You know you are getting to be an elderly academic when you start getting asked to give out prizes at school (to be honest you also know that you are thought of as someone who might go down well, might give a decent mini-speech and not be wholly ridiculous in front of the kids and Mums and Dads .... "elderly but a bit sexy" seems to hit the nail on the head).
Anyway I went to Swavesey Village College on Monday, where I had a great time and is obviously a great school (well done to everyone there!). But this brought back all those "speech day/prize giving memories" from way back.
I said to the audience on Monday that I didnt remember anything that had been said at any of the occasions I attended as a kid. That wasnt actually quite true. I do remember when John Ferguson (who was Professor of Classics at the OU), and he gave a tub thumping left wing speech to the rather proper burghers of Shrewsbury, ending up with "No Man Is An Island"... which I of course loved. But I thought it might all seem a bit pious in the early 21st century (young Beard thrills to John Donne), so I drew a veil over it.
I did mention one speech though, that I heard at my son's school about 15 years ago...
... totally memorable and awful. It was given by the scion of a local engineering firm (not an elderly academic), and his message for kids an parents was (I kid you not) that "we should all learn to love the A14"... that is the ghastly overcrowded, accident ridden highway that links Cambridge (at horrible cost) to the M1 and M6. I was such a pushy parent that I was moved to write to the head and query how comptaible Mr X's speech had been with the school's environmental teaching.
I guess I feel a bit more sympathetic to Mr X now, as it can be hard to get it right.
I've done a few of these now and have come to see that it is high risk.
I went many a year ago to Sevenoaks, not to present the prizes actually, but to talk to some similar celebratory occasion for the sixthformers only. I did what a thought was quite a snazzy little number (though what it actually contained I now havent a clue), and was enjoying myself mingling afterward... when I overheard from the other side of a large potplant (vel sim) the headmaster talking to the teacher friend of mine who had invited me.
"I'm so sorry that Mary let you down so badly" he was saying. You cant win 'em all I guess.