The Head, Nicola Huggett

A few thoughts on... Appreciating friends

Over the weekend I heard John McCarthy speaking on the radio. John McCarthy was a former pupil at a school I used to work at, and 30 years ago, he was a household name, as one of several hostages held prisoner in Lebanon by extremists. There was a huge publicity campaign for his release, using the symbol of a yellow ribbon, and thankfully, as it is a rare occurrence these days, he was finally released unharmed after five years in confinement, much of which he spent totally alone but with a daily threat of death.

You might not be surprised to learn that he held up his time at boarding school as one of the main reasons he managed to survive his captivity. I’m not sure what exactly that says about what his boarding house was like, but his ability to live without the comforts at home, an appreciation of routine and the need to get on with those he lived so closely beside were definitely factors in his ability to survive mentally as well as physically. One key benefit too was the fact that he had friends from other countries and other cultures at school and he knew the value of respect for their traditions as well as his own. That appreciation of diversity kept him alive for five long years.

You would imagine that, after his five-year ordeal, John McCarthy would have opted for a quiet life, outside the media spotlight and yet he has gone on to have a very successful career in journalism, traveling to many of the war zones that might well have brought back painful memories for him. He spoke this weekend in support of a charity called International Alert that works in areas where there is civil war. It brings together young people from the same country but from different sides of a political divide, those from the two warring sides in Syria, in Rwanda, in Somalia and in 25 other countries around the world.

It is no surprise that people often see the education of the young from any country as the only sustainable way to bring about world peace. Mistrust runs too deep, habits are too easily formed, routines and expectations are very hard to change if you have been living with them for a long time.

That is why it is so important for you to recognise and appreciate the friends you can make here, from all the far corners of the globe. Years ago, there were very few people educated outside their own countries. It was hard to travel, currency barriers were too extreme, languages were not taught as well as they are today. People who lived here 50 years ago might well not have had the variety of different friends that you have and could have here in 2016. And it is you, as the next generation, who will be the peacemakers, the free thinkers who stop conflicts between cultures that have arisen. It will be your responsibility and it won’t wait.

Today it is Chinese New Year. For those of us who have been lucky enough to have visited the far East, we know how vibrant and exciting experience of another continent and another culture can be. If you have not visited the country where your class mates today live, make use of the next few days to talk about your very different homes, and remember how fortunate we are to have a global education right here within our midst. You can teach each other far more than we as teachers can ever teach you. And you will be living in a far smaller world in that respect than we ever have. Make the most of this chance to learn about the world from the experts who sit beside you every day.