Addressing the audience in the school’s Theatre in the Woods during the Prep School Speech Day Tom Youngs said: “I have fond memories of my time here and I remember so many opportunities to excel. The sports field really helped me to find my feet, develop my passion, and build my work ethic – and not only on the rugby pitch. Hard work gave me the reality of living my dream and my advice [to pupils] is: love what you do, and do what you love. Part of this is being able to take criticism, and to use it as guidance to help you do better.”
Ben Youngs also spoke and congratulated all prize winners, and those pupils leaving the Prep, saying: “My words of advice for the future are: be bold and have a go, whatever the outcome may be. I was afraid as a pupil to fail in the classroom, but I’ve learnt that through failures come the best of life’s lessons, so a fear of failure is no reason not to have a go. I feel really lucky to have attended Gresham’s and to have had all of the opportunities available here to try things out – to just have a go. I’ve been dropped from teams and lost in World Cups – but failure definitely made me a better person.”
The Senior School Speech Day continued this theme, with the event’s programme featuring guest speaker Matthew Fleming’s CV, including all his failures as well as his successes. Highlights included: his four O Levels at Grade U at Eton College; his failure to become a professional cricketer, while also working as a forklift driver; followed four years later by achieving success as a professional Kent and England cricketer. After his cricketing career, Fleming made a failed bid to become an MP, and also became the managing partner of what was to be an unsuccessful investment fund. He went on to become Director of England & Wales Cricket Board, Director of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals, and President of the MCC. Addressing pupils gathered in the Theatre in the Woods, Fleming encouraged: “Don’t be afraid to fail!”
The Senior School Speech Day also marked the official opening of the school’s new Outdoor Activity Centre, featuring a 21 obstacle armed forces standard assault course; a 250 metre zip wire; a 22 element high ropes course; a 12 element low ropes course for younger children; abseiling facilities; a 20 person purposefully basic bunkhouse (no running water or electricity) for use as a dorm, or teaching facility; and the centrepiece: the 28 metre ‘Bourdillon Tower’.
The tower is named in honour of Tom Bourdillon, Gresham’s alumnus, and half of the two-man team that came within 300 feet of Everest’s summit, just three days before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to successfully reach the top in 1953. Overcoming this early failure, Bourdillon became England’s greatest mountaineer in the immediate post-war era, and the first President of the Alpine Climbing Group. The school welcomed Jennifer Bourdillon, widow of Tom Bourdillon, to officially open the new facilities.
The outdoor activity centre is the first of its kind for a school in the area and will offer all pupils a chance to learn outdoor pursuit skills, with the Combined Cadet Force using the facilities every Friday and, as part of regular Saturday hobby times, an opportunity to attempt the Bourdillon Tower. Local families will also be welcome to enjoy the challenges on offer at the activity centre and, further afield, groups of school children who would be otherwise unable to experience outward bound activity camps will be able to enjoy a week-long residential stay as part of the school’s support of the charity London Children’s Camp.
Gresham’s Headmaster Douglas Robb said at the official opening: “The first 18 pupils will be here in July for three week-long activity camps, and they will enjoy sailing courses, boat rides, hiking to see the seals at Morston and running around in 200 acres right by the beautiful North Norfolk beaches, as well as the new on-site outdoor adventure facilities. What a fantastic new facility, and we are honoured to have with us today Tom Bourdillon’s widow, Jennifer, to officially open the centre. We hope Tom’s legacy, love for adventure, and determination to overcome failure – alongside the sage words of advice from our Speech Day guests Tom, Ben and Matthew – will inspire pupils to forget about failure and just have a go for decades to come!”