At certain times in my life my parents remind me that I wasn’t meant to be here. I know that sounds like I was some kind of mistake, but what they really mean is that some people had written me off at certain stages in my life, and there were many cliched discussions about the wrong choices I was making. Everything I’ve accomplished is a reminder of how far I’ve come.
I was born to West Indian parents, and it was instilled into me that I would have to work twice as hard to get half as much. That education wasn’t a joke – it was the only way to make it. But there I was in secondary school, taking the mick, thinking it was better to be recognised by a group of girls older than me than by my peers – and most definitely than by my teachers.
I had ignored all the if-you-don’t-pull- your-socks-up threats from my teachers, presuming they weren’t really serious warnings. And I never really wanted to change. I liked being cool for all the wrong reasons – like that time I slicked my baby hairs down in the shape of the letter C.
I got numerous detentions for bad behaviour, not doing my homework and rudeness – the usual things you would expect from a child with a serious attitude problem: a child who probably thought the world owed them something, instead of the other way round.
It all came to a head one day after school in a fight. News that one of my friends had broken another girl’s arm was all anyone was talking about, and I had been seen there. As I was marched to my head of year’s office the next day, it was like a moment from a bad teen movie. I watched as my teacher raised her hand to call my dad at work, and I pulled the signed detention slip from inside my blazer pocket. It was the one time in all my school years that I was thankful to be in detention after school.
It was then I realised it could all be lost. My mum had fought hard to get me into all my schools – this one especially. We lived in a now-demolished estate in south-west London that had a bad reputation. My parents were, and still are, the kind that work “all the hours God sends” to “make ends meet” and to “give you the life they never had”. My small part to play in this family was just to show up to school, learn, and come home.
Nothing was so hard about that when I look at it now, but I’ll admit I struggled for a few years before that moment. I owned up to my behaviour but it look a long time for my teachers’ dissatisfaction with me to fade. I was trapped in this image of myself that I had created.
I always remember how frustrated I felt at not being listened to by teachers, as they still presumed that I was a troublemaker and was not to be taken seriously. I remember putting my hand up to answer questions and getting ignored – it was assumed I wouldn’t know anything of use. There was surprise when I actually started doing my homework. I really didn’t want to be a stereotype, and I feared it was too late to turn it around.
When I tell this story, people always ask me what changed. The obvious answer was that I grew up. But mainly it was down to my parents’ reaction. Seeing them disappointed in me hurt the most. Meeting after meeting about my behaviour, awkward parents’ evenings where we rested hope on a vague comment about “potential”: I didn’t want any more of those moments for them, let alone for me.
My parents liked that the secondary school I went to built on tradition. There was a pride in the uniform, and our school name was associated with discipline and excellence. One of our most serious traditions was the position of head girl. In the last year of sixth form all the teachers took a vote on who to elect. It was always a big deal. It meant a lot to achieve that, and it held all the markers of what a role model should be.
Any position, let alone head girl, wasn’t a consideration for me. I knew it was out of my league. But then two of my teachers approached me about running for it. I remember it now like an ambush – I was backed into a corner on the stairs. They said that I should apply, that they would support my application, that it would be a good thing.
They had clearly given it much thought. It sounded convincing, but I knew it wasn’t likely, considering my past. I remember giving my application letter to my head of year; she asked whether I was applying for house captain and not head girl.
What happens to head girls?
Traditions have long processes. My letter stating my intent was only a small part of it – there were interviews, in-house voting, more interviews and then the announcement. One teacher made me consider that a few others were finding it hard to ignore my past – a reminder of who I used to be. These teachers were worried about the signal the appointment would send to pupils in other years.
The final candidates were all called into the headmistress’s room, when the decision was finally made. I’ve re-enacted that moment for my mum since, to show her how my legs buckled under me when my name was called. I couldn’t believe it. Nobody could believe it. I was to be joint-head girl, which was fine with me. Joint was better than nothing. Joint was great, for a kid who had nearly been kicked out of school.
This moment was for me and for my parents. It was a personal accomplishment that meant more than just acceptance. It was a long road of events and hard changes to get to that point, but it will always stand out for me because it was the first time I understood that I was no longer defined by my past.
Headgirl’s Message 2017
The most unfortunate ordeal is meeting someone who does not fully comprehend their potential. My message to the young ladies of GHS is a heartfelt one and one that I am most passionate about.
Women born into a society such as the one in which we exist are often burdened with unfair constraints. In the most severe cases, women are denied the right to education and participation in the political and economic realms. In less extreme but equally fatal cases, we are burdened with expectations with regards to how we should look, behave, dress and even the volume at which we should laugh and speak. The culture of women nowadays involves striving to reach these expectations and often falling short. This puts strain on us, making us think that we are not good enough and we always need to be more than what we presently are. It is a broken idea that stifles the potential of so many young women. These ladies believe that because they are not fitting into the conventional mould of society, they are not worthy.
We can not allow social media, society and celebrity trends to define what we should wear, what phones we should have and the type of body shape that we must have. We must cultivate an attitude of individuality and uniqueness with pride in all that we are. Different is beautiful and different is rapidly fading into a world of conformity and following trends.
In my experience and interaction with the ladies of our school, I’ve come to realise that we may look good but we do not always feel good. GHS is filled with broken young ladies who are in need of comfort and reassurance. The world is very harsh in breaking us down, making us feel worthless and not good enough. We need to be kind to ourselves and each other and support each other in loving ourselves just the way we are.
Indeed, the future is female. We ought to believe this and behave like women who aren’t defined by social constructs but rather understand the magnitude of the power that we possess within. We cannot limit or restrain this power but use it to influence change in and around us. We are capable of greatness with hard work and dedication.
Each and everyone of us is priveleged enough to be in this prestigious institution, GHS. Here, we are offered opportunities that are not only academic but that extend into the cultural and sporting fields as well. All of us owe it to ourselves to exploit all the opportunities available to us and give it our all.
Matrics, we are leaving this safety net that is GHS. We are soon to realise that, in reality, the world does not value women half as much as it should. We ought to remember the values that we have acquired and continue to love ourselves in the harsh environment of the world. We cannot allow our strength to be dimmed by the intimidation we will encounter but we must shine even brighter. May we be young women of intellect, impact and value, inducing positive change wherever we go.
The amazing young women that we are owe it to ourselves and the world to be all that we can be. We are enough and capable just the way we are.