Look After Your Mind – Memorable Assemblies

During my teaching years I sat through hundreds of school assemblies. Most of them have long been forgotten, but two stick in my mind and always will.

Stephen Grellett

The first was given by Anne, a young teacher who had not long joined the staff. She was obviously very nervous standing there in front of her colleagues and a few hundred 11-14 year-olds, but presumably she’d volunteered to do the assembly because it was important to her.

Anne explained that the core message of her assembly was written by a man named Stephen Grellett (1773-1855), a French Quaker and missionary. Even then I could see children fidgeting and some yawning. Anne noticed this too. She’d obviously prepared more extensive notes about Grellett’s life, but now put them down on the lectern and said, very quietly, “I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” Then Anne sat down and there was a long silence before the Head stood up to read out the notices. I don’t know how many children took Grellett’s words away with them, but I do know that if everyone took them to heart the world would be a radically different place.

Remembrance Sunday

The second assembly I recall happened on a Friday before Remembrance Sunday and was given by an older member of staff, a war veteran named Geoff. When the Head had explained the purpose of Remembrance Sundays he invited Geoff to speak.

Geoff was always well groomed and today he wore a dark blazer with his row of medals pinned to his breast. He walked to the centre of the stage and stood beside the lectern rather than behind it. He cast his eyes across the audience and seemed about to speak, but did not. The silence lengthened and the atmosphere in the hall changed. Something profound was happening. Then, to the astonishment of most and the embarrassment of some, Geoff’s lip trembled, his eyes filled up and tears rolled down his cheeks. He made no move to wipe them away but just stood there with his hands clasped and his shoulders gently shaking. I don’t think anyone was capable of saying anything, of breaking that moment, until after perhaps a minute Geoff heaved a great sigh, nodded as though he’d conveyed what he’d wanted to, and then walked proudly out of the hall.

It was one of the most moving things I’d ever seen, so gentle but so incredibly powerful, reminding me as it did of something the American newspaper columnist and movie actor Robert Benchley once said:, “Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.”

Steve Bowkett