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Ruthin School Prize Giving Address

Description:Address given by Guest Speaker Alan LJ Bowen (Old Ruthinian) at Ruthin School's Prize Giving on 31 May 2013
Principal (Headmaster), invited guests, parents, teachers, students, family friends
Today is 31st May which is a very significant date. Exactly 90 years ago on 31 May 1923 the School Pavilion was opened. On 31st May 2008 Usain Bolt broke the 100 metres world record in just 9.72 seconds. Sadly my talk today will not be over in as fast a time as that! However in the 2012 Olympics Mo Farah won the 5000 metres in 13 minutes and 41 seconds. It wasn’t a new world record, so I’ll do my very best to beat Mo’s time today. (He is a hard man to beat though…).

It’s a tremendous privilege for me to be a part of your prize giving ceremony today, and I really am grateful for this opportunity to congratulate the prize-winners, and indeed all the students who have taken part in this year’s achievements. Everyone of you, I know, will have done your very best to be awarded a prize today, and even if your name is not on the prize list, you are still to be warmly congratulated for all your efforts.

I’d also like to state the obvious by emphasizing the importance of academic achievement in our modern world. Nelson Mandela said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

Academic excellence is absolutely critical if you want to go to the best universities, and then on to a career of your choosing. What I can definitely tell you today, in the light of the Headmaster’s report, is that all of you here are, without question, amongst the very brightest students, not just in this in this country, but globally, and you have a wonderful opportunity to progress to the very highest levels of both education and your subsequent career.

It is quite remarkable what has been going on at Ruthin School in recent years, and the Headmaster and the teaching staff are to be congratulated for their fantastic contribution to the academic achievements of the students generally.

I was sent a press cutting recently with a photograph of students taking entrance examinations for Ruthin School. I understand the demand for places is now very strongly locally as well as further afield, and the awful thought occurred to me that if I was trying to get into Ruthin School today, then I might not make the grade!

Now I have to confess this is the first prize-giving speech I have made (and it’s probably the last!). I remember quite a few prize-giving days at Ruthin but I have completely forgotten what was said on those occasions. So I do comfort myself with the thought that all my words today will be completely wiped from your memories within a few years.
Last week my wife said I wasn’t listening to her – at least I think that’s what she said…..
It’s certainly also the first time I have been called a ‘Distinguished Guest’. That is a very worrying description, especially since the Headmaster knows that I’ve had a career in a very unpopular industry called investment banking, but I don’t think we’ll go there today! I am though very proud indeed that I was educated at Ruthin School, and the firm foundation which Ruthin gave me enabled me to go on to University, and then progress in the world of finance and business.
Although I left the School 44 years ago it’s quite amazing that four of the teaching staff still live locally here today – Michael Hewer and Stanley Cloke, who got me through my A levels in French and History, and Rex Dibley who taught biology, and Alf Hill who was Headmaster when I was in the 6th Form. Thank you Sirs for all you did for me. As an aside, I remember Mr Hewer telling me about a teacher who apparently wrote in one student’s school report that “A slight improvement in Johnnie’s handwriting has revealed the total inadequacy of his spelling”!
One of the great changes of course since I did my A Levels is that there is now far more choice of subject, and it’s an age-old debate as to whether or not it’s better to study subjects which are directly relevant to your chosen career. It’s also of course a very big decision as to whether you do a Science or an Arts degree when you go to University. I read a couple of weeks ago that New College Nottingham is now offering a degree course in Heavy Metal. I don’t think it’s a science course but it’s apparently something to do with Deep Purple concepts…
So, is it easier now to get a job if you have a science or business degree? I was amused to read a short commentary on this theme which went along the following lines:
Apparently a graduate with a science degree asks: “Why does it work?”
A graduate with an engineering degree asks: ”How does it work?”
A graduate with an accounting degree asks: “How much will it cost?”
A graduate with an arts degree asks: “Do you want fries with that?”
Of course I did an Arts degree!
The problem is that when you are only 16 or 17 you still may not be sure what you want to do in life. I remember a particular boy at Ruthin who was not academically brilliant but he was a tremendous rugby player. He obtained passes in two O Levels (GCSEs) - in Religious Studies (Scripture) and Woodwork. Wonderfully though he was perfectly qualified for his chosen career – that of an Undertaker and Funeral Director.
One thing is certain though, and that is that all of you students will grow up into a world that will be very, very different to that of my, and my parents’, generation. My parents never ever touched a computer or a mobile phone. For them an apple or a blackberry was something that grows on trees or bushes, and they probably experienced far less stress than we do today!
The current rate of technological advance is astonishing and it’s only going to get faster. I’m convinced that in the next 30 years there will be many exciting inventions and new technologies that might be considered impossible today. So if you want to pursue a career in science and technology, there will be some amazing opportunities. Computers will increase vastly in power, they’ll change shape, become tiny and will be embedded in clothing and all kinds of everyday objects. The author and inventor Ray Kurzweil has predicted that by 2045 the small sum of $1000 will buy a computer a billion times more intelligent than every human combined. That’s absolutely frightening!
I think I’m already at the 2000 metre mark so, if I want to beat Mo Farah, I’d better move on to what I really want to say to all the students today. I’d like to make three points:
1. Have a Vision for your future. Another way of putting it is “Follow your dreams”. A poet called Langston Hughes said this: “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly”.
Last year I was asked to give a presentation to Ruthin’s 6th formers about Investment Banking, and although I did my very best to put them off thinking about working in such an industry, a whole line formed afterwards of students who wanted to ask me a question personally. What a bright lot they are too!

