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Prize giving: celebrating a unique year

Prize giving: celebrating a unique year

Prizegiving is always a wonderful cause for celebration but, perhaps more than ever before, last week's events gave us the opportunity to pause and reflect on what our Headmistress termed the ‘unique oddity’ of the past year.

Covid-19 disrupted every part of School life, but – in true St Mary’s style – each member of our community played their part in navigating through the uncertainty to ensure that the School emerged with resilience and in positive spirit. Never has ‘#YesSheCan’ been more appropriate!

The prize giving ceremonies were all a celebratory event for each year group. They included many highlights including inspiring speeches from Head Girl Alice G. and Head Boarder Aliyah D-A. As Alice put it: 

“It is clear that each and every one of us has demonstrated St Mary’s HPL characteristics of empathy, perseverance and self-regulation time and time again throughout the last year”.

There were musical introductions including a tenor saxophone solo, brilliantly performed by Music Captain Rosie P.: A Foggy Day by George Gershwin.

Our Headmistress welcomed each ceremony with reflections on a difficult year. Looking back now, it’s hard to imagine just how much there was to contend with: no 2020 summer term because of the first lockdown; persevering with online learning; new protocols around social distancing, bubbles, facemasks and sanitisation; a second lockdown in autumn with schools remaining resolutely open; going into the Christmas holidays with constantly evolving plans before lockdown three was imposed in January. How glad we were to see each other again at the end of the Spring term after another two months apart!

Pulling through it all took a massive collective effort – involving Governors, teaching colleagues, technicians, those in the bursary, domestic bursary, catering, works and administration, boarding and nursing teams –  to tirelessly support students’ wellbeing, alongside their academic, creative, spiritual and sporting development.  As Ms Avery said, “What has most impressed me has been people’s personal fortitude and resilience, and compassion and empathy for others. Today, we recognise and pay tribute to just how much our whole community – girls and staff alike -  has achieved this year”.

We were thrilled to be joined virtually by guest speaker, St Mary’s alumna Dr Habiba Ahut Daggash, online from Abuja, Nigeria. Nine years on from her own St Mary’s prizegiving ceremony, Habiba is now an Engineering Management Consultant in Nigeria, having gained Bachelors and Masters degrees in Engineering Studies from Oxford University, and a PhD in Power Systems Engineering from Imperial College London. She encouraged the students to focus on three key areas which have helped her through the challenges she has faced: perseverance, empathy and resilience, qualities which are more important than ever in the post-pandemic era.

This year, Prizegiving was much less about individual achievements and more about collective endeavours and enterprises, reflective of our Mary Ward values. Each student awarded a prize had displayed either the learning behaviours to help them progress now and in later life, or the values and attitudes which equip them with the wider skills to be an outstanding learner and citizen.

The event was rounded off with musical performances from year group peers, for example there was a stunning vocal solo performed by Music Captain Ava L.: 3 am – an original song composed by Ava herself.

Acknowledging that students had experienced the most challenging set of circumstances in recent history, Ms Avery expressed her pride in how the School has responded with determination and resilience. She said, “St Mary’s is a community of those members who live in it, draw inspiration from the past, garner present resources and plan for its future prosperity; and as we reflect on this year of extraordinary community solidarity, I would like to give thanks for all that has been, looking forward to next year in a spirit of hope and optimism”.