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  Speech to Wymondham High School


This speech was given at Wymondham High School on 19 October 2001

May I start by saying thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you on this special occasion to celebrate the achievements of the students and pupils of Wymondham High School. It is a great pleasure to be here and I feel honoured to have been invited.

There are many things I have learnt in the twenty years since I left school which I wish someone had told me earlier.

In particular, about things like jobs, careers, money, travel - the things that young people start thinking about very seriously as they approach the time of leaving school and indeed in the years afterwards.

When I first arrived at the House of Commons, I sat in the library and wrote a long letter to one of my teachers, simply to thank him.

Because when I was ten years old, during English lessons when we had mini-debates, he made our class move our desks around the room, so that at the end of the debate instead of putting up a hand to vote we had to stand up and walk through the gap created between two desks, just like the division lobbies in the House of Commons, with 'tellers' there to count us as we went through the gap.

And that was when I first had the idea of one day going to the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament - and it was one of my teachers, Mr Thompson, who gave me that idea.

Perhaps you will have been inspired by one of the teachers here at Wymondham High School. Or perhaps by one of your parents. Or a friend. Or a friend's parent. Perhaps you haven't met that person yet. Perhaps you are just about to.

But whether you have or whether you haven't yet, remember that the person who knows best who you are, what you can become and what you want out of life - the person who knows better than anyone else what is in your heart - is you.

Certainly, take advice - from people who have more experience of life than you do.

Jobs, careers, money and travel are all so important and the choices are now so extraordinarily varied that it can be difficult to know where to start. And it can be very worthwhile indeed to listen to what others who have experienced those things have to say.

But never forget that you are the sole owner of what is inside your heart and that unless you have the confidence to follow what you find there, you can't expect anyone else to - and you may end up always wishing you had.

On the subject of what job you should do, if you believe in your heart that you can do something - what ever it is - never, never let anyone persuade you that you can't, however unlikely or difficult it may sound.

And also never forget that while education is exceptionally important, education takes many different forms, academic education is not the same as all education - and indeed that education by itself is not enough.

Calvin Coolidge was right when he said:

"Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common that unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Determination and Persistence alone are omnipotent".

If you have a dream, the place where the dream came from is the same place where you will find the will power and the determination to make it happen.

Don't be afraid to try a few different things.

Don't be afraid to make a few mistakes.

There are philosophers who will tell you that all of human knowledge is nothing more than the sum of human beings learning from our mistakes. And it was Winston Churchill who said: "Success is nothing more than going from failure to failure with enthusiasm".

A word about money. When starting out, don't worry about not having enough money. It might seem like you should, especially when you are having conversations with your parents.

But never let money determine the path you take in life. There are successful people making more than enough to live on - indeed, there are great fortunes which have been made - in practically every area of human activity you can think of: from making bricks to baking bread, from selling carpets to designing car engines, from portrait painting to looking up at the stars, and from being an accountant to being a rock singer.

As long as you remember there is a key difference between what you want and what you need, you will be on safe ground if you first follow your heart and your instinct. You will find that money will follow.

And if there are any of you whose parents are in total despair because you have decided to form a rock band, remember that Virgil Thompson once said: "I've never known a musician who regretted being one. What ever deceptions life may have in store for you, music itself is not going to let you down".

Don't be in too much of a hurry. Go abroad. See a bit of the world.

Think about living abroad for a while and learning a foreign language. If, when you leave school, you have stamped clearly on your forehead - as I did - “Only a fool or a saint would attempt teaching this boy a foreign language,” don't worry.

I was 28 before I spoke a word of a foreign language or even realised it was something I might be able to do. And there are few things more pleasurable once you've done it.

If you don't have the money to travel, buy the book 'Work your way around the World' by Susan Griffith. You do not need money to go travelling. You just need the will to do it.

And if you pitch up somewhere and end up working there, even if it just for a few weeks, you will find you look at the place and its people quite differently than if you were just a tourist - and you will have a much richer experience as a result.

In this century, spending time learning about people overseas will be extraordinarily important.

No one could have predicted 100 years ago what the twentieth century would bring - the technological developments, the enormous wealth, as well as world wars that killed over fifty million people.

And now we all have a responsibility to ensure this century does not turn into a huge conflict between Islam - one of the great religions of the world - and the West.

The Chief Rabbi once observed that the holy book of the Jewish people - the Torah, the book of Jewish destiny - begins not with the Jewish people. Instead it begins with Adam and Eve, with humanity as such, created in the image of God. It goes on to Noah and the Covenant made between God and all mankind. Only after eleven chapters does it go on to Abraham, the grandfather of the Jewish people - who was, of course, also the grandfather of Christianity and of Islam.

Why, the Chief Rabbi wondered, does the book of the Jewish people not begin with the Jewish people?

And his answer? There is one proposition that for thousands of years has brought grief to the world, and it is this: that those who do not share my faith - or my race or my ideology - do not share my humanity. At best they are second class citizens, at worst they forfeit the sanctity of life itself. And therefore the opening chapters of the most sacred book of the Jewish people make it clear that our common humanity comes first, that it precedes our religious differences.

Maurice Saatchi, one of the great geniuses in the history of advertising, saw that while there are many things that divide people of different countries - race, religion, customs, colour, language - there are many more that unite them.

There is the need of all people to find the answers to the great mysteries of life.

There is the fear of isolation. The fear of old age. The desire for your children to do well. The fear of death. The need for food, heat, water, shelter, laughter, sex, tenderness and beauty.

Everybody reacts to the sight of a baby laughing or a beautiful landscape or a scene of violence.

The responsibility for learning about people overseas and for ensuring that we all seek to put humanity first, rather than a particular faith - or race or ideology - rests with this generation - with the young people in this hall and elsewhere.

Itís no good leaving it up to others. They may be leaving it up to you.

If all this sounds rather heavy, it's meant to - because the consequences of getting it wrong do not bear thinking about.

Let me finish then with four shorter and somewhat lighter pieces of advice:

Be someone's hero.

Marry only for love.

Count your blessings.

And call your mother.

Thank you very much.


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