I was particularly pleased by the comments of one young man who told me that he now had a definite plan for his career. He would get a job in London with a good investment bank, work there for 10 years and then go to his homeland of China to set up his own investment banking business. I really liked hearing that vision even though there clearly would be a lot of challenges and obstacles along the way, and there were admittedly a few gaps in his outline business plan. I told him that if he follows his plan, his timing could be very good indeed given what is happening in China!

I also strongly believe that if you find work that you have a real passion for, something that you enjoy doing and get easily excited about, then you are in the best place you can be.

So many people do jobs they don’t enjoy, so it’s a great time now to decide what you are passionate about, and then see if you can work in an area where you will find fulfillment.

And it’s never too early to plan how you are going to get your first job. If you’re a 6th former you should certainly be researching now the opportunities to apply for internships in whatever field you want to work in, once you leave university. It’s a really hard job market out there and anything you can do to get on the inside track is well worth doing.

When I was working in the bank, I loved to be involved as an interviewer in our graduate recruitment scheme. I was just amazed by the number of highly intelligent students who had clearly not prepared at all for their interviews. If you have a vision or a dream then you need to work out how you are going to achieve it, and that always means lots of preparation and pre-planning. Someone once said “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. So develop a vision for what you want to accomplish. Go after your dreams.

2. Be prepared to take Risks. Nothing significant is ever achieved without the taking of a risk. This does mean however that you will occasionally fail, so you must be willing to accept that. It was Oscar Wilde who said “The reason many people don’t climb the ladder of success is that they are waiting for the elevator”.

Now, by the taking of risk, I don’t mean unwarranted crazy risk-taking, which in recent years has clearly happened in the trading rooms of many investment banks! Risk-taking should be measured, planned, assessed - so that you give yourself the best possible chance of succeeding.

Mr Hewer when he was a bit younger regularly used to take me and other boys rock-climbing in Snowdonia. I wasn’t very good at it and I can admit now that I was often quite frightened. But I’ve never regretted doing those climbs, because the sense of achievement when you got to the top was just brilliant! There was real risk involved, especially for Mr Hewer who always led each section of a climb. If he had ever fallen, then he would have been relying on us to hold on to the rope which would stop him crashing onto the rocks below – a very brave man indeed! Be prepared to take risks.

3. Never Give Up: Persevere. Whatever you do in life, there will always be times when you feel like giving up. It sometimes is a real challenge just to keep going, but - you know - that is absolutely normal. Today the word “Commitment” is very unfashionable. We live in a throw away Society. If something doesn’t work, then throw it away and get a new one. Sadly that attitude applies as much to personal relationships as it does to material things.

I think it’s a really good thing for any person, young or old, to think regularly about their priorities and values in life. I know as a Christian believer that my faith has helped me enormously during the very difficult times that we all seem to go though at some point in our lives. And for those of you who eventually get married and perhaps have a family, my personal advice to you (and I think I’m just about old enough now to speak with some authority on this) is always to put your spouse and family before your job.

Persevere and be committed to what you are doing. Thomas Edison, the great American inventor, was described by his first teacher as “addled” and his father almost convinced him that he was a “dunce”. But Edison, who was later described as a genius, said that “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. Edison worked 18 hour days and practiced amazing patience. Once he recognized the value of an idea, he stayed with the process until he discovered its secret. His alkaline storage battery became a reality after about 10,000 failed experiments! He famously said: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that do not work”.

I think one of the most stressful experiences during my working life was when my Boss, the Head of Banking, phoned me in my office at around 11.30 am one day and said I would have to take his place at a meeting plus luncheon that day with the Group Finance Director and several Board members of a major British quoted Company. He told me that another Bank colleague was also going to the meeting and he would explain everything on our way there.

I had to leave immediately with the other colleague and once we were on the train I asked him what it was all about. He then said “I haven’t the faintest idea. I thought you were going to brief me!” Now this was before the age of mobile phones and there simply was no way of speaking to my Boss before the meeting. When we arrived, we were shown into a room with 5 Board members of the Company, including the Finance Director, whose opening question was “So what is this wonderful new financing idea you’ve come to tell us all about?” It was an awful moment but we had to cope with it….
I’ve reached the 5,000 metre mark (and I’ve beaten/not beaten Mo Farah’s time) so I’ll close by saying “go for that vision”, “be prepared to take risks”, and “always persevere”. You are amongst the brightest students in the world and you have the ability to achieve great things.
Someone once said that:
“Excellence is when you:
...care more than others think is wise;
...risk more than others think is safe;
...dream more than others think is practical;
...expect more than others think is possible.” And above all, remember that in a few years time you won’t remember a word of what I’ve just said! Thank you.
Updated:Monday 15-01-2018 14:01

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