If you had a pound for every time you clapped in an assembly for a win, a medal, a first prize, a commendation, for any one of dozens of distinctions and successes won by somebody else, you`d be a rich person, wouldn`t you? But you don`t; all you get is tingly hands.
This is particularly hard to take if you have never had anybody clap for something you have done yourself. But we can`t all come top of the class, can we? We can`t all come first in the race. We can`t all be selected for the county. We can`t all win prizes, lead the pack, head the cast, captain the jolly old team. Sheer arithmetic. You can`t have a winner if you don`t have several losers. You can`t come top unless a lot of people come middle or bottom. You can`t have a captain if you don`t have a team in the first place.
It means of course that there are going to be an awful lot more also-ran`s than there are winners. Isn`t this a bit unfair? Well, perhaps it can look like that. But look at it another way. Could you really have a world where we all cross the line at the same time? Where we all come top of the class? Where we all get medals? Where everybody gets fifteen A-stars at GCSE? Where everybody gets a fat job, marries a dreamboat, and lives happily ever after? We all know, if we`re honest, that that is not going to happen. And if it did, life would become unliveable.
Educational authorities understand the problem, and do their best to arrange enough activities to ensure that as many people as possible succeed at something while they are at school. So they do try.
Nevertheless, one has to accept the likelihood that there will be some pupils who are coming up to their day of leaving, and face the fact that they have never won a race, a competition, a prize, a colour, or a medal. Not even a damn raffle.
If they get out of bed on the good side, they might shrug and say ‘what the hell’. If they get out of bed on the wrong side, the situation can look a bit depressing, and they might be tempted to look forward to the day of leaving as the day of liberation. Some of you reading this may recall both feelings.
The trouble is that, when we are down, we tend to look up at the underside, not down at the topside. That`s often all there is to see. The view can be depressing. Undersides are rarely attractive. But that`s not the whole picture. Switching metaphors for a moment, the glass is not only half-empty; it is half-full too. Before you write off your schooldays, have a little think.
For a start, you are far more numerous than the golden boys and girls. You are the majority. You are the world. You are the foundation, the ballast, the bedrock of society. You are the millions of crustaceans who between them make the great white cliffs. You provide the background against which the winners can stand out. You are the mirror in which the light of the stars is reflected. Without you there would be no winners; without you there would be no stars.
Education is about more than getting fifteen grade A`s. Games are about more than coming top of the batting averages. By the same token, school is about more than success. Of course success matters, but it is not necessarily the be-all and end-all.
So what are you missing out in your calculations? Quite a lot of things, possibly.
Such as? Well, you don`t need to be a genius or superman to collect friends. And you can keep some of them till you`re ninety. You don`t have to be brilliant at something – a game, a subject, a hobby – to conceive an affection for it, and to be happy working or playing at it for the rest of your life. As the author G.K. Chesterton said, ‘If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.’ If you give anything affection, respect, and loyalty, it will repay a hundred times over.
There are many things you don`t notice until they are not there. Familiar faces, favourite places. Rules to break. Plans, plots, jokes, adventures. Help and interest from people who have simply been around all the time you have been there. People you can trust.
You have come to expect a good example from those in authority over you. You have taken for granted a life of order and discipline, a standard of decent behaviour, a level of good manners, a correct way of doing things. Whether or not you have enjoyed it all the time, the fact remains that, for the duration of your stay, you have belonged somewhere. Such a feeling of security is not easy to come by.
Smaller things too – lying out on the grass during a sunny lunch-hour and putting the world to rights; gossiping in the tuck shop; knowing that the Exmoor is awful, but knowing too that all the other wimpy schools haven`t got it and couldn`t do it.
So – yes – you brought something away with you, and it wasn`t all relief. You don`t tumble to it straight away; it sort of creeps up on you. You realise that most of us are ordinary; that’s what ‘ordinary’ means. It is the ordinariness of life that makes it tolerable. You can`t live on a diet of superlatives.
You slowly twig the fact that education, as the man said, is what you have left after you have forgotten everything you learnt at school. And you work out that self-respect is what you have left, what you fall back on, after everybody else has been given the prizes. And what helped to give you that self-respect?