One of the highlights of the Coronation Concert, during last weekend’s celebrations, was a performance by James Nesbitt of Daljit Nagra’s poem We’re Lighting Up The Nation. Many of us at The Abbey looked on with proprietorial pride, because Daljit was one of the key speakers at our recent Write On Festival. We perhaps felt a warm glow: it was nice to see that he had managed to secure nearly as prestigious a gig to follow his Abbey experience.

Listening to his wonderful words, we were reminded of his brilliant performance at our Poet’s Cafe, in collaboration with Reading Stanza and South St. His work was funny and evocative and he gave such generous support and encouragement to the young writers from The Abbey and Reading Boys who followed his readings with performances of their own.

We also thought of the other inspirational speakers who’ve shared their stories at The Abbey over the last couple of years. England international and alumna Sophie Drakeford-Lewis. Olympic gold medallist and world record holder Adrian Moorhouse. High Court Judge Lady Justice Andrews. President for COP26 Sir Alok Sharma. First Briton in space Helen Sharman.

We will of course continue to welcome a host of speakers and luminaries into school over coming weeks, months, and years – with Dame Katherine Grainger among others joining us for the wonderful Girls Go Gold festival at the start of next term.

Hearing from them all, and watching the students they inspire, is a moving experience. Often they speak about the young people they were to the young people now hearing them. Adrian Moorhouse came last time and again as a young swimmer. His coach asked him why he bothered. He said he wanted to win an Olympic medal. His coach simply nodded. Whoever will win that medal in ten years time, right now, is a young swimmer like you, he said. Why shouldn’t it be you?

Helen Sharman said something similar in even more remarkable circumstances. She heard a radio advert about a competition to become an astronaut. She gave it a go on the off-chance: and ended up reflecting on that moment as she looked out of the window of the International Space Station at the Earth far below.

The whole point about giving it a go is that it opens up chance and possibility. Like Adrian, like Helen, like any of our speakers, if our students today show courage and give it a go they might reach the very pinnacle of their chosen endeavour. But more importantly, they will have been the people who gave it a go. That’s what brings us luck and opportunity.

In a famous experiment Robert Wiseman demonstrated the power that our expectations exert on our lives. People who identified as unlucky were asked to count pictures in a newspaper. It took them several tedious minutes. It took people who identified as lucky only seconds: because on page 2, in type over two inches high, there was a message telling them the total, and another, later in the paper, offering a $250 prize. ‘Lucky’ people saw the messages; ‘unlucky’ people missed them. Lucky people are open-minded, hope for the best, look out for the best chance and give it a go: that’s why they are lucky.

This is a time at which we reflect on an epoch: the turning of an age, the passing of a crown. It speaks of a timescale beyond our own lives: of the cycle of generations far back into the past and on into the future.

That’s what’s so powerful about watching an audience of young people listen to the experiences of amazing speakers. It makes us reflect on what they will take from the stories they hear; how they will go on to have glorious adventures of their own; and how some of them will stand one day on a stage and share those with the students who come after them. So lives well-lived pass down the generations: in the handing on of moments of inspiration that catch fire in the minds and hearts of young people and in turn illuminate their own journeys through the years. Lighting up the nation, indeed.

 Will le Fleming, Head