Let us go on

Posted on: 16 Jan 2018
Posted by: Alice Phillips

Alice Phillips, headmistress at St Catherine's, Bramley, discusses her school's mantra and why it has inspired and motivated pupils since its delivery over 100 years ago.

‘Let us go on … unto perfection’ (Hebrews VI, i) was used by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson, as the text for his sermon when he dedicated our beautiful late Victorian Chapel in 1894. We do not know who adopted this as the school’s motto, but in doing so, she – we must assume it was our headmistress at the time, selected only the opening four words, wisely removing any pressure to achieve perfection and preferring to leave the meaning open to interpretation. These four short words, imbued with a sense of anticipation, and affording it a welcome versatility, have been our mantra ever since.

Not Latin or Greek – and thus not understood immediately by many without translation, it’s a fantastic forward looking statement. No use crying over spilt milk, just move on forwards. The past is the past. We must live with it. It’s inclusive - ‘us’, not ‘me’ or ‘I’. It’s Biblical – we are a Church of England school – but it is not overly evangelical and can speak to anyone of any faith.

It is also practical and pragmatic. Many a school internal email at times of trial ends quite simply with LUGO. We all know what we mean by it – encouragement and purposefulness – and so do the girls who also use it, and I understand many St Catherine’s families do too. That is why, as mottos go, we think it’s wonderful.

It has stood the test of time. It can be used in times of joy and celebration, or, when times might be tougher. One of the skills we develop in our young women is resilience. ‘Let us go on…’ sits well at the end of a congratulatory message, and equally, can convey so much to a sports team who have just been defeated by a whisker.

‘Let us go on…’ is embedded too in the everyday life of the school L.U.G.O. – our 4 teaching groups in years 7 and 8 are assigned one of these letters – U3L, L4U, U4G etc. Thus we make it very clear that we do not stream or band the girls in this very academic cohort by ability or any other kind of rank.

‘Let us go on…’ suggests a collegiate approach. There is no sense any individual is on her own – as a School community we are in it together. We can imagine Charlotte Russell-Baker, one of our longest-serving and highly esteemed former Headmistresses finding comfort in these words in 1907 when she witnessed St Catherine’s partially destroyed by fire after a lightning strike – we have the most poignant photograph in our archives of her standing beneath a capacious black umbrella, lamenting the damage sustained.

It also sits well with the St Catherine’s Association – a community of over 7000 members, and growing daily, comprising girls, staff, alumnae, parents, governors and friends of the school, past and present. The Association makes it possible to bridge the years, bringing together current pupils with those who are now in exciting careers, to those who left St Catherine’s long before the Equal Pay Act!

‘Let us go on…’ sums up an eternal spirit, a life force which transcends the here and now.

‘Let us go on…’ Indeed!

About Alice Phillips

Alice Phillips is headmistress at St Catherine's, Bramley a girls' day & boarding school in Surrey.