Godalming College was very proud to welcome back the talented actor Max Bowden, who plays Ben Mitchell in Eastenders, as the guest speaker for their Let’s Celebrate event on Thursday evening.
Max who left Godalming College after taking A levels in 2013 to pursue his acting career with the cast of Waterloo Road as Justin Fitzgerald has stayed in touch with the drama department, returning each year to provide an insight into the business for current students. Since his days at College when he appeared in College productions such as Lord of the Flies, The Laramie Project and Cabaret, Max has worked on TV and on the stage. He toured the country as Tipper in the stage version of Sebastian Faulks novel, Birdsong, during the 100th anniversary year of the outbreak of the First World War and later joined the cast of Only the Brave, a musical about two young couples brought together by war and the London version of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens inspired by the NAMES project, an Aids memorial quilt. He also appeared in Doctors, Casualty and Saved, a documentary of true live rescues.
125 students received awards from Max who gained them through outstanding achievement or effort and determination, other awards were memorial prizes for contribution to the College or wider community. They were invited to the Let’s Celebrate event along with their families and enjoyed Pimms and canapé whilst being entertained by the College Jazz Band and Drama students providing one to one monologues in a series entitled We are Found.
The Principal Emma Young provided a welcome speech for guests along with the outgoing President of the Students’ Union Tristan Selvage who reflected on the Students’ time at College. He described it as ‘a wonderful couple of years’ adding that there are ‘genuinely good vibes here’. He also wanted the students to celebrate kindness which he felt had been shown to them every day, the kindness of teachers, the kindness of other students and staff, who treat each other as equals with respect and empathy and to remember to show kindness in their future experiences and in the world around them.
Liz Graham, Chair of Godalming College Trustees acted as MC for the evening, introducing Max Bowden to the audience and Will Rowling who played Prelude by J S Bach on the Marimba. Max closed the evening by providing an insight into his time at Godalming College, ‘I found freedom to express my opinions, accept who I was and it [College] set me up to embrace the person I wanted to be’. He went on to say that he found a supportive network in the Drama department at College, which had a family feel, it allowed him to grow and he was able to find the right influence and balance which has shaped his ambition. He went on to describe how he had found success through ‘dedication, hard work and debate’ and told the young people in the audience to ‘push harder, don’t rest on your success, be better’
Max’s closing words reiterated the words of Emma Young and Tristan Selvage’s speeches in a subject that became the theme of the evening, he encouraged students to be kind. ‘it’s easier to be nice to someone that to be nasty to someone, so be kind’.
Emma Young, Principal of Godalming College said ‘The Let’s Celebrate event is always such a delightful evening. It is fantastic to be able to celebrate the achievements and hard work of our wonderful students; some of whom have a particular talent in one of their subjects, and others who have worked incredibly hard despite obstacles that have come their way. It is also a great opportunity to publically thank our brilliant staff for all they do on behalf of the students and the College. I was thrilled to be able to welcome back former student Max Bowden. I really appreciated him taking the time out of his busy filming schedule to join us. It was lovely to hear his reflections on how the College and his teachers had help shape his future. We wish all our students leaving us this year a very happy and successful future. We hope that they will look back on their time at Godalming fondly, and that their College experience provides them with a love of learning that will stay with them as they progress onto the next stage of their lives.’
Speech by Tristan Selvage
It’s wonderful to be here, and we have a lot to celebrate, and to think about.
I think it can be said that as students, we generally owe a lot to Godalming College, and in particular to the teachers here, who do a wonderful job of helping people through the A Levels, AS Levels and BTECs that are so instrumentally important. Teachers don’t get nearly enough thanks, frankly, so it’s worth thanking them first and foremost: they do a lot of work behind the scenes that most of us don’t even see, preparing, marking, grading, and indeed worrying. Teachers are the lifeblood not only of this college but of our entire society, and that needs to be pointed out more often. As students, I think we can all say that we owe a lot to teachers - sometimes certain teachers in particular - and that is something I can definitely say has been the case here over the last two or three years.
