I think I’m all that stands between you and your holidays, so I’ll try to be brief.

I’m 54 years old – pretty old, I know! About four times the age of the girls I want to talk to today – but I hope I’m no more than two-thirds of the way through my life.

I’ve seen such change already in that life – social change, political change, scientific change. It’s change and the opportunity it gives you I want to talk about today.

When I went to school,
• very few people went to university,
• you still had to call through the operator to make a telephone call,
• and a woman’s place was firmly in the home.
• America and the Soviet Union were engaged in a great battle between capitalism and communism.
• And that meant that I lay awake at night worrying about nuclear war.

Now the Soviet threat is history – and the challenge to America and Europe comes commercially from China and India and politically from international terrorism.

My father died when I was 8 years old – because he was an old father. He was born in the century before last, in 1894.

Yes, my father, not my grandfather; he was born forty years earlier in 1854!

My father was born at home – everyone was then, above the family shop in Windsor. That shop has long since been rebuilt and replaced with a McDonalds – and my father probably never even ate a beef burger in his life!

He fought against the Germans and Turks at Gallipoli, which you’ve probably not been taught about yet - it was one of the bloodiest campaigns of the First World War.

Then he went fight in the desert in Egypt and in Palestine – and he rode camels to do his fighting. He ended the war fighting with the famous Lawrence of Arabia at Damascus.

What a different world he lived in!

My mother, too, lived through changing times. She was born in 1918. Her father was a chemist and he was the very first person in their Nottinghamshire village to have a car.

During the Second World War she was an air raid warden in Eastbourne – and knew many people who were killed by German bombs and rockets in the town.

Why I am telling you all this?

To show you just how much the world can change in a couple of generations.

My father would have seen Queen Victoria’s funeral. Imagine that. But I have seen big change too;

– I remember the first television coming to our house; a clumsy black and white set that took ages to warm up.
– I remember watching Winston Churchill’s state funeral on it.
– I remember the first communications satellite, Telstar, being launched in 1962
– I remember watching men walk on the moon for the first time just 40 years ago
– I remember when the Beatles became famous
– I remember the very first episode of Doctor Who in 1963 (and I’ve been a fan ever since)
– I remember flying for the very first time in a little four-seater plane in about 1971, with my mother, as a short practice for her first proper flight to Dublin
– I remember going to Heathrow airport to see one of the first Jumbo Jets in about 1970 and being overwhelmed by its size

My parents lived through an age of rapid change; my childhood was an age of accelerating change – but you live in an age of amazing, almost unlimited change.

Take mobile phones; the early ones were huge bricks that only just fitted in your briefcase – I got my first one in about 1986, I think.

I rang my wife Julia on the doorstep of our house to tell her I would be late home – and then rang the doorbell; not a very funny joke, but it amused me!

Now everyone has a mobile phone – well several people have two or three while a few people still don’t have one at all; overall there are more mobile phones than people in this country.

But mobile phones are only a small part of what has happened.

It is the digital age that has really changed everything.

E-mail dominates my life now – and only a few years ago, it just didn’t exist.

We just don’t know where change will lead us.

Digital, nano and quantum technologies – all we know for certain is that we have only a vague idea exactly what they will do, but we do know that they will revolutionise your lives in ways for which this school is preparing you so well.

Because change in our world means we must change too – and that can be very uncomfortable for people affected by it – unless they understand why the change is happening and can adapt to it.

I said earlier that when I was at school, a woman’s place was firmly in the home.

Most of my friends’ mothers didn’t work; they stayed at home and shopped and cooked and cleaned.

My university in 1974 – Cambridge – was overwhelmingly male; my college was all male. Now it’s about 50:50 male:female.

An official government report published last year said that girls were much more likely than boys to get 5 or more high grade (A*-C) GCSEs and went on :

Girls are also more likely to stay on in full-time education at age 16 (82% of girls and 72% of boys). They are more likely to be entered for A levels, more likely to pass them, and also more likely to do better (achieve an A grade) than boys.

And this means that the boys are getting seriously left behind. The same paper says about universities,

…this rise in female participation has made the performance of males look relatively dismal, and concerns have arisen about the increasing gap in participation between men and women.

The professions are being stormed by women – and not just the traditional ones like medicine; everywhere I go I meet more and more women in senior positions in companies, in engineering – everywhere.

The next parliament will have a lot more women – and not before time.

So here’s my message:

• The world is going to change even faster in the future
• Women are for the first time on level terms with men when they look for jobs
• Your parents have sent you to an excellent school
• So, the world really can be your oyster.

Of course there are things to worry about – climate change, poverty, terrorism for example.

But I am an optimist through and through. The history of the world is that good has triumphed over evil.

And with women now able to play their full part in our country’s affairs for the very first time, I’m even more optimistic. The world could do with a bit more feminine understanding!

So no generation of girls has ever had the opportunities you will have.

What do you want to do? What do you want to be? You choose. Think big, though.

The doors that were once closed to you are now wide open.

I have seen such things in my life – and I hope to live to see a few more yet!

You can play a big part in making those things happen.

Well, done to those who have achieved great things here, who have won prizes, and well done in anticipation to those waiting for their exam results. I’m sure they’ll be really good.

Also, well done to all of you who have been and still are part of this fine school – well done for working to make it such a good place with such a fine reputation.

If you haven’t done quite as well as you would have liked so far, there’s plenty of time to think about that exciting future out there, and do what you need to do to prepare for it.

And remember – just being female gives you a big advantage now!

Yes, there are a lot of things to worry about, but you can work to put them right.

And be confident.

Our world has always lived with risk – but never before with such opportunity.

I envy you the challenges you face!


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