I Will Survive
Headmaster’s Routh Assembly Address
Week of 19th - 23rd October 2020
Readings: (Oakley House)
Lyrics of I Will Survive”by Gloria Gaynor
At first I was afraid, I was petrified
Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side
But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong
And I grew strong
And I learned how to get along
And so you're back
From outer space
I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face
I should have changed that stupid lock, I should have made you leave your key
If I'd known for just one second you'd be back to bother me
Go on now, go, walk out the door
Just turn around now
'Cause you're not welcome anymore
Weren't you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye?
You think I'd crumble?
You think I'd lay down and die?
Oh no, not I, I will survive
Those were the lyrics of a song that went to Number One on music charts around the world in the year that I started Senior School. "I Will Survive". In its simplest form, a song about a woman moving on after a bad relationship. Standing up and telling the man who dumped her that it is too late to come crawling back, assuming she is so needy she would welcome his return. Instead, she assures him, she will survive without him.
"I Will Survive" was first released by an African American singer called Gloria Gaynor who was, at the time, the queen of Disco. If you don’t know what Disco was, don’t ask. If you do, don’t judge me. However, the Seventies were not just the era of Disco music, they were also a time of many great social revolutions around the world. Including the Women’s Liberation movement. It was a time when women began to challenge the way that society treated them as second-class citizens.
Feminism in its modern sense was born in the 1970’s, as women, and many men, began to fight for true equality for females in all walks of life. However bad things might still be today in terms of sexism, the gender pay gap, and the #MeToo movement, it was much worse back then. For the Women’s Lib movement, it was a struggle for survival.
And in one of those quirks that sometimes happens with certain songs for no obvious reasons, Gloria Gaynor’s disco hit suddenly became the fighting anthem for the women’s movement. The words just resonated with their struggle. You can’t hold me back. You can’t break me. I will survive. It is a fearless and defiant song that captured the mood of the time. Since then, it has become an emblem for strength and courage against the odds. First for the empowerment of women, but over the years, taking on meaning for all sorts of people overcoming just about any difficult situation. I will survive.
Not that women’s actual lives were in danger in the Seventies, of course. We often associate the concept of survival with the need to fight for life. “He survived the war.” “She survived the plane crash.” Sometimes survival can also just be about hanging on until things improve.
When I trained as an Outdoor Education Instructor, the final test on our course was wilderness survival. Our trainers took us out in a boat before dawn and scattered us across some uninhabited islands, miles from the mainland. Each person left alone on a rocky shore, with nothing but the clothes we were wearing, a tin mug full of uncooked rice and two waterproof matches.
As the boat sailed off, I was told that I had to survive for three days without moving from my tiny rocky beach. They wouldn’t have let me die of course, and I knew that. But survival is not always about avoiding death. It is also about living confidently and comfortably.
I made a bivouac and a bed, built a fire, collected drinking water. I tried to fish. Not so easy with your bare hands, but I did find raw shellfish and crabs. I foraged for some edible roots and berries, made a pretty disgusting broth. It wasn’t the easiest three days of my life, but the key was keeping occupied and staying positive. I don’t mind being on my own, but after two months of intensive training together, I missed the company of the other instructors. Nevertheless, I survived.
And I remember very clearly that feeling of triumph, as the launch chugged through the mist and into my bay to pick me up on the morning of the fourth day. Most of the other trainees were already onboard, huddled together, waving. I could hear them singing across the water and you can guess what the song was.
Over these past months, some people have literally had to survive COVID-19. It has claimed more than a million lives so far. Many millions more have had to fight for their lives in hospitals around the globe. Fortunately, as I said to you in September, given your age, the chance of that happening to you is tiny.
However, survival is not just a matter of avoiding death. It is also about enduring hardship in life. About rising to a threat and being resilient. Even when our life is not in danger, there are other things we desire to keep alive. One of them has been the culture and spirit of this School. And it is thanks in large part to you that Bromsgrove has survived the challenges of the first Half Term. Despite the heavy boot of COVID pressing down on us, our rhythm has continued.
It is true that we have had to cancel sporting fixtures, productions and concerts. Life in the Day Houses has been disrupted. Many of you who are boarders will not be going home over Half Term. Yet your studies have been uninterrupted, our routines have continued, and morale is high. We shouldn’t be cocky about the fact that we haven’t yet had a single case of the virus in the Senior School, for that could happen at any time. But it is not luck that has protected us. I don’t believe in luck. Or, at least, I believe we make our own luck. And you have made ours.
The fact that we haven’t had a case of COVID in the Senior School this Half Term is undoubtedly due to you. Your willingness to follow the protocols of hand washing and social distancing, to think rather than blindly follow rules, to care for one another.
More importantly, the retention of our sense of community, of the essence of the School ethos, is also down to you. You, more than anyone, know our traditions, our expectations, our standards. And you have upheld them in the face of adversity.
As a consequence, two months in and we are surviving. We didn’t lay down and we haven’t crumbled. And for that, I thank you all.
Enjoy the remainder of this week and take a well-earned rest over the Half Term break. And although we would normally conclude by saying the Grace together, I would like to give you a little treat this morning instead.
I mentioned earlier how sad it is that we are unable to enjoy much live music at present. However, there is a group who have found a way to rehearse inside of the constraints this term. Socially distanced and within their bubble, but still determined to celebrate the joy of playing together. So, it is a pleasure to let you hear what “I Will Survive” actually sounds like. Please welcome Andy, Alfie, Evelyn, Josh, Ben, Jolin, Max, Hugh, Caesar & Junfei.