An additional thanks goes to the senior staff of the college, such as Emma Young, who is articulate as always. I think I can say that the college, and the students, are fortunate to have Emma as their principal: she is an inclusive principal, who is willing to listen to people, and she is an individual of great conviction. Emma Young has made no secret of her feelings, which I share, on the injustice of the funding gap between secondary and sixth form education: somehow, through some super-human powers, she and the senior management have been able to keep the college running despite this handicap, but she does not refuse to speak out in favour of her beliefs, and in this way, she is an example to us all.
And of course, I must commend the hard work of my fellow students over the last couple of years. Studying for exams is far from easy, especially at a time when the future looks volatile and it is often impossible to predict what grade a piece of work will come out at. We have seen over the last week or two some completely bizarre ineptitude from exam boards - Edexcel, for example, put out a statement in recognition of its maths papers being too difficult, and then discovered not one, but TWO of its papers had leaked. But despite this, and quite extraordinary levels of pressure, with an absurd amount riding on performance on the day in an exam, you, the students, have soldiered on. It is nothing short of remarkable that we haven’t all cracked. But, we haven’t, and whilst sometimes we need support, and it might feel like it’s too much, we’ve done it. It is, pretty much, over. You can relax now! Get some sleep, binge-watch Doctor Who late into the night, and take things just a little bit slower, because an extremely important moment in your life has just come to an end. There is uncertainty, of course, but with any luck, it’ll all turn out to be okay.
Not that this year’s students have been consumed by exams. Oh, no. Incredibly, and in spite of everything stacked up against them, this year’s students have managed to do a whole load of impressive stuff in spite of the pressure. We’ve seen the creation of the Harry Potter Club, the Architecture Society and Godalming College TV. Students have won at sport, which I hear is popular, and competitions. Along with Sam Hampshire, it’s been my personal pleasure to run the Debating Society this year, too. And last year, I was in the college musical! Which was pretty surprising, considering that I can’t actually sing or dance… or even really act, if we’re being totally honest, but it seemed to go well. I would add that there are other people who are better at acting and singing than me who are doing a play at the moment called “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything”, and you can probably get tickets for that somewhere. Apparently, it’s got a singing meteorite in it, which more or less sums up the sort of spirit of mad and exciting things that students have been getting up to beyond their studies, to hone other skills beyond academia, and generally have a good time. You heard another example of this a few minutes ago, with the extraordinary Jazz Band playing groovy tunes as only they can. It’s been a wonderful couple of years for students being involved and expanding horizons.
But I’ve also appreciated the supportive, community atmosphere of college as a whole. There genuinely are good vibes here. Most people in college have been embracing of others, including every facet of their identity, which isn’t always the case elsewhere, so it is important to celebrate it. It has been a good and supportive community in which for people to grow, and learn more about who they are, in a whole range of senses. It is these values that I hope everyone here clings tight to, and keeps hold of, wherever we all end up. It can be a cold world, but if there is one thing that is evident from my two years at college, it is that progressive values, embracing everyone for who they are, and refusing to allow anyone to fall behind, are things that burn bright, and make a terrible world a better place. That is what we should celebrate above all else, really: the love and kindness that people are capable of sharing with each other every day. If there is one thing I hope we all learn from our experiences, and from the world around us, it is that. It is kindness. The kindness our teachers have shown in all that they have sacrificed for us. The kindness that people have showed me during my time here. And the kindness that I see every day, in an environment like college where everyone treats each other as equals, with respect and empathy.
In a moment, we will be celebrating a whole range of things, as people get awards for their achievements, their contributions, and their spirit. These are all deserved, and indeed, I think in a world where we have more time to give awards to people, it would be possible to find a whole number of things worth celebrating and rewarding about each and every student in college. But I implore you to celebrate in particular one thing that, for me, the whole college experience, and the friendships we have forged, has been all about: kindness. Above all, celebrate kindness.