Giving out the Gongs: a prize day at school.

den-web.jpgThey say everything comes to those that wait. A Prize never came my way at school but then I didn’t expect it to. I was diligent only in my enjoyment of life itself; the academic benefits of attending one of the UK’s top schools simply passed me by. The Prize came instead a while ago, by way of an unexpected e-mail:

Miss Beary and Mr Filkin have asked if you would consider coming to speak at the Sixth Form Prize Giving.  I’m sure you remember that this is a super event for the leavers and the culmination of their time here.  Your part is not at all onerous – 5 minutes speaking and handing of some cups followed by a delicious dinner.

Dear reader, the proverbial feather bowled me over there and then. To contextualise my time at St Leonards Mayfield, diversion and entertainment were my forte; study avoided at all cost. Fortunately, my circle of friends was not only great fun but also extremely bright so intellectual stimulation was hardly in short supply. To a woman, they went on to places like the Sorbonne, Oxford, Cambridge, Exeter, LSE … show me a top University and I’ll show you a beautiful Alumna. Me? I became a highly trained secretary.

But back to school … Simply, the offer of Gong Distribution was too delicious, too contradictory, too incongruous, too paradoxical. Of course I said Yes.

The day arrived. Beautiful Boyfriend and I took a room at The Middle House, the local hotel from which Mayfield Girls were banned in my day. We changed into something suitable and strode up the oh-so-familiar drive.

Without any ado, we were led to a cottage in the grounds for tea with two of My Nuns. The sight of their smiling faces peering round an open door and the warmest welcome will never leave me. We had a wonderful hour; they have hardly changed a bit in the thirty-four years between my last Prize Day and this one. Time sped by and the aforementioned Mr Filkin collected us for a tour of the shiny new Sixth Form premises where remarkable and accomplished art and ceramics were on show.

We attended Mass (now that has been a long time!), and then the purpose of my visit arrived: the Prizes.

In the swish of a nun’s veil I was facing Girls and Parents. Butterflies abounded. I was introduced, I spoke. An outline of what I have achieved in the intervening years was followed by three school report extracts and my understanding of how the school shaped its pupils:

  • 1973 (Pre Mayfield) Giovanna needs to extend her efforts at school. Her behaviour is somewhat erratic and she needs to develop a more mature attitude.
  • 1976 (pre-Mayfield) I wonder if she intends to be a pupil in the class or merely a decoration?
  • 1979 (Mayfield) Giovanna works very hard and is always courteous and most pleasant to deal with. Her obvious powers of leadership are appreciated, especially by her contemporaries. She is very right-minded and really concerned for the needs of other people.

You see what they did there? Something changed, something good happened and this is what Mayfield did. It gave me the capacity to take things in my stride, to assume that nothing is beyond reach; I would go as far to say it is down to the inherent Feminism conveyed by our Nuns. In fact, that is exactly what I said:

Accountants, architects, lawyers, teachers: these professional, clever, warm women sent their Girls into the world as independent, self-sufficient, bright and capable young women with an awareness of others.

They gave us the knowledge that we, like they, could do anything we put our hearts and minds to. Our Nuns dedicated their life to God by educating and crafting new generations of women. They did this tirelessly whilst running a highly efficient and successful business: this school. So they were businesswomen too.

There was barely a man in sight at Mayfield then – a maths teacher and some gardeners as I recall. We saw first hand that women are versatile, women are smart and robust. We understood that we too could take on any challenge and succeed, in any walk of life.

My Nuns, the original Feminist exemplars are in this modern world a greater paradox even than my invitation to give out the Gongs. Their gift lives on at Mayfield in the lay teachers that shape the generations now; this school is clearly at the top of its game.

Mayfield, you saw beyond my academic apathy then and recognise who I am now. Your gift has been paid forward to my daughters and although they did not attend the school, the legacy lives on.

And that it seems was the real Prize. I had it all along.

© Giovanna Forte 2015

About fortewinks

A PA at 19 and self employed PR at 26, Giovanna is now a British healthcare entrepreneur and public speaker. She is also a bon vivant, mother of two accomplished, entrepreneurial daughters and recently became a Nonna. Youngest-of-All is a Melbourne Top 30 under 30 Chef and founder of, the city's finest destination for pastries and soft-serve. FirstBorn is a published author as well as Certified Aromatherapy Practitioner; her studio is in East London and she can be reached through
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1 Response to Giving out the Gongs: a prize day at school.

  1. aiyshah2014 says:

    Awards are tricky things…I also only got a few awards. It never occurred to me that I could win an award until someone said to me, why don’t you try to win an award. I realised that the whole ‘awards thing’ was really a whole other realm of thinking. I then asked myself, why should I try to win awards? Why not try to just do an amazing job and get awards that way? The person then laughed at me and said, “You don’t get it, going for awards is not about doing the best job out there, listening to what the judges want and pleasing them”. I suddenly realised why I never won awards, because I wanted to do what I believed was good, not what other people told me was good. Isn’t that supposed to be a good thing?

    I see people around me nowadays winning awards and I look at them and say, ‘but I know for a fact that you are actually useless’, and they just look at me and say ‘yeah but I have the award and you don’t’…. so what are you going to do about it?

    So let’s stop all this awards nonsense and truly get on with learning and changing the world.!


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