Students shine at Celebration of Achievement evening

Harrogate Grammar School’s Celebration of Achievement was back on track to formally honour students’ successes in 2020-2021 after being disrupted by the pandemic for the last two years. Held at the spectacular Royal Hall, it was a truly special night recognising the wide-ranging skills and talents of HGS students, as well as their more personal journeys.

The prize-giving ceremony was hosted by Neil Renton, Headteacher. He spoke of his pride in staging the event and in the resilience of both students and school staff during the pandemic. The way the school community came together during such a challenging period was a huge touchpoint, captured in an uplifting video montage.

Guests included CEO of the Red Kite Learning Trust and former HGS Headteacher, Richard Sheriff, and former student turned Olympian Axel Brown. Brown is part of Trinidad & Tobago’s bobsleigh team that competed in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. His sporting stepping stones included rugby, basketball, American football before he found bobsleigh almost accidentally. Axel spoke of navigating different pathways to success, seizing new opportunities as they arose. He challenged the audience to take chances and to “be the next person standing up here,” a position he would never have dreamed possible.

The awards evening was interspersed with stellar performances. The senior choir opened the night with a spine-tingling version of ‘Never Enough’. The audience were also treated to comic scenes from the school production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a rousing performance of ‘Stick it to the Man’ from the School of Rock cast and band.

The night concluded with memorable speeches from Head Students, Elena Blair and Ollie Black. Elena spoke passionately about channeling her energies into performing when she was restless and lacked confidence. She credited the music and drama faculties for their support and cited the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme as an unexpected highlight. “Harrogate Grammar School opened my mind,” she said.

Ollie gave an honest and moving account of his years struggling with his sexuality and how the school community played a huge part in his journey to self-acceptance. Now a diversity rep, he hoped his story would inspire students to “step out of your comfort zone” and to know they can “live a life without shame”. Ollie also thanked teachers for their resilience during Covid and instilling that same resilience in students.

Headteacher Neil Renton said, “It’s always wonderful to celebrate our students in this way and honour their dedication and skills. Having missed two years due to Covid, the ceremony felt extra special, not only as the pinnacle of our awards system, but also because it’s a true privilege to share young people’s successes. We hope every award and every story lights a spark in others, to try new things, to persevere and to find passion in whatever path they choose.”