Former Student Natasha Devon speaks at Awards Evening 2017
Herts & Essex was delighted to welcome former Deputy Head Girl, Natasha Devon, MBE to the school on Wednesday 21 June to present the prizes and speak at the annual Awards Evening.
The celebration is a chance to focus on the success, commitment and hard work of the school community. The evening began with Headteacher, Cathy Tooze detailing the many and varied achievements of Herts & Essex students. The breadth of achievement goes far beyond that of the classroom, with students seeing success at local and national levels in drama, sport and dance as well as in law, classics and poetry competitions. Mrs Tooze was also keen to emphasise the charity work that the students undertake throughout the year, both within school and independently for causes that are close to their hearts. These include grocery collections for local foodbanks, a Year 7 group Zumba-thon for Lepra, running the London marathon, non-uniform days in aid of LGBT charities and Comic Relief, clothing collection for refugees and donations to the Bishop’s Stortford night shelter scheme, to name but a few. In total this year the school has raised in excess of £12,000 for good causes: a sum of which the school is duly proud.
Natasha Devon’s address was inspiring and heartfelt. She described how her life changed the day she came to the Herts & Essex Open Evening as a Year 6 pupil, and she realised that this school was the only place she wanted to be. She also spoke candidly – and humorously - of her ongoing mental health problem which became very apparent during her teenage years. She expressed the importance of talking about mental health issues, and stressed that Herts & Essex had been pivotal in helping her through this time, making her feel “part of a community, listened to, valued and where I had my talents recognised.” Above all she felt “loved”. Herts & Essex taught her how to be a feminist, gave her the ability to think critically and to stand up for what’s right. She also personally thanked Mr Liam Biggins for his wonderful and inspiring teaching which was greeted by great applause from the audience. Her parting words to today’s students was honest yet reassuring: “I want you to remember this,” she said, ‘there will be times in your life when you will feel isolated, alone, not listened to and disrespected – and that will definitely happen, because you’re a human being and those types of experiences are unavoidable, and they are not nice - but when you experience those things, and feel those unpleasant emotions, remember that you are a Herts & Essex person and nobody messes with us.’ It was an empowering and thought provoking speech which was very well received by everyone in the audience.
Speaker Natasha Devon MBE (centre) with (from l-r): Macy Glen, Head of School; Richard Vaughan, Deputy Head; Nathan McGhee, Head of School; Cathy Tooze, Headteacher.
Students from all years were presented with School Prizes, cups and certificates for a variety of achievements: in individual subjects, for contribution to the school community, for extra-curricular activities as well as for overall academic commitment and hard work. It was a chance for those students’ achievements to be formally recognised and rewarded.
Musical contributions throughout the evening came from the woodwind ensemble and whole school ensemble who performed a lively, energetic and thoroughly enjoyable piece, as well as spectacular solos from Sixth Formers, Clare Gibbs and Leon Topley, and Year 11 student, Madelaine McCarthy. With the formalities over, guests, students, parents and staff enjoyed drinks and canapés in the relative cool of the school courtyard. It was a lovely way to round off the evening of success and celebration.
Natasha Devon MBE is a writer, campaigner and co-founder of the award-winning Self-Esteem Team (www.selfesteemteam.org). She also created the Body Gossip Education Programme (www.bodygossip.org), is an accredited trainer for B-eat, the UK’s largest eating disorder charity and for Mental Health First Aid England. Natasha's official website can be found at www.natashadevon.com.
Natasha is a former student of Herts & Essex and was awarded an MBE in 2015 for services to young people. She tours schools, colleges and events throughout the UK and beyond promoting positive mental health and body image, as well as gender and social equality.
She has had columns in the Independent, Cosmopolitan Magazine and currently in the Times Educational Supplement. She also writes regularly for the Guardian. Natasha’s books Fundamentals, The Self-Esteem Team’s Guide to Sex, Drugs & WTFs?!! and Body Gossip were best sellers in their categories.
Natasha is a newspaper reviewer for Sunrise on Sky News, as well as a pundit for Good Morning Britain, ITV’s This Morning and BBC Breakfast.
She has been awarded Cosmopolitan’s Ultimate Woman of the Year, a fellowship from University of Wales and in 2016 the Sunday Times and Debrett’s named Natasha one of the 20 most influential people in British education.