Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 10, 2015

Maya Angelou said she could learn a lot about a person by the way they handled a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I think that if she had ever travelled with a group of students like ours she may have added that she could learn a lot from people by how they handle plans changed at the last minute. I know that I learned today that our participants are truly flexible, good-natured, and realistic, and that makes them such a joy to work with!

We got off to a good start to Oxford today, but it started to rain as soon as we left London. We walked to Jesus College in the rain and had a quick tour, then proceeded on to another college for our lecture by Dr. Jonathan Fennell on WWII. I think he was as pleased as we chaperones were with the calibre of discussion in his session. He was thoroughly engaging, and the group all told me they really learned a lot and enjoyed his session. We then had a wonderful session on WWI presented by Dr. Matthew Seligmann. He had a totally different style, but the kids again all told me they loved his presentation, too … and they weren’t just feeding me a line, they meant it. I know they meant it because they continued to talk about both sessions amongst themselves over lunch, and it was wonderful to see and hear them enthusiastically discussing, critiquing and debating ideas they had formed during the discussions. This is one of my favourite activities with this group – not many non-Oxford students get to have lectures in the school, given by Ph.D lecturers from some of Britain’s top universities, and to see them engage at this level is awe-inspiring. As I sat watching our future leaders today, it was confirmed for me that we are going to be in good hands down the road.

Jessie gave a presentation on the impact on children during war time, and Caitlin presented on minorities during war time, and it was at this point that we got to see how the group handles last-minute plan changes … It had been raining off and on all morning and we had been keeping a close eye on the skies because we were due to go punting after lunch. Gabriela and I decided to cancel the punting because of the rain – we knew it would be a disappointment, but we didn’t really want everyone outside in boats in the rain, especially since we still had the play to go to tonight. The kids were real troopers about it: I know they were disappointed because they had been looking forward to it, but there was not one word of complaint or disagreement, which made us feel slightly better about having to cancel. We did give them some free time instead, and I know they boosted the Oxford sweatshirt and souvenir economy during that time!

To save us some time the bus dropped us off at Hillingdon tube station, and we took a one-hour ride on the Piccadilly line to Piccadilly Circus, where everyone got a chance to shop and have supper before taking in the play, The 39 Steps. Based on the wide grins and rave reviews from the group on the way home, I know the kids had a wonderful time. (As did the chaperones!) It was good to have some laughs as we are heading into some pretty emotional days now, something our Oxford seminars prepared us for today.

We are going to be up at 5 tomorrow for our train to Lille so we’re off to make sure the kids are all packed up! Hopefully we can get a student to blog a bit tomorrow night, but it’s going to be another very long day and late night as we have the Menin Gate ceremony tomorrow night, so you may have to put up with me for one more night after this!

See you from Belgium tomorrow!