on the shoulders of giants, of those who have gone before like Canon Perfect. I would include in those giants those who led the school in more challenging times.

 I guess it would be easy to bask in all the success the school is having now, with all the new facilities, great achievements and growth in pupil numbers, but Ieadership is tested more in difficult times, and until you do this job it’s hard to understand all it involves, not just day to day but with the ongoing weight of responsibility of protecting the heritage and reputation of the school, as well as the fundamental challenge of nurturing the individual lives of the pupils entrusted to us.

So whatever your own experience as OLs of the Headmaster when you were here, the fact that the school today is thriving is to the credit of all those Heads whose paintings you see on the wall. And I encourage you to support my successor, Barney Durrant, when he starts here at Easter, in the way that so many of you have been such a great support and encouragement to me.

A schoolmaster or mistress here, or a Head or Principal, isn’t just doing a job but following a vocation. I haven’t just worked here for seven years, but lived and breathed St Lawrence 24/7. I still keep finding out new things, like rooms I didn’t know existed, or quirky bits of history, or naughty things OLs did in their day, and there’s still plenty to do to continue to improve the school.

The job will never be finished, and I’m very conscious that I’m just passing on the baton of leading the school. But for those of you who know your Old Testament Hebrew, the number 7 is symbolic of completeness, and now after almost seven years it seemed the right time for me and my family for a move. It will be an emotional wrench, and I envy my successor in all that he will inherit, but I can’t anyway escape St Lawrence.

For a start, it’s a school that has a very wide reach, in spite of its laudable unpretentiousness. Just this last week when I visited Mill Hill, I discovered staff there whose family were OLs, and the Chaplain there told me he’s a drinking buddy with an OL here who is also a Governor. Lawrentians get everywhere.

And the greatest source of pride I have is in the calibre of the pupils we send out into the world. They are all varied, but we have a long track record of producing OLs who are confident without being arrogant, who understand the importance of friendship and loyalty, who know that the world doesn’t owe them a living but that with hard work and persistence they can be successful.

These are exciting times for the College. We’ve got great people working here, and the pupils are remarkably happy given all the things that young people have to face these days. We’ve just been awarded an international accolade for the quality of our teaching, and the sport is having success equivalent to our glory days. The Canon Perfect Centre is the envy of other schools and more importantly has significantly lifted the learning environment in the teaching of Art, Design and Science.

We are into detailed planning around the use of the spare land on the site of the old Science School and Backfield for a housing development that will remain owned by the school and thus will be a lasting asset forever. We’ve also acquired the old pavilion from the 02 Arena, which is currently sitting in kit form in some lorries across the road. Some generous gifts from OLs mean we’re therefore almost at the point of beginning to assemble a wonderful new sports pavilion for Newlands, having received planning permission just the other week.

So in my reflective mood I ask myself the question: Have I left the school a better place? Well, it’s the wrong question, because we all just play a part in a team of people stretching down 140 years who have each contributed in some way to making St Lawrence College what it is today. You are part of that team, whether OLs, parents or friends, and my final word tonight is a simple but heartfelt one: thankyou.

Copyright St Lawrence College 2018