Anxiety – noun

  1. a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.
    “he felt a surge of anxiety”

2. strong desire or concern to do something or for something to happen.
“the housekeeper’s eager anxiety to please”

It may come as no surprise that this year’s Young Person’s Word of the Year 2021 as defined by the Oxford University Press is “anxiety”, it received 21% of the vote from a sample of 8,000 young people. Not an obvious word for pupils to be choosing – previous years have produced results from the world of social media such as “selfie” and “photobomb”. Other words that were runners up were “wellbeing” (13%) and “challenging” (12%). Perhaps more positive in nature, but yet another example of how the pandemic has affected the way our young people think. As has been said before we are only starting to understand the impact that long term exposure to the stress associated with the pandemic will have. What we do know is that if we keep school open and can offer a range of activities our pupils will benefit. Apparently, the teachers’ word of the year was “resilience” and for the population at large, we are told that “vax” has “injected itself into the bloodstream of the English language” during the pandemic (ouch).

For two of our year groups, Year 11, and Year 13 stress and anxiety have been more obvious. Mock exams are something of a New Year ritual, an essential part of preparation for public exams, but always a challenge. The last two weeks will have provided challenge and given experience in equal measure, these pupils have earned a weekend off before they pick up and start again on Monday. It remains to be seen what public exams will look like this summer. The impression being given is that we will continue with some degree of normality. I suspect that few in our public exam years would agree with Kierkegaard in defining anxiety as the “dizziness of freedom” although having worked well now, the summer exams will be a lesser challenge.

It is sometimes good to gain a sense of perspective in the current state of confusion, stress, and worry. Today, many Senior School pupils and parents joined together to hear the story of holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper. Our concerns quickly and rightly recede in the face of a story like Zigi Shipper’s. Our struggle is one in which there is opportunity for communities to co-operate, to share and to think more widely. Today we were reminded of the danger that sits with the prosecution of hate and when rational thought and human tolerance breaks down. Ours is an international community and I hope that the pupils in this school, so privileged to meet and appreciate the experiences of their peers from around the world, will be the torch bearers, the leaders of their communities in the future and will have the courage to speak up for others as well as for themselves. We all do well to be reminded of the danger of closing our ears to the lessons of history. Perhaps today of all days we would also do well to recognise the incredible spirit that lies within each and every one of us when faced with challenges of whatever scale and the fundamental importance of remaining positive even when feeling a little anxious.

Nicholas Hammond