Focus on Education September 2021 No.2

Those of you who had an eye on the news over the past few weeks may have followed the progress
of Hurricane Ida, the latest mega-storm to hit the United States. You will know that it caused
widespread destruction and a tragic number of deaths as it tore up the country in ten days of chaos.
Ida came ashore in Louisiana and rampaged all the way up the Eastern states, even claiming lives in
New York. There was no escape.

The problem with hurricanes, especially those huge ones that strike Central and North America
every year in late Summer, is that it isn’t easy to move out of their way. They go where they want to
go and, although you might be able to evacuate yourself beforehand, you can do nothing to keep
your livelihood, your house or business or farm or possessions, from being hit. If you live on land
that is in a hurricane’s path, you have few options.

It is a bit different if you are at sea though. In the days before Ida struck the American coast, the
massive storm was forming out over the Gulf of Mexico. Sucking up energy from the ocean, and
driving huge waves and gale force winds ahead of it.

There were plenty of people in its path there as well, but the difference was, they could move. The
Gulf of Mexico was peppered with boats of every size and shape last month. Pleasure craft, cruise
liners, container ships, yachts, super yachts, oil tankers, even oil rigs. Yet they all heard the early
warning alerts and scrambled to get out of the way. Seized the chance to up-anchor and make for a
place of safety. Usually, headed for a port. A safe harbour, in which they could drop their sails,
power off their engines, batten down the hatches. Whatever their purpose had been out at sea,
their priority shifted to protecting their crew as the storm passed. Sensible. My question for you
though, is this: Where are those boats now?
Because thousands of boats avoiding Hurricane Ida is not a bad analogy for how we have all
responded to the ravages of the pandemic. Wherever you may have been over the past 18 months,
in your own homes in the UK or in any other country, you and your family have hunkered down in
your own safe harbour. Sheltered in place.

Just like that flotilla of vessels in the Gulf of Mexico, we were all lucky enough to get some advance
warning of the impending storm that COVID brought, and we took cover. You all scattered ahead of
the waves of the virus, taking shelter in the sanctuary of your homes. The School was no different.
Like a fully laden oil tanker, we are a large operation and we had lots of momentum when the first
lockdown loomed. Yet we did well to change our course as fast as we could and moved,
metaphorically, to a place of safety.

And there we have stayed, relatively untouched. Safe behind our own breakwater, made up of
masks and sanitiser stations, bubbles and social distancing, Teams and mass testing. And although I
know some of you have contracted the virus and others have struggled with being so isolated for so
long, by and large, we have all weathered the COVID storm.

More than weathered it, in fact. We slowed down as a School, but we did not sink, and we did not
stop. Although you have missed an awful lot over the past 18 months, the one thing that did not
suffer is your academic education. Your teachers did a superb job in maintaining your studies and
you responded brilliantly. That should give you great confidence as you start this new year.
The pandemic is not completely over, of course, and we should spare a thought for those who are
still struggling with it. But here in the UK at least, the worst appears to be behind us, and the clouds
are breaking.
But back to my question: where are all those boats that fled the Gulf of Mexico today? When I was
undertaking some Army training many years ago, there was a quote we referred to. It said:

“A ship in the harbour is safe,
but that is not what ships are built for.”

Those words were meant as a daily challenge to test ourselves, our bodies and our minds. A
reminder that we were designed to live life, not hide from it. Encouragement to have confidence to
strike out from the comfort of those barracks every morning and seize the day.

I believe that same sentiment is equally applicable here, now. For each of you and for the School as a
whole. We have sheltered safely from the pandemic over the past 18 months. Scaled back our
operation, set anchors, lowered our sails a little. In the pandemic harbour we created, HGS has
indeed been safe. But that is not what we were built for. Not what you are here for. Nor the talented
people that make up our team of staff.

HGS has a reputation that stretches back over a century and a half. A reputation for excellence and
energy in everything we do. A tradition of aspiration and applying ourselves to all that is offered.
Academic study, sport, service, performance. Any of it and all of it. We are known for our sense of
purpose, a culture of enthusiastic engagement. And it is time we lifted our anchors, hoisted our sails,
and got back on that course once more.

Not recklessly. The COVID seas are still a little choppy and we will continue to be careful. But we
were not built to sit at anchor any longer. We owe you all the School career that you came here
seeking. The education, the experiences, the chances to excel. And that has all restarted with

“A ship in the harbour is safe,
but that is not what ships are built for.”

We have set sail once more. So, as the School heads out of its COVID harbour and builds up a head
of steam once again, I wish you all the best possible start. Just remember, protection from the virus
may come from a jab of vaccine in the arm, but protection from the impact of the pandemic on your
lives will only come through a daily injection of determination on your part.

Stay well and safe.
Be kind to yourself and others.
Best wishes,

Dr Bird