In praise of doing the lot

It is a cutting phrase, the one that goes… “jack of all trades but master of none”. Knowledge and skills seem to be becoming ever more specialised, our focus ever narrower. It was therefore with great interest that I watched the 165th men’s university boat race last Sunday and the 74th women’s boat race. This venerable British institution sees the rowers of Oxford University pit themselves against those from Cambridge University in what amounts to a private challenge on the Thames from Putney to Mortlake. These crews are not the world’s best crews although there is a great deal of talent sitting in those narrow shells. They aren’t even the best university crews in the country, but they represent something interesting and perhaps this explains why hundreds of thousands line the banks of the river to watch and 6.2 million tune in to witness the spectacle on television. The race itself is absurd, it is very long and takes place on a tidal, meandering river. Winning the coin toss can be as important as making a good start or finishing strongly. It is sport, but not as we now know it. The amateur ideal is fused with a professional approach. Whilst I’m sure that there are some “degrees of convenience” being studied to facilitate participation, this isn’t a case of sports professionals masquerading as academics, nor is it the other way round. All of the participants are studying, even the one who is 46 years of age. They balance study and rigorous training. I was particularly interested in Callum Sullivan 19 year old musician and athlete. He must be a busy man. Other boat race rowers have shown a prowess in differing fields, notably Hugh Lawrie writer, comic, musician and actor; Sandy Irvine, mountaineer; Lord Melbourne the Australian Prime Minister.

So it would seem that it is possible to excel in more than one field. Whilst we may not quite match up to the last man who knew everything – Thomas Young who proved Newton wrong, helped decode the Rosetta Stone and was an accomplished gymnast or to Dorothy Dunnett, novelist, scholar and artist or to Hildegard von Bingen they may also point the way to successful engagement in many fields.

And so we come to the end of this Spring Term. A period of time in which we have seen many pupils do many fine things. There are schools in the world that are larger than ours, but I do not see this as a problem, rather it is a virtue. Our musicians who played in the excellent Senior School concert this week are also the pupils who turned out for sports teams, went to debate, have excelled academically and have been the backbone of numerous societies. Many have given back in the form of service activities and charity fundraising this term. This is as true for the Junior School as it is for the Senior School; life has been about so much more than what has gone on in the classroom. The size of our population means pupils have to do everything, and I think that this is healthy indeed. It has been a term well spent. A term in which an enormous amount has been achieved. From plays to pitches there has been so much to celebrate. So here’s to the “jacks of all trades”, I believe that you have gained mastery in many. There can be no better measure of a term well spent.

Have a wonderful holiday.

Nicholas Hammond