Inspiring and emotional speeches, along with a surprise guitar solo, made for an unforgettable finale to Haberdashers’ Monmouth School for Girls’ 125th year

Pupils, parents, governors and staff gathered in the packed marquee this morning for the annual Speech Day and Prize-Giving.

The guest speaker, Old Girl Charlotte Hume, returned to HMSG for the first time since she made her speech as Head Girl when she was 17.

Having worked for ITN and the BBC as a national and international news broadcaster for over two decades, Charlotte has spent the last nine years as a communications consultant. The published author and mother-of-two amused guests as she recalled Speech Day of 1986.

“Number one in the charts that day was Wham with The Edge of Heaven, and just like the lyrics I was ‘screaming to be set free’,” Charlotte said.

“I’ll let you into a secret – if you looked very closely, you’d see that I’d hurt my ankle and I was limping. I had spent the early hours of that morning trying to put a dummy dressed as a Monmouth School girl on top of a building. Don’t do it – I’m amazed they let me back today!”

Charlotte had looked into the archives of the Monmouthshire Beacon and the Western Daily Press to see what Speech Day had been like 125 years ago.

She said: “I was surprised to read what I did. There was no mention of ladylike activities; the speech that the first Monmouth School for Girls pupils listened to was nothing short of revolutionary. They were being told to get a degree and get a job, strike out for themselves and be independent. Think how extraordinary that was 125 years ago. What was being founded here was part of an important turning point in the lives of British women.”

Charlotte set up an Old Girls’ group on Facebook, asking for stories about what her friends had done since leaving school. She was inundated with incredible success stories – her classmates had gone on to become leading doctors, lawyers, artists, cooks, midwives and professors to name a few, changing lives all over the world.

“These are women who have struck out for themselves, combining careers with being carers and mothers,” she added. “Many have overcome adversity in their lives. That’s the kind of women this school produces again and again.”

Charlotte, who has worked on many of the most prominent international news stories of our time, said the quality of teaching at HMSG has helped her to navigate difficult situations throughout her career.

“I dreaded getting my report card each term,” she continued. “I used to try and lose it on the bus. I was disorganised, careless, disruptive and distracted. I brought the wrong ingredients to home economics all the time. I struggled with maths and science – I got the school record low of nine per cent for chemistry. I should have won the prize for chaos. But the teachers were patient with me when I was trying and eventually I won a place at Oxford to read English. The teachers were as surprised as I was.

“School allowed many of us to be ourselves, to feel it was ok to be quirky and different. As an adult, that makes you so much stronger. What I learned at school has been absolutely invaluable.”

But it is the enduring friendships she made at HMSG that Charlotte is most thankful for.

“As we’ve grown up, we’ve supported each other in all the challenges life throws at you,” she said. “Those relationships are the biggest investments that the school has given all of us. The trick with school is to use it like a springboard. This school gives you far more than exam results. It’s a lifelong community that will be there for you through ups and downs in life. Decades later it feels, once more, like home – so thank you.”

Stunning performances, including the Concert Choir’s rendition of Defying Gravity from Wicked and HMSG Orchestra’s version of Holst’s Jupiter, were particularly moving as the school bid farewell to Mario Conway, Head of Music.

The beloved accordionist is retiring after 35 years of loyal service to the school.

To thank Mr Conway, Headmistress Dr Caroline Pascoe wowed everyone with a personalised performance of Shine, Jesus, Shine on the guitar – which she learned to play via YouTube videos.

Mr Conway said the ‘wow factor’ he felt when he first set eyes on HMSG had stayed with him ever since.

He told guests: “As an emotional Welsh/Italian I will not cry because it’s over, but instead I will smile because it happened. Someone once said ‘if you can’t be a good example, then be a terrible warning’. I’m glad that during my time here, I’ve managed to be both.”

Prizes for outstanding achievements in academics, leadership, music, sports and the arts were awarded to hardworking pupils from each year. Imbert Terry took home the coveted House Cup.

And departing Head Girl, Amber Rose Dumoitier-Rich, drew upon the words of critically-acclaimed writer, Neil Gaiman, during her beautiful speech.

Gaiman declared that school does not teach you how to love somebody, how to be rich or poor, or how to be famous. In fact, it does not teach you “anything worth knowing.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth at HMSG, according to aspiring lawyer Amber. She thanked her teachers and friends for showing her what love is countless times throughout her HMSG career.

“Love is Ms Parry giving 11-year-old me a second chance to dance in the school show, teaching a cripplingly shy child to love herself enough to go for what she wants but is too scared to achieve,” she said.

“It is Mr Arrand, possibly the busiest man I have ever met, knowing simply by the way you walk into his office that you need to talk, so finding the time.”

Amber thanked HMSG for teaching her to support those less fortunate than herself.

She concluded: “I have been making a list of the things I learned at school. I learned how to love people, how to care for them and how to be there. I learned that to obsess over fame and fortune is shallow, whilst to project all of your energy into that which you are passionate about, is noble. I learned that wealth and poverty are spiritual terms, not economic ones. I learned about how to relate to people, how to walk away from them and how to compromise. I learned how to interpret and understand motivations, wishes, dreams, desires and fears, the uncertainties and insecurities of others. I learned that it is ok to get things wrong. At school, I learned everything worth knowing.”

For more information on HMSG, visit hmsg.co.uk