It is a truth universally acknowledged nationwide in the UK that the day after the GCSE results our papers will be filled with images of England’s most photogenic adolescents (Think perfectly coiffed hair, twinkling eyes and not a pimple in sight!) and their inspiring stories of success – from the twin who share 24 A*-c grades between them, the refugee boy who did not speak a world of English upon his arrival to the UK just four years ago but garners 15 GCSEs at A* to the child prodigy who clocked A*-C grades in 5 subjects including Latin… Well, you get the picture – in fact, better yet, cut out and keep the stories but change the pictures and the names last week of August every year, you are not missing much.
One story, however, stood out for me today: the one of Talitha Lewis whose life was changed with a hug from the First Lad Michelle Obama.
Before meeting Michelle Obama in 2009 after a speech she had given at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school in North London, the 16-year-old didn’t see the point of school; she was staying out late, hanging out with school drop-outs and speeding down the fast lane to a future as a “stereotypical baby-mum” (in her own words). Then it all changed with a hug. “I got a hug, and from that moment I left that hall I worked really hard,” said Talitha sharing her story with the papers today.
““Mrs Obama told us that we are in charge of our lives and that we need an education, otherwise we wouldn’t have anything to work with.”
Two years on, Talitha has 10 GCSEs to her name – all A*-C – and plans to study chemistry, biology, maths, and psychology.
Following the riots blighting most parts of London as well as other urban centres such as Birmingham and Liverpool two weeks ago, there has been much talk about Britain’s ‘feral kids’, maybe what kids across the land from Land’s End to John O’Groats – whatever their race, social class, family make up – is postive role models who can lead by example, who can show them that they are responsible for their choices and they have control over their futures, those who will truly inspire them to believe that the measure of success is not in having the latest mobile phone or the flashiest pair of trainers from Foot Lockerz but in the satisfaction of having worked hard for them, someone who will truly have faith in them and say, “Yes, you can!”
Perhaps what this country and its forgotten communities needs is good, strong, inspirational mentors (as proven by the GCSE success of Peckham’s Sacred Heart School where mentoring and strong discipline have been credited for the standards of stellar behaviour as well as academic attainment) who can inject a little bit of sunny American dream into the bleak British cynicism.