Follow Your Dreams - Head's Blog

Posted on: 06/10/2017

For those who were not able to attend last night's Prizegiving ceremony, I would like to share the inspirational speech from our Guest of Honour, Mr Kevin Carson, Head of The Royal Masonic School for Girls. His own journey of following his dreams led him to become the successful, well rounded person he is now. Enjoy!

"It is a genuine pleasure to be invited to St. Helen's College this evening to join you for your Prizegiving, and to join in the celebration of the achievements and progress of so many fabulous students.

St. Helen's College is a school that shares so much with my own school, RMS for Girls.  Some of our similarities occur through the distinctive curriculum that we each offer, such as a focus on .b and mindfulness, or our commitment to learning beyond the classroom, both of which we too view as important aspects of educating the whole child. Other links are in respect of staff, because Mrs. Drummond, as I am sure many of you here tonight are aware, was a key teacher for many years in the Prep School at RMS before she joined St. Helen's College. Most importantly, our schools are similar in respect of a strong ethos that we live by, and also through a commitment to a holistic education for our pupils, which is very much central to my own sense of what is important in the development of each individual child. And at RMS we too believe in responding to the talents and the contexts of each pupil before us, of allowing the children to develop and to pursue each of their talents and dreams.  And it is that theme of encouraging the pupils here tonight to pursue and to follow what is distinctive, special and important to each of you that I will return to throughout my speech.

The boys and girls who will come on stage this evening to receive prizes have of course all now moved on to secondary school, have made that move from the family atmosphere of their prep school here at St.Helen's College to big school, to senior school. I know both from my own experiences when I was your age and through my years as a teacher that the move to senior school is not always straightforward to make at first, but to all of the Year 7 pupils here tonight I ask you to trust us that it gets easier with every week in your new school. If you have not done so already, you will very soon settle in and feel secure and happy in your new school.

And yet even when you have fully settled in and feel truly at home, in the larger environment of a senior school it is not always easy for you to be yourself, and to remain true to yourself, as I remember from my own school days as I tried to pursue my own dreams in secondary school.

I have, as you may have noticed, a slight accent. I grew up in a city called Liverpool. It is a city that to this day many people associate with two things other than having a funny accent: those two things most commonly are the pop music of The Beatles and football. More specifically, at least in my family, Liverpool Football Club. I was taken to my first football match on my 3rd birthday, to Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC. I was only a toddler, dressed in full kit yet barely aware of what football was, and so young that despite the noise and shouts of 40,000 fanatical supporters I fell asleep during that first match watching Liverpool. But from that game onwards I was taken regularly to watch Liverpool by my father, grandfather, uncles and aunties. And soon enough I also played football regularly as a boy, every day in fact, with my two brothers and our friends, with anybody at all who wished to join in and play. So by the time that I was your age, I knew in my heart that all I wanted to do, the one dream that I knew I had to try to follow, was to be a professional footballer and to play for Liverpool Football Club.

And because I played so much, because I practised all of the time, and was lucky to have some great coaches and the support of my family, I got better at playing football. In everything in life we improve through practice, through learning from our mistakes. So by the time I was your age I had got good enough at football to play in a boys’ team that played at Wembley, a team that had won national football tournaments, and even better than all of that, a team that had played at Anfield, Liverpool’s stadium. Working together we became good enough as a team to get the chance to meet the England manager at the time, Bobby Robson, and one day a scout came to watch us from a professional football team, a team called Bolton Wanderers, and asked some of us if we would like to have a trial at their professional football club. I was one of those boys asked to go along, and they liked me enough at Bolton to invite me to train with them every week.  So from the age of 11 I travelled every Wednesday night with my father to Bolton and trained with their coaches. I practised really hard, got better at passing and tackling, heading and shooting. All I wished was to be offered what was called a schoolboy contract, because I was still convinced that if I could be offered a schoolboy football contract at Bolton then one day I might become a professional footballer for Liverpool. That was my first dream, hope, passion.

But even though I practised every day, and played in three or four matches every weekend, I was not offered a schoolboy contract by Bolton. Some of my team mates were offered a contract, and one even became a professional footballer, but Bolton decided after two years with them that I would no longer be invited to train there each week. So, at age 13, I began to realise that my dream of becoming a professional footballer for Liverpool was becoming less likely because no matter how hard I tried there were some extremely talented players who were simply better at football than I was. I can still remember quite strongly how very disappointed I was at the time. Team mates and friends of mine were still at Bolton, some had even moved on from Bolton to train with Liverpool, and it felt at the time like the end of the world that I was not going to be able to pursue my first childhood dream.

But now, looking back on my years playing football as a boy, I do not view them with the sharp sadness that I felt then. In fact, I am very happy that I pursued that dream. I have realised since then that the skills I learnt following my passion have served me really well in my life. Not the passing and tackling, or the heading and shooting - there is not so much use for those skills as a Headteacher. But the other skills that I learnt such as teamwork and of communicating really well with the other members of your team, or of working hard and of all working together with one shared aim. Developing each of those key skills, which I developed first and foremost from my years playing sport, make me thankful and appreciative that my family supported me in pursuing what was special and most important to me when I was 11 years old.  It matters not that my dream did not come true.

In truth I soon enough got over my disappointment aged 13. One of the reasons I got over it and moved on was because by the age of 13 I had developed a new interest, a new passion: acting and performing. I had performed parts in school plays in my primary school, small parts when I was younger, larger parts by Year 6, and I had loved being involved in school productions, being part of a team again, all working together with one aim of putting on a great show. And then in Senior School, in Year 7, I was taught by the most wonderful Drama teacher, Mr. Robinson, who asked me to play a lead role in a play that he was entering for a Play Festival at a theatre in Liverpool. We rehearsed for weeks and performed our play at the festival, but we didn’t win first prize – you can’t always win in life.  However afterwards an agent for actors approached me and my family and asked if he could send me along to an audition for a television commercial for Heinz Tomato Ketchup. 

