When I was in secondary school, every year we would have our annual prize-giving ceremony. A fairly formal and uneventful evening with lots of clapping for the same five people who had managed to be both sporty AND academic. The pinnacle of success in high school.
I sat at the back with my friends waiting for the evening’s highlights: the choir performance, which always included a chart hit (think Robbie Williams – Angels) and a ten minute piece from the School Orchestra. One memorable year they swapped Mozart for the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack; it was very moving.
But before we got to these musical interludes, after an hour of clapping for the high-achievers there was one more thing we had to sit through; a speech from an “inspirational woman”.
Now you can see the school’s intention here. Inspire the students – show them what they might become if they get their GCSEs. However the calibre of speaker wasn’t always top end. A bit like a Church sermon, the speeches tended to kind of drone on, capturing the ears of only handful of parents.
It’s funny though, how, despite years of sitting there, rolling my eyes, desperate for the speech to end, there was one moment in one speech which made all the others worth listening to.
One year, author Camila Batmanghelidjh was the guest speaker. I remember her name; we all do.
Camila was a CBE winning Iranian author and Charity executive. She was flamboyantly dressed and therefore instantly more interesting than most of the other, rather conservative, speakers.
Like all of us sat there in the audience, Camila had been educated at a private, single-sex school. Her speech explored her life and achievements, and it contained the following nugget of advice:
“Never apologise for your privilege; use it.”
As a 15year old girl just starting to get a grasp on quite how fortunate I was to have even an education. To have a home and easy access to opportunities. This sentence literally pierced me, and formed a part of my identity that has not budged.
It gave words to something I felt. A sense of responsibility to the world and to myself.
What are we going to do with the privileges we have? The privileges of freedom of speech, freedom of information, the freedom to travel?
It isn’t a decision anyone can make for you. But it is a decision that should be made consciously.
As the saying loosely goes, there is someone who would kill for your worst days. Use them.