So, finally, 16 months after being appointed as Warden of St. Columba’s College, term has begun, the new pupils have arrived, and I have taken my place in the extraordinary study occupied by my predecessors. The packing boxes have been removed from our newly decorated house and my wife, Cathy, and I are starting to turn a house into a home. We are also thoroughly enjoying the chance to explore Dublin and walk up into the glorious hills that are directly behind the school.
New Wardens don’t arrive at St. Columba’s very often. I am only the fifth since 1949! My predecessor, Dr. Lindsay Haslett, was here for 15 years and he has left me a school that is full and one whose academic record is absolutely outstanding. Irish schools do not publish their Leaving Certificate results but if they did we would quite possibly be in first place, or, at the very least, the top few. It is a wonderfully solid foundation on which to build for the future and I consider myself very fortunate.
What are my initial thoughts? Well, I could go on at length, but my early impression is of a school which loves its tradition and yet which is offering an absolutely outstanding modern education…contrast, for example, our gowned pupils, attending daily worship in our beautiful chapel, with the new state of the art science block, whose classrooms would not look out of place on the Starship Enterprise. Both are relevant: the chapel speaks of the Christian values which are the bedrock of the school and which do not change, while the new labs speak of a world which is changing almost in front of our eyes. It is not an easy balance to strike but I have not felt any tension in the attempt to maintain that equilibrium.
In a similar way there is a balance to strike in being an Irish school and being an international one. We are totally Irish in character but we have plenty of students from Europe in particular. That is healthy in the Europe Community in which we, at least, still live and we gain enormous value from those who come here from abroad.
I spoke to the whole school yesterday about many things, two of which I want to highlight. Firstly the need to create leaders, young people who are prepared to stand up for their values and to stand apart from the crowd. Everyone wants to be a leader and all will be, in one form or another, and the best time to start taking those first steps in leadership is at school. And secondly I talked about the need to develop an attitude of service: service of others in our community, service of the community outside our gates and service of the wider world. Is it possible to be both inward looking and outward looking at the same time? I believe it is and, in fact, I believe it has to be.
I am enjoying myself so far, but the sun is still shining and the new Warden is still shiny and new. That will not always be the case! These are just some early thoughts and I will be blogging on a regular basis with more thoughts over the weeks and months ahead.