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Principal's Blog: Another year comes to an end...

Posted on: 10th July 2018 | Category: Principal's Blog

Graduation Speech 19 June 2018 - Principal, Mrs Patricia Woodhouse

There is an English saying, ‘How time flies when you are having fun!’

Time has indeed flown this year and it seems no time at all since I was delivering last year’s Graduation speech. It seems hardly possible that I find myself at the end of another academic year already - and yet I do so with even greater pride and sense of privilege to deliver this report of my second year as Principal of Surval!

And yet time is not the only thing to fly. This year I have witnessed every Surval student unfurl her wings, grow in confidence and courage, soar in spirit and get ready to fly on to the future wherever that may take her. Each member of School has a story to take flight with those wings - one that merits a full Graduation speech, so with this in mind please accept my apologies to those of you who I do not mention here. There simply is not sufficient time for me to do you all full justice. Still every one of you deserves my heartfelt thank you for all you have contributed to ensure this has been one of the best years of our lives for those of us lucky enough to have spent it at Surval.

We have recently issued our end of year Newsletter; along with our familiar weekly voxes and the monthly Newsletters we have introduced to connect parents to the volume of activity going on here. These offer a sample of inspiring images and highlights from the album of daily photographs taken since September and encapsulate the momentum of yet another dazzling, spectacular year.

So, what to talk about and to highlight? It’s a tough call; in the end I have narrowly selected ‘Firsts for Surval’, trying to bring out their whys and wherefores in the context of what makes this international boarding school for 60 girls so very special; I hope you’ll agree they reflect our mission to encourage each other to become the very best we can be.

But first allow me to make a short diversion and bring to your attention two special heroes of mine, in perhaps a first for a Graduation Speech. In my End of Year Assembly, I spoke of their importance to me and how their wise anecdotes rang true in what I’d experienced in Surval this year.

The first of these heroes is Winnie the Pooh. Many of you will know the much loved stories, famously adopted by Disney, of the ‘tubby, little cubby all stuffed with fluff’…the ‘silly old Bear’ Winnie the Pooh and his amazing friends ‘Eeyore, Kanga, Rabbit, Piglet, Owl and of course Tigger famously boasting ‘The wonderful thing about Tiggers is I’m the only one’..

The characters within this much-loved collection of stories and poems are all unique individuals, like each girl who it has been my greatest pleasure to live and work with this year at Surval. AA Milne's stories, so beautifully illustrated by E.H. Shepard, tell of a close, extraordinary group of friends, a family indeed, where each day brings a journey of exploration and discovery. Just like this last year we have shared together here. Like these characters who inhabit the enchanted One Hundred Acre Wood, those of us who live in Surval are constantly called to adventure at this school - and we do so in the same way too, surrounded by an eclectic group of friends who we are fortunate to call our school family.

One of the highlights for me of this year has been celebrating our diverse family; we did so by marking a number of international days for the first time.

This term we celebrated International Family Day, which in true Surval fashion, developed into a full week. Our wonderful Etiquette teacher Madame Wahli oversaw events and wrote about the experiences in a beautiful blog, remarking on what family really meant here in Surval: a mix of cultures, customs, languages, religions, tastes, callings, interests, in short, a magnificent melting pot! She makes the point also that it is not always easy to live in an international environment; and yet by taking the time to overcome those differences, we are all better able to face the world beyond Surval.

And it’s a world in which our girls will have immense responsibility, one in which they will be role models to their communities and guardians of their environments, which leads me to another set of firsts. This year, Surval celebrated its first Science Week to coincide with the international Day of women in science. Organised by Ms O'Donnell, our students celebrated female pioneers in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, fields traditionally dominated by men - and it was a week in which these activities became as integrated into our school life as these subjects are in the world around us.

Staying with the world around us, I have been delighted to witness the launch of two new enrichment clubs recently: firstly, in true Surval style, not for us just any Soccer Club, ours sees the girls involved going off twice a week to be put through their paces by a professional coach; committed and competitive, the team’s skills have developed rapidly and I am thrilled to report a comprehensive victory in our first ever Football Match against a local independent School which prides itself on its Sporting prowess! Go Surval!!

We have also become this term the proud guardians of a new student garden; some of you saw it yesterday during our wonderful Open House and Brunch; it is looking and smelling beautiful, with its variety of vegetable and fruit plants, lavender and herbs, and a flowering cherry tree. Baby cucumbers are growing, and the first strawberries have sprouted. A little garden for now but symbolising something far bigger.

This is the brain-child of our recently launched Sustainability Club, led by Miss MacLeod – please do read her brilliant blog on our website, written to support World Environment Day on June 5, a national initiative to raise awareness and promote change. The Club’s aim is to raise awareness and inspire action within the School. I am incredibly proud that as an International School we are writing about how to find our sustainable future by opening our eyes, looking for the problems and searching for solutions; the club has been working hard as a team to try and make our lives and school more sustainable, encouraging us to take small and big steps. The new sustainability garden is a major highlight of the Club; for some of the girls it was their first time ever on their hands and knees clearing and weeding.

Change can happen and quickly; and this is just the start.  

The School’s Social Media plays an important role in promoting our active support for global initiatives and awareness. In addition to World Environment Day, Women in Science, International Women’s Day and International Family Day, it has also included this term an Assembly marking World Bee Day.

