Florian Pöttinger was a remarkable young man in so many ways and he is remembered at Rossall with love and affection. Six years have now passed since his untimely death at the age of just 22. He fought cancer with a courage and dignity which is both humbling and inspiring. His life was far too short but the virtues that he embodied continue to flourish within the life of the place where he is so fondly remembered. On Friday evening I was tremendously privileged to attend the annual Pöttinger Dinner which is attended by the boys of Spread Eagle House. The dinner was initially organised by Ian McCleary (who was Florian’s housemaster) but he has now passed on the baton to Gerrie de Beer. Despite the passage of time, this act of remembrance and celebration of Florian is a central aspect of what it means to be a Spread Eagle Boy. It is absolutely fitting that the Pöttinger Cup (awarded at each annual dinner) celebrates excellence and strength of character.
I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet Florian’s parents and his sister. They explained to me just how much Rossall School had meant to Florian – he was extremely happy here and this was the place in which they believe he really flourished. Far from being a maudlin occasion, the dinner was a superbly positive and life-affirming event and reflects the closeness of the bonds within the house. Florian remains a member of Spread Eagle and his example will continue to inspire future generations of Rossallians. I do think that such occasions make us reflect upon the ultimately transitory nature of human life. It reminds us of the need to lead full and purposeful lives in the sure knowledge that there are no certainties in this world. Florian led an extremely full life and the value of his life can certainly not be measured in years.
Reflecting on the interlinked fourteenth century effigies of Richard FitzAlan, the 10th Earl of Arundel (d. 1376) and Eleanor of Lancaster (d. 1372), the sometimes curmudgeonly poet, Philip Larkin, reminds us that
Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
It is difficult to contemplate issues such as death but I do believe that we do young people a disservice if they grow up with a sense that such subjects are taboo. Avoidance does not serve the emotional well-being of young people. If we care about the well-being and mental health of young people then it is important that we are not afraid to broach challenging subjects within an age-appropriate and sensitive context. Children grow in confidence when they know that they can articulate their fears and talk honestly and openly about issues that are troubling them. Children need to know that there are times when feeling anxious or sad are perfectly healthy and ‘normal’ responses to troubling or challenging circumstances. As adults we tend to forget that young people, experiencing circumstances afresh, can feel desperately alone. A ten year old cannot reasonably be expected to contextualise their suffering or judge the appropriateness of their response. We would not want children to see the world through our eyes but we sometimes forget how our own responses are refined through the formative experiences that mould us.
It has been such a pleasure to meet the record-breaking number of Year 6 pupils whom I have interviewed this week in advance of our entrance tests on Saturday. They are eloquent and erudite. They are interested and interesting. I will be very proud if my own daughters turnout to be so self-assured and engaging when they are of a similar age. It is wonderful that so many young people aspire to come to Rossall and spending time with these young people is joyous in every regard.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to a number of our sporting giants. Greg Holmes and Louis Talarczyk have both been accepted onto the the golf programme at McNeese State University. This is a formidable achievement and they have worked extremely hard to succeed in such a competitive field. We wish them well in the full knowledge that they will continue to make waves in the world of sport. Will Gair and Max Loboda were both selected to play in the recent Lambs Match against the Irish Exiles at Bourneville RFC in Birmingham. Founded in 2006, the Lambs exists to create openings for boys to showcase their rugby skills at a representative level when they have been unable to do so due to other commitments. It is rare to have two players chosen from one school and both Max and Will put in stunning performances on the field. Well done, boys!
I will be away in Hong Kong and Bangkok at the end of next week. I will be meeting agents, parents and Old Rossallians in what is a very fleeting visit. Dina Porovic will write about the great strides that we are making with regards to teaching and learning.