Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 8th September 2023
A very warm (in many senses of the word) welcome back to NCS – an NCS that looks very different from when you last saw it in September! And, for many of you, a very warm welcome to NCS for the first time. I wish you and your families every happiness over the coming years in our special community.
During our first chapel service of the year on Wednesday, I talked to the boys about Michaelmas term, and where the word ‘Michaelmas’ comes from. That word ‘Michaelmas’ can sound rather odd. Compared to, say, calling terms ‘Autumn’, ‘Spring’ and ‘Summer’, or ‘Term 1’, ‘Term 2’ and ‘Term 3’, we call them ‘Michaelmas’, ‘Hilary’ and ‘Trinity’. ‘Michaelmas’, or ‘Michael’s Mass’, is named after the Archangel Michael – the Feast of St Michael and All Angels coming at the end of September. Michael is often considered as the greatest of all the angels, held in high esteem throughout history as a healer, a warrior, and a guardian. Broadening this out, I talked to the boys about angels more generally, and especially guardian angels: a term we now use to describe someone assigned to protect and guide a particular person, group or nation.
I told them a story about the time that I met my own guardian angel, if only for a few minutes. I was travelling to visit some friends in Charleston, in the south of the USA, and had to fly via Washington DC to get there. After a long transatlantic flight, I was waiting in the departure lounge for my short connecting flight to Charleston, watching out of the window as the weather worsened outside and my flight got further and further delayed. Finally, my heart plummeted as the word ‘cancelled’ appeared on the departure board next to my flight number. The weather was getting too bad for any planes to take off, and even if conditions improved my flight would not be able to land in Charleston, because the airport reverted to a military base within the next hour or two and would not be allowing civilian flights to land.
It was getting pretty late by this point and I was very tired, having been travelling all day. The airport in DC was also due to close within a couple of hours. I joined the queue at the customer service desk to enquire as to whether there was any other way of getting to my destination; the answer was an emphatic and uncaring ‘no’. The next flight out, the following morning, was already full. I politely informed the customer service assistant that the airline might have a responsibility to get me to my destination; I had, after all, paid them quite a lot of money. They didn’t really seem to agree. Instead, they gave me a phone number to ring to get me a ‘discounted’ room at a nearby hotel. It is worth pointing out at this stage that this was before widespread WiFi in airports and my mobile phone contract didn’t allow me to make calls outside the UK. I had no way, then, to contact the friends waiting for me in Charleston, to tell them that I wouldn’t be turning up that night; and it wasn’t entirely clear when I would be turning up at all.
Anyway, I rang the landline number that had been given to me, to hear an almost inaudible and equally uncaring voice telling me to head outside the terminal and to look out for a red hotel shuttle bus that would take me to the right hotel. I stood waiting as various hotel shuttle buses went past; none of them was red. I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting. It was getting later and later and it wouldn’t be long until the airport itself was shutting down. It was at this point that I looked to my left to see someone official-looking in an airline uniform who seemed to know what they were doing. ‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘do you know if the red hotel shuttle bus will be coming any time soon’. ‘Red?!,’ they replied, ‘that shuttle stopped an hour ago’. I explained my situation. ‘Get the next blue shuttle’, they said, ‘and I’ll explain at the hotel what’s happened to you and we’ll get it all sorted out’. I’ll add at this point that, although I didn’t know this individual, I was a grown-up in public, getting on a public shuttle; I was as safe as I could be in the situation. As we travelled on the hotel shuttle, my new guardian angel could not have been more reassuring; as we arrived at the hotel, they explained at the desk what had happened, got me (I think) a discount on my room. But more than this: they set up their laptop in the hotel lobby so I could contact the friends waiting for me in Charleston and then let me borrow their mobile phone so I could speak to them directly. And, just like that, they were gone. I never knew their name; I never saw them again; but they had been an incredible help in an otherwise difficult situation. The following morning I got the blue (!) shuttle back to the airport, found a friendly airline employee, and got on the next flight to Charleston.
This guardian angel of mine appeared from nowhere, disappeared almost as quickly as they had appeared, but had protected and guided me when I needed some advice and support. They had no reason to help me; there was no financial reward. But they saw someone who was in need and they, without hesitation, cheerfully guided me until they knew that I was safe and that my onward journey had been sorted. I think this is a lesson that we can all learn at the start of this new school year: we are all, in different ways, guardian angels for one another. We are all here to look after and to support one another; and we most certainly are not here to do the opposite. There are formal ways that we can encourage this, for example through having codes of conduct and behaviour policies – we adults have them, as well as you pupils. But there are also more informal ways that we can be guardian angels for one another, protecting and guiding one another as we encounter the hardships that will inevitably come along in the course of our lives – both at school and at home.
This Michaelmas term is a long one – it is fourteen weeks long. We will enjoy a lot of things over the course of these coming months: academic lessons, sports fixtures, musical and dramatic performances, and all manner of other things both inside and outside the classroom. There will be times when we get tired; when we get a bit irritated with one another; there may be times when things seem a little too much for us. But by being each another’s guardian angels, we can support and guide one another through what will be, I trust, a happy, fulfilling and productive term.
Have a great weekend,
Please note that the school’s safeguarding policy is easily available via the school website at https://www.newcollegeschool.org/_site/data/files/documents/0BC836B027AF4262479DE2DF892B4EED.pdf
The school’s RSE (Relationships and Sex Education) policy is available to view at https://www.newcollegeschool.org/wellbeing-and-happiness. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now that we have much more space in the playground (and more protective netting!) do please feel free to wait in the playground by the gate at pickup. This will help to reduce the number of people waiting on Savile Road, and increase everyone’s safety.