On 11th September I was invited back to my old school, Talbot Heath, to be guest speaker at Speech Day. I spent almost my entire childhood at the school from the age of 3 to 16; it was an absolute honour to be asked back and a pleasure to speak with all the fabulous young girls and my old teachers.
My day started with the biology A-level students – an aspirational group of girls striving towards some very interesting career paths, ranging from medicine through to forensic psychology. I had a great opportunity to pass on a few tips about A-levels (in particular studying biology), as well as applying to University and making the most of the time they have left at school. I loved speaking to them all and I wish them the best of luck in all their endeavours.
Next on the schedule was speaking to the Junior School in a special assembly. The age range is from 7 to 11 years old and I was so enchanted by how hard they listened to what I had to say and how much they wanted to learn. I spoke with them all about the exciting fields of science and engineering and explained how and why I went to study biology. Question time led to a ton of little hands popping up, they were so interested and eager, which was a delight to see. One little girl asked me “Is science fun?” – such an honest question, that warranted an honest response “Of course!” and I told her what she could do with science and how exciting and fun it can be. Her beaming face must have been the same as the look on mine at that age, when someone spoke about science. The intelligence and charisma amongst that group of very young girls was wonderful to see.
The official Speech Day proceedings began at 2pm. I had the privilege of presenting all awards and exam certificates to the girls throughout the course of the ceremony. The achievements were astounding, both academically and in extra-curricular areas – ranging through A-levels, GCSEs, music, drama, Duke Of Edinburgh, symposiums, sporting (national and international) and many many more. The breadth of activities and awards were incredible – a true testament to the hard-working and ambitious nature of the girls.
At the close of the awards ceremony, I made my own speech. My address focussed on women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and leadership. I spoke about how I got into science, my life at school and University, and how I got to the position I am in today. The aim of the speech was to not only encourage girls into the exciting field of STEM, but also to make sure that they never let stereotypes or ‘norms’ stand in their way – that there are no boundaries for them. I finished my speech reminding them to not listen when people say “Only boys do that; you can’t because you’re a girl” (which I’ve had said to me plenty of times!) – that you CAN do that BECAUSE you’re a girl! After all, there is no force equal to that of a determined woman.
It was truly wonderful to get the opportunity to visit and speak at Speech Day – something I didn’t expect I would be doing 5 years later when I was sat in that audience after my GCSEs!
I can’t wait to visit the Junior School and Mrs Leahy (head of Junior school and who was my headmistress throughout Pre-Prep and Junior) again in early 2016, to speak about elephant conservation with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and how they can help.
In addition, here is the link to the school’s Speech Day article: http://www.talbotheath.org/news/inspiring-young-women