Now, if you’re familiar with Winnie the Pooh, you know Word Bee Day would make him very pleased, given how fond he is of honey.

And so, we move on from One Hundred Acre Wood, to another hero of mine - also known as Winne - or more accurately, Winston Churchill. An unlikely companion for Pooh Bear on paper perhaps? Looks can deceive with these two bear-like characters; both offer rich pearls of wisdom, both have a take on life which has inspired many to reassess their own…

Churchill observed: ‘We make a living by what we earn, but we make a life by what we give’. If there is a single characteristic which overwhelmingly sticks out about Surval this year, it is centred on our quality of ‘Giving’; more correctly ‘Gifting’.

We have introduced Business Studies and Global Perspectives into our curriculum this year; both have become entwined within Social Enterprise, a new course within the Liberal Arts Programme which has inspired a way of life for the whole school. Its inner flame is Charity, which has never burned brighter than this year; it really has become a core value for Surval.

Last September, I created the new Staff role in School of Charities Co-ordinator; Madame Spigarelli said ‘yes’ and quickly set about creating and chairing a new student-led Charities Committee. This committee has come up with extensive fundraising ideas and led the organisation of an exhaustive list of charitable events during the year. They feel Charity is about more than just money and giving aid; it is about the intention behind the giving and sharing, raising the sense of responsibility about the world we live in. Rather than an endless stream of good causes, it is also about developing the spirit of charity in our lives, a mindset which looks charitably at those in our own countries, whilst also looking outwards to see what we can do to help others, as citizens of a global world.

Girls have continued to support their volunteering at locally based, French speaking Cartons du Coeur, Le Byron and L’etape. Likewise, they have worked hard to raise money and then participate in our annual Habitat for Humanity project in Kenya.

Fundraising has been challenging, exciting and highly rewarding thanks to the girls’ determination, perseverance, and creativity. The skills learnt in the process are also important: risk-taking, problem-solving, leadership, time management, planning and organisation; not giving up and above all, tremendous team-work.

Surval has helped families affected by rare genetic diseases, cleft lip or palette and spinal cord injury; we built a house for a disadvantaged Kenyan family of six; we supported the volunteers who gave hope to those affected by the devastating earthquake in Mexico last September; and we have donated old textbooks to orphans in Romania.

I am incredibly proud of all that has been achieved by the girls and the whole school. During this year, over 17,000 CHF has been raised and donated. What makes Surval’s fundraising activities so special is that our success is also measured through the personal efforts of the whole community and time spent engaging in a project which helps less fortunate individuals and families in Switzerland and all over the world. Highlights include organising Starbuck’s deliveries, mammoth baking sessions and cake-sales, Surval’s first Gala Dinner, water balloon games, Gogetfunding webpages and girls’ own independent projects. Also, participating in the Swiss Montreux Bouge – which meant my first time here on a scooter!

Yesterday, you bought some of the beautiful jewellery, created last week by our Liberal Arts students during their fantastic workshop with Survalienne Amalia Lopez, and donated to raise funds for the victims of the Volcano eruption in Guatemala.  

 It has been the greatest pleasure to welcome you back Amalia; and particularly special that this year you have brought your dear Mother with you, herself a Survalienne from 40 years ago. Our guest Speaker at Graduation and Prizegiving last year, Amalia went on to become our first Survalienne Ambassador; she well and truly set the model for our new programme working with former students who have gone on to great things and now represent Surval in their own countries. I am looking forward to my first trip to Panama and Guatemala in October as a direct result!

We draw strength from new opportunities and faces; and from welcoming back old friends. On that note, today we bid farewell to some of our students and to some dear members of staff, remembering their unique gifts they brought to our family and our school. We will miss your smile Mrs Minnigin and your enthusiastic singing around the House but wish you well as you leave to pursue your academic career. To Madame Verdan, we wish you the very best and thank you for giving your very best too. You have been a committed Housemother to girls and staff and if any story tells of your dedication it’s the fact you went on ski week but never got to ski yourself but helped everyone else make the most of their week. And finally, to my friend Mr Fisher, you have been instrumental to the development of our new curricula and teaching and learning initiatives; a natural boarder, you have also given great support to this vital area of school life. You will be much missed – and so too will your phenomenal baking. We are pleased you will remain as a member of our new Executive Board and we thank you for that.

There is no letter ‘I’ in the word Team and this ‘I’ counts her blessings for her teams and their consistent whole-school effort. I pay tribute to the professional, dedicated teams of teachers and boarding staff, on whom the school is utterly reliant; all that I wax lyrically about just wouldn’t happen without your expertise, commitment, goodwill and generosity of time and spirit. My wholehearted gratitude also to our constant, hardworking Housekeeping and catering staff, and heartfelt thanks to a tireless Admin team, our own command centre without which the school simply would not function.

High praise deserves to be showered too, on our parent body; few Principals enjoy the strong relationship I have with you and the warm support you give to me; your trust and loyalty offers Surval a powerful buttress.

And to Mr Malley, thank you for joining us on our special day; thank you also for your faith and foresight, for trusting me and running alongside with me and for giving me the opportunity to enjoy the best job in the best school!

Finally, to you girls; I come back to my tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff and leave the final words to Winnie the Pooh…

            ‘If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together…

            There is something you must always remember

            You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem

            And smarter than you think.

            But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart…

            I’ll always be with you’.


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