So I travelled down to London with my mother, auditioning against talented children who attended drama school and who had already acted on stage and screen. And on this occasion I was fortunate enough to be chosen for the part. Heinz decided that they wanted a squeaky voiced boy with a Liverpudlian accent to sell Heinz sauce in a new squeezy bottle. I had to say lines such as “This new Heinz squeezy ketchup is really neat because now I can put it right where I want”. So that was fun, an enjoyable and different experience. And in acting, as a child, once you have shown that you can perform one part reliably and behave yourself on set, it becomes easier to be cast in other roles. So, soon after the sauce advertisement, I was involved in a BBC drama, working with some fabulous actors. And then, at age 13, not too long after my disappointment as a budding footballer, I was cast in a role as a family member on a soap opera on television at the time that was called Brookside. Your parents will remember it even though you will not know it as Brookside is no longer shown on television today.

I played the part of a character called Geoff Rogers, who was also known by the unflattering nickname of Growler, for over four years.  Working on a weekly television show was a wonderful experience for me as a child. I didn’t always have to go to school, which at the time felt very nice and special. Once again I was working with wonderful actors, and also getting to know wonderful directors and writers such as Jimmy McGovern and Frank Cottrell Boyce, who you might have read as the author of novels such as Millions or The Astounding Broccoli Boy. Through acting on Brookside, I enjoyed lots of other opportunities such as travelling around the country, meeting Ronald Dahl because my character suffered dyslexia, and appearing on other television and radio shows such as Children in Need and BBC Radio 1. All lots of fun, but importantly following this new passion  of mine allowed me to develop more skills that have served me well to this day: the importance of rehearsal and preparation, improving my presentation and communication skills, and once again, learning to work well as part of a team alongside lots of very different types of people. 

In many ways, it is true to say that working as an actor on Brookside changed my life. But not in ways that you might expect. I certainly didn’t enjoy being recognised wherever I went around Liverpool, and I realised over time that unlike all the other actors on the show I didn’t burn with a passion inside me to wish to be an actor and to do whatever was required to be an actor for the rest of my life. I enjoyed every day there, but over time I learnt through pursuing this passion that it wasn’t a new childhood dream. Instead of any of this, working on Brookside changed my life because it opened my eyes to a world beyond that which I had known growing up in Liverpool. I realised just how many exciting and interesting jobs there were out there, creative and inspirational jobs that I might want to do, now that I had learned I did not wish to be an actor. So, once again, I do not regret being allowed to pursue my interest in acting from the age of 11 to 17; in fact I am really appreciative of everything I learnt from those years and that I make use of in my life each day.

One other benefit that came from being on Brookside that I was paid, which was certainly a novelty as a small teenage boy. My parents allowed me to spend a small allowance each month and the best thing about having a little financial independence was that it allowed me to pursue other interests, new passions that were developing throughout my time in secondary school. My love of music developed and I learnt to play the guitar, playing in bands with friends at school and university, which I enjoyed very much. As I got older, I was able to travel more, learn more about the world beyond Liverpool and England, which I still to this day value greatly. And I was allowed throughout my time at Senior School to develop my love of reading, of reading and studying English Literature. This only happened seriously from the age of 14 onwards, due to another inspirational teacher, Mrs. Woodhouse, but soon I was buying as many books as I could read each week, devouring the ideas and stories of the best writers throughout history. 

By the age of 16 I knew without any doubt that studying literature was very much the thing I wished to do; I wasn’t at all sure where it would lead yet, but I knew it was the passion burning inside me that I had to pursue. And so I asked to leave Brookside because I wanted to study A Levels and go to university. And I should thank my parents at this point – it is always good and right to thank your parents - because my parents were hugely supportive of a decision that to others did not make the best sense or at least not the best financial sense. Their response to such questions was that you should always celebrate and love the child before you, which is no bad message for parents and teachers alike.

And as with my earlier dreams, my passion for reading and thinking about literature was both fun in itself and also developed skills that I try to apply each day of my life.  With reading literature these lessons were mostly about trying to gain a better understanding people who had led very different lives to my own, and also about trying to be a good, kind and caring human being.

So I did go on to study English Literature at university, and I was fortunate enough to study at Cambridge University, where in time I finally realised that the one constant throughout my whole life, the one thing that I had benefitted most from when pursuing each of my different passions, was great teachers. Truly great teachers. And so I set out on a path to try to be one of them too. This particular passion is one I have not stopped pursuing yet. And, over many years it is this passion which has brought me here to you all this evening, celebrating a school full of great students with a wonderful attitude to learning, and also their fabulous, dedicated teachers.

So I said at the start of this speech that my main theme would be encouraging the pupils here tonight to pursue and to follow what is distinctive, special and important to each of you. That is not a bad message, but it is a common message, one I am sure you have heard before. And so, as with many great books, there is a slight twist at the end of my talk this evening. That is because I believe that passion can be a double-edged sword in learning.  When we’re told to develop our passion and to follow our dream, often that means to develop what we’re already good at. And the truth is that some things take longer to get really good at than others. 

So the most important message that I would wish to make to you as you each go through the next stage of your education is: don’t just follow your passions, but also broaden your passions. Broaden your passions because then you can be certain that you will be doing a lot of really great learning - and lots of really great learning means you will go on to lead really great lives."