When I had the opportunity to study anthropology the seeming obsession of some academics with the concept of rites of passage was striking. It appeared that it wasn’t possible to pick up a monograph without finding some sort of ceremony or event that was, in the observer’s mind at least, the marker of a significant occurrence in the passage of an individual’s life. The longer I am in schools the more important these markers seem to be (and the faster they come around – that is, however, age). From the start of term assembly by way of the Christmas concert via fixtures, performances and exhibitions we always end up back at the same place – the end of the summer term. What anthropologists regard as passage through a liminal zone we simply see as moving up a year group or going to another school or heading off to university. Perhaps this year, more than others, how we should commemorate the end of this most remarkable of years is a question to be answered. Perhaps we have the chance to build new traditions.
This year will, of course, be different. To some extent we have lost the anchor points of the school year, there is a danger of being adrift. I can’t help but spare a thought for those of our pupils who, for whatever reason, won’t finish the year with their friends and their teachers and whose end of term is likely to end (to borrow from T.S Eliot) not with a bang but a whimper. Those in school have had the chance to enjoy time with friends and to consolidate their learning but the end of this year will be different, it will not be the same even for those who are able to be present. Who knows what new ceremonies or customs will develop from our experiences over the last three months?
Whilst it remains difficult to gather, we can, without doubt celebrate. Our Junior School final assembly may be a little less well attended than normal and our Prize Giving may be virtual, but it would be wrong to view them as some ersatz version of the real thing. Both events have been filmed and the resulting productions will be shown in something similar to the normal way – Parents if you wish to put champagne in the fridge before starting it should be chilled by the time the films end! In taking a new approach we record for posterity the achievements of our whole community and who knows, in years to come it might be the sort of thing that is watched again. If nothing else, it will bear witness to the concept of lock-down hair in its many and varied forms.
Our pupils have had an extraordinary year. Many have been given a chance to work in a genuinely independent manner. Perhaps their way of viewing the world will have been shaped by this period of difference. I hope so. If it were the case that this experience leads to a new way of configuring the world and a re-ordering of priorities, then it may well have been time well spent. This has been a time of tragedy and uncertainty. Perhaps it has been a rite of passage that few generations will have the need to experience but it will have profound effects.