There can, of course, be only one topic for my contribution to our end-of-term Newsletter, though I little thought, until a few days ago, when pondering my theme, that I would be addressing it to a school community physically dispersed for an uncertain period of time.
COVID-19 has knocked our lives out of shape, stopping us in our tracks more completely and more quickly than we might have thought possible. As a historian, I have been fascinated to see the way in which responses to this pandemic have mirrored (and in other ways diverged from) accounts of similar pandemics in the past. Human nature is as much under the microscope as the SARS-CoV-2 virus at the root of the trouble, and lessons about how societies should cope with similar emergencies will perhaps emerge more quickly than a vaccine for the disease itself.
Much of the coverage about the pandemic is doom-laden and it is easy to fall under the influence of the lurid jeremiads blanketing our media at the moment. Yet, spending time with our students last Friday, as we held impromptu year assemblies to mark the end of term in school, has inspired in me a certain quiet confidence about the future, whatever the COVID-19 outbreak brings.
The over-arching truth to hit us about the COVID-19 story is that our interconnectedness as a global community is the single most important fact of our lives today.
The medical challenges presented by the virus are formidable and require the passion and commitment of a huge number of professionals working in the field. As I survey the list of chosen degree courses for our Year 13s and hear girls talking at tea parties about their career intentions, it is clear to me that OHS will be supplying a steady stream of highly-qualified and dedicated doctors, data analysts and research scientists whose educational grounding has left them ideally placed to enter effortlessly into the kind of collaborative endeavours the problems on the horizon require.
COVID-19 has shown us the fault-lines of our society and highlighted to us the importance of a whole range of professionals outside the medico-scientific sphere. The expertise of historians and geographers can put the crisis in a social and spatial context, ethicists and philosophers can foreground the moral imperatives we must consider when time and resources are in short supply, psychologists can offer crucial insights to help us cope as individuals and communities. Political scientists and economists can advise on the broader short-term and long-term ramifications of the policy decisions governments make, free from the electoral and public opinion pressures our actual government leaders must face. How reassuring, then to know that many of our students are contemplating degrees and careers in humanities-related fields and will, a few years hence, be making their well-informed presence felt in the corridors and board rooms of power.
Never has it been more important for the channels of communication and cultural understanding to be open across continents than now.
The over-arching truth to hit us about the COVID-19 story is that our interconnectedness as a global community is the single most important fact of our lives today. An obscure circumstance, still imperfectly understood, that took place over 9,000km from Oxford over 100 days ago has turned the lives of billions upside down. As fear has spread at the same rate as the disease, the dark spectre of xenophobia has stalked its path. Never has it been more important for the channels of communication and cultural understanding to be open across continents than now. How encouraging, then, to see that so many of our students are looking beyond our borders, as linguists or globally-minded students in other subjects, when planning their degree courses and careers.
Finally, the wake of this disease will, surely, inspire many a work of art, as our most creative minds seek to endow the sufferings humanity will have experienced with meaning. Among the exponents, I have no doubt, will be some of our own artists, performers and writers, whose sympathetic engagement with the world has already found creative expression in ways I daily marvel at.
I wish you well as we prepare for a spring break like no other.