Perhaps it was the Christmas tree, the poinsettias, the carols; perhaps it was the excited class of 2018 greeting each other after a first term at university but whatever the explanation the atmosphere of Senior Prize Day was heart-warming. For those who think speeches are dull the energetic applause of the audience in response to the three speakers would challenge that perspective.
The Chair of the Board of Governors (Mrs Sandra McCabe) delivered her opening remarks with characteristic warmth as she commended the staff for their dedication “in pursuit of excellence.” 2018 has been a year of immense significance for the school looking back to celebrate our founder’s bicentennial and looking forward with the completion of our inspiring School Enhancement Project. Mrs McCabe encouraged the audience to reflect upon the evolution of the school as a “fascinating journey” and to “pause and celebrate” their part as “participants in the story.”
The Principal’s Report, as is customary, provided a wide-ranging and comprehensive account of the school’s life in the past academic year. Recalling astonishingly balmy summer evenings in June with memorable musical content, the Principal recorded her thanks to the school’s Head of Music, Mr David Falconer, his deputy, Miss Chelsea Pascoe, to Parkview Special School and to Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council; the financial and practical support of the City Council added immeasurably to our commemorations.
Evaluation of our academic performance at all levels demonstrated that the school has maintained excellent standards with numerous individual outstanding performances. Six students attained 11 A* grades at GCSE, 32 students achieved 10 or more A*/A grades and 55 students achieved 9 or more A*/A. At A2 80% of the grades awarded were A*/B.
Fittingly, on a day when the school welcomed a distinguished mathematician we could boast of our own mathematical stars: Anna Trimble top GCSE student in Mathematics and Further Mathematics; Leah Bethel winner of the Aberdeen Prize for Mathematics; the Year 14 Mathematics Team placed joint first in the QUB Mathematics Competition for schools and former Deputy Head Boy Jamie Lutton winner of the Hamilton Prize as the top second year student at QUB. Other triumphs were catalogued, commended and celebrated in a wide range of departments and extra-curricular activities.
The Principal did not confine her remarks to the positive experiences of the school but stated firmly that “never has the financial landscape been more challenging”; she urged politicians to “get back to Stormont, to settle the teachers’ pay dispute, to invest in the future of Northern Ireland.”
The Guest of Honour, Professor Fordyce Davidson of the University of Dundee, had travelled across the Irish Sea to address the audience and to make a special presentation to top GCSE student Anna Trimble. Professor Davidson, although a mathematician, works in an interdisciplinary context with a special interest in the quantitative study of biological systems. In an engaging speech Professor Davidson sang the praises of Dundee (the sunniest city in Scotland!), provided a potted history of “Braveheart” William Wallace, who “committed murder in the playground”, commended the many excellent students from Northern Ireland he has taught at the university and provided a fascinating account of the university’s links with China arguing that global problems need global solutions.
Engagement with other cultures, he suggested, can only create fuller understanding and empathy. Noting that his subject is his “passion” Professor Davidson described Mathematics as “a creative art” with a “beauty and utility” which aid us to understand our universe. Observing that only 4% of those who read the subject at university will become teachers the Professor argued that mathematics graduates are changing the world through their engagement with finance and governance.
In conclusion Professor Davidson referred to the school’s motto “Esperance” noting its appropriateness to an educational institution and offered three pieces of advice to his young listeners: “Aspire to be the best you can be. Travel. Follow your passion.”
His words were echoed in Mrs McCabe’s closing remarks “Memories take us back but it is dreams which take us forward. Dare to dream.”
Dreams also featured in two delightful pieces by our choirs “Somewhere in my memory” by John Williams and “Have yourself a merry little Christmas” arr. Gritton which added immensely to the festive atmosphere. At the conclusion of the ceremony the much anticipated afternoon tea was served in the Sports Hall amidst the sound of lively conversation and warm reunions.
Speaking after the ceremony the Principal said:
“Rescheduling the event to late December has been a great success as it has been a delight to welcome home the class of 2018. I would like to thank Senior Teacher Mr Reid for his meticulous planning and administration of this annual celebration of our pupils’ achievements. I can only echo the cry of the people when they welcomed Sir Richard and Lady Wallace to Lisburn in 1873, “Wallace for ever.” ”