22nd March 2015
The end of the spring term always comes with a sense of sadness – the boys and girls we have come to know so well over their time at the school are about to leave us, grow wings and fly the school nest. Next September, they will leave their homes, too, taking their places at universities around the UK, or, in some cases, the USA. Although we know those pupils will all go on to enjoy their time at university, they themselves at this point have mixed feelings.
It always touches me that so many of the upper sixth feel a little bereft that their school days are coming to an end – even though some of them have been at King’s for eleven years. You might think by now they would have had enough of us, but it seems not. They are fiercely proud of their school, of their friendships, and of all they have accomplished in their time with us: playing for a team, performing in plays and concerts, helping with a local partnership school, setting up a supply of running water at our sister school in Zambia – or any of a thousand acts of decency and kindness that have distinguished them over the years. And on our part as teachers and tutors, we will miss them, and remember them, far more than they realise – each of them a character, a friend to each other, and to the school.
I am sometimes taken aback by the strength of their affection for the school they are about to leave. A boy who left two years ago came back in the summer holidays to see me. He gave me a pen, and, touchingly, a card, saying he would always be proud to be “a King’s boy”. I remember at the time thinking how gracious it was of him – this great big eighteen year-old stalwart of the 1st XV, coming to say goodbye like that, and bringing his mum along for good measure.
Then this week I heard that he had died. He had come home from his university for mother’s day, but a car accident took his life. No one else was involved or hurt, but this bright, positive, happy and spirited boy was taken in a moment from his family and his many friends.
Just a week before, the school had put on a moving production called The Long Day Closes, celebrating the lives of the 171 King’s boys who had died in the Great War. Current pupils read from poignant letters home written by their predecessors from the trenches where, for many, their boyhood was to end. I read a poem written by the head master of King’s throughout the war, and for years afterwards: Lionel Rogers.
In memory of Rakesh, the fun, generous, warm-hearted King’s boy who left us, like his fellow pupils a hundred years before, “on boyhood’s unconsidered wings”, I quote the whole poem here.
Lightly they left us; lightly passed
On boyhood’s unconsidered wings.
We prayed they bore in colours fast
Upon their brow the stamp of King’s.
The bugle called them. Spurring fast
To unexampled sufferings
Greatly they left us; greatly passed;
Upon their brow the stamp of kings.