This was the second occasion on which Certificate Evening has been held in the familiar surroundings of the college and the Sports Hall had been transformed into a Christmas themed location for the special event. Rather like last year, the Manchester weather did us no favours at all but this did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the past students, family members, friends, Loreto staff and governors who comprised the audience in the packed hall.
A musical interlude followed Danny Price’s opening remarks, the Chamber Choir (main picture), under the direction of Head of Music David Lloyd-Mostyn, performing Music on Christmas Morning, a choral setting of a poem by Ann Bronte, composed by student Jessica Tasker, and White Winter Hymnal, a piece accompanied by the intriguing boomwhackers.
In his address Principal Peter McGhee, paid generous tribute to the guest speaker, UNICEF Children’s Ambassador Chris Lubbe, referring to his role as anti-apartheid activist and connections with Nelson Mandela. Mr McGhee praised the stalwart work of former Principal Sister Patricia, in promoting Catholic education in the city. He mentioned how, when he was interviewed by Sister Patricia for a maths post he found himself agreeing to teach some RE, a subject that remained on his timetable for the next twelve years and from which he gained a great deal, as he knew had been the case for the returning students. The academic achievements of the class of 2019 were praised, Loreto scoring above the national average on all indicators; indeed, Mr McGhee emphasised the fact that Loreto seeks much more of its students than that they be considered ‘average’: we are more ambitious for our young people. It was pleasing to report that most of the leavers from last year are now either in universities up and down the country, in worthwhile apprenticeships, or in full time employment. These achievements include those students who left the Pathways Department as independent travellers and often went on to further education courses or into paid employment.
Mr McGhee itemised the huge range of extracurricular activities to which the class of 2019 contributed, including numerous creative arts events, debate club and science related projects. Loreto remains the largest provider of the D of E scheme in the north west, and the trips abroad included visits to Iceland, America, Greece, and of course to India, where Loreto students work with the Rainbow Children in the slums of Kolkata. The sporting achievements were of the highest level. The class of 2019 raised thousands of pounds for a number of charities, in particular the Toilet Twinning project and the Cornerstones appeal. Mr McGhee made special mention of David Camplin and the granting of bursaries, which he coordinates, helping Loreto students who find themselves in straitened circumstances achieve their full academic potential. Tribute was also paid to our governors, who give of their time and energy in unstinting manner and serve the college with loyalty and dedication. Mr McGhee closed his remarks by quoting from ‘I Hope You Dance’ a song recorded by country singer Lee Ann Womack, extolling the virtues of making the most of life’s opportunities.
Guest speaker Chris Lubbe then delivered what can only be described as a highly moving and inspirational address. He described how the iniquitous system of apartheid permeated every aspect of his life as he grew up in a shanty town in Durban: housing, education, employment, sport and leisure – there was no escape from its pervasive influence. A traumatic but formative experience, which saw his mother declined proper medical treatment because of the pernicious racial laws, saw the then eight-year-old decide to dedicate his life to the anti-apartheid cause. This led to a one-year prison sentence, interrogation and torture, before a chance meeting with the newly released Nelson Mandela changed his life completely. He was chosen to be one of Mandela’s bodyguards and after a period of intense training with the SAS in the UK, his role took him all over the world, including to the Clinton White House and to Buckingham Palace for an audience with the Queen.
Chris explained how the real inspiration of Mandela lay in his attitude to the f word: forgiveness. He had no time for revenge and recrimination. He famously remarked that unforgiveness is like taking poison and hoping someone else will die – an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. Chris promised Mandela that he would continue to work for peace and reconciliation and has proved true to his word, working for UNICEF and even befriending one of his former torturers. Thinking back to his childhood in the shanty town in Durban – no electricity, no water, no hope – he recalled finding a discarded copy of Romeo and Juliet on a rubbish dump, which he read avidly and realised that education is the key, a message often reinforced by Nelson Mandela. Chris urged our students to take their knowledge and education out into the world and change it for the better; that their choices reflect their hopes not their fears. Whilst we may consider that we are familiar with the story of Nelson Mandela and the downfall of apartheid, hearing it from someone with direct experience of the baleful system was a moving and salutary experience, greatly appreciated by the audience who sat in rapt attention throughout.
Certificates were then presented to the class of 2019 and after a vote of thanks given by a representative of the student council, guests and audience members made their way into the Ellis and Kennedy building, where Loreto musicians played a medley of Christmas favourites, and everyone had the chance to socialise and ‘catch up’ before battling the elements on their homeward journeys.