You can / you can’t

I was educated at a comprehensive school (state-funded school) in a small seaside town in Wales. Then I went to Oxford University. This is how I got there.

I was always good at school, so when I was in sixth form (aged 17), my mother encouraged me to apply to Oxford (thanks, Mum!)

I didn’t think I could get into Oxford. Only the very brightest students in the country went there. I told the head of my school sixth form I was considering applying and he said, “Forget it. People like you don’t get into Oxford.” By that he meant people from ordinary unprivileged backgrounds.

But I did apply, and I studied hard for the entrance exam, and I was offered a place at Oxford to study Physics.

And I learned one of the most important lessons of my life – that the world is full of people who say you can’t. And if you listen to them you’ll come to believe that the world is divided into doers and losers, rich and poor, clever and stupid, and that you’re in the poor, stupid, loser category and can’t ever change.

But the world isn’t like that. It’s not divided into categories, except in the minds of people who believe it is. So you need to find other voices to listen to – your own voice if necessary.

And you must never believe anyone who tells you that you can’t do something. Because you can.

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16 responses to “You can / you can’t

  1. Always looking forward to your posts – and this one is one if my favourites so far. Wise words, mate- wise words…

  2. Yes…you can. Now go and do something about it.

    I got a chuckle from this phrase … ‘poor, stupid, loser category’. Thanks.

  3. Yes. This is one of the advantages of ignoring preconceived opinions and stereotypes that we discussed. When a child starts walking, he does not know that he can’t walk. He just does it. How else can we achieve anything?

  4. Fan of Dickens

    Bravo and good for you! We must fight hard against the elitism and snobbery in this country. Where I live with have the dreadful two-tier system of Grammar and High School. My daughter went to a High School, but I kept insisting to her that it should not mean she could not achieve as much as her peers at Grammar Schools, as her self esteem had taken a knock from the Kent Test. I know bragging parents are tedious but to illustrate my point, she did extremely well in her A Levels and I was incensed when the sixth form tutor said, “Now you can apply to a Russell Group University”. We had always intended to apply to a Russell Group university, but it was obvious that, despite all her efforts at school, the teacher had pigeon-holed her as a High School pupil. We owe it to ourselves, and our children, to look beyond the categories imposed by our class-obsessed country. Sorry, I know I am ranting, but you touched on a subject close to my heart.

  5. This is so true … so very, very true. It’s most complicated than elitism and snobbery, because it can be as mundane as teachers who make students feel less than capable … and peer pressure. Ultimately, people need support to fulfill their potential. Kudos to your mum. By the way, having spent some time down under, I don’t think Britain is one bit more class-ridden than America, Canada, Australia or anywhere else. Sadly.

  6. Indeed they are … and the struggle in America for kids who don’t go to independent (private) schools is intense. Independent schools, which produce our leaders (where did Chelsea Clinton and the Obama girls go to school? Not state schools), have the best teachers, classes with 12-15 students, state of the art facilities and … well, state schools don’t. It’s tragic. By the way, as you know, Obama himself with the Punahou School, considered one of the best in the United States … an independent school, of course. Note his diction, accent, use of English …it tells you everything.

  7. Your example is such a great statement, thank you for sharing. I used to think that there are priviliged people and there is no way to become one of them. Later I realized that being in that category means that I am brave enough to work for my goals against all odds.

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