Chariots of Fire

Good morning. As we start our time together this year, I’d ask you to remember those less fortunate than we, especially those suffering because of the massive floods in Pakistan, and remember, too, those Chilean miners who are trapped underground. Please keep all of these people in your thoughts and prayers as well…

I’d like to add my own voice to the chorus of greetings today. I hope that all of you who are new, both faculty and students, feel welcome here at UCC. And for those of us who are returning, let’s do everything we can to help our new colleagues and friends feel right at home with us.

I’d like to begin this morning by showing you a 4 minute clip from one of my favorite movies, “Chariots of Fire,”  a film about two remarkable young Englishman pursuing their equally remarkable dreams.

The story begins in England in 1919. World War I, the “Great War”, has just concluded, and a number of returning soldiers are moving in to Cambridge University. The university may seem familiar to you in some ways since it was at the time, a large all boys’ school.

In scene one, you’ll see the former soldiers, now new students, as they move into the dorms. Nervous anxiety doesn’t bring out the best in any of us. Try to listen closely to the exchange between A.H. Abrams, a new student, and the registrar. See why they get off on the wrong foot.

Scene two is the opening dinner where an angelic chorus lead you past class pictures of old boys, similar to the class pictures we display near the CAS office, and then on to the great board, which honours the Cambridge old boys who had died between 1914-1918. That board may remind you a little bit of our own memorial plaques in the foyer, where we honour the UCC old boys who also made the ultimate sacrifice. <>

I offer two take-aways for you this morning, one from each scene.

In the first “welcome to university/ happy move in day” scene, you can see that they are not doing anything like “New to Blue” at Cambridge University. As the surly registrar and the assertive A. H. Abrams jockey for power, we can see, hear, and feel both class issues and anti Semitism, issues we still grapple with today.

So my first takaway, of course, is that we need to go easy on one another, especially during these first few days. Despite the confident masks we all wear, many of us are quite anxious, and that goes for returning as well as new boys, adults as well as students.  We need to offer one another a little slack during these days of transitions, as we try to negotiate new traffic patterns, new sleep schedules, new laptops, and new classes. Let’s keep a sense of perspective, a sense of flexibility, and a sense of humour as we stumble along together.

In scene two, the headmaster gives a short but profoundly eloquent speech, as all heads of school are want to do, of course, on a regular basis.  He begins by describing the old boys who had died, “boy who were full of honesty, and goodness, zeal and vigor and intellectual promise. The flower of a generation. The glory of England, and they died for England and all that England stands for.”

Those words, by they way, describe you. You might bristle a bit as being described as “the flower of a generation,” but that’s what you are. We don’t believe the admissions office made a mistake with your application. There were lots of bright and talented boys, boys with great promise who desperately wanted to be here in these pews this morning. For many good reasons, you are the fortunate few who have been given this extraordinary opportunity. And we have great hopes for you.

Which leads me to my second takeaway which echoes the headmaster’s final word of  advice to his new students: “Let me exhort you. Let each of you discover where your true chance at greatness lies.”

A British head of school would not have felt comfortable with language like “ignite curiousity, imagination, and passion,” but that’s really what he is saying. “Discover where your true chance at greatness lies.” Find what makes your heart sing. Follow your bliss. However you want to parse this, I hope that as you begin explore the worlds and wonders of chemistry, French, Shakespeare and soccer this year, you will find – not just things you are good at and good grades– but I hope you will find what really does intrigue or ignite you. As the headmaster advised, “Seize this chance, rejoice in it, and let no power or persuasion deter you in your task.”


3 thoughts on “Chariots of Fire

  1. Very few people, if any now, in the UCC community are probably not aware of a UCC connection to “Chariots of Fire” Ian Sadle, the College Organist and Choirmaster at the Prep and Upper Schools during the 1980s came to UCC and Grace-Church-on-the-Hill directly from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London where he was the Organist. Ian was playing the organ and conducting the choir for the hymn “Jerusalem” in the film!

  2. Oh Dr. Power,

    how could you describe the late Eric Liddell as an “Englishman”? Although he was born in China, Liddell was entirely Scots.

    Great talk by the way. I also am very fond of the film.



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