1 July 2023
Acting Head, Mrs Rachel Rees, spoke about trailblazers and breaking down barriers, in Monmouth School for Girls’ inspirational Speech Day and Prize-Giving on Saturday 1st July.
Mrs Rees, who arrived at Monmouth on a three-month temporary contract as a French and German teacher in September 2008, encouraged the students to embrace their individuality and stand up for what they believed in.
“As we enter an exciting period of change at Monmouth, with the launch of our co-educational senior school in September 2024, we will be blazing our own trail whilst looking forward to the wonderful opportunities that our new school will offer,” said Mrs Rees.
“Trailblazing is not easy. It requires hard work, determination, and a willingness to take risks. But by blazing our own trail, we can inspire others to do the same. You have the power to change the world. But you must be brave enough to take the first step.”
Mrs Rees highlighted the impact of Elizabeth Blackwell, a trailblazer whose work has had a hugely positive influence on the world.
Elizabeth Blackwell was one of medicine’s most influential women. She was the first female to qualify as a doctor in the USA and the first woman to have her name entered in the British General Medical Council’s register.
Major Helena Holden, a former student at Monmouth School for Girls, was the guest speaker – and attended primary school with Mrs Rees in Abergavenny.
Helena was a pupil at Monmouth between 1988 and 1995 – and was crowned the Bard at the school Eisteddfod in 1993.
Helena embarked on a successful career in the Army, which included the warfighting phase in Iraq in 2003 and a subsequent tour doing security and peace support ops to rebuild the war-torn country.
She recalled a crucial moment on 30th March 2003 when, as a 26-year-old, she was leading a convoy in the middle of the Iraqi desert when she suddenly noticed enemy tanks ahead.
Thankfully, Helena’s military training and quick decision-making kicked in and she was able to salvage the situation and prevent her convoy from being ambushed.
She said: “When I sat at Speech Day in 1995, I had no idea that I would be one of the first females to operate on the front line and the first woman to prepare for a direct fire mission in a war situation.”
She told the students: “Embrace change because it’s natural and a necessary part of life; make the most of the opportunity it brings. It’s OK to make mistakes; it’s how you learn from them that really matters. Have the courage to be who you are and enjoy the adventure.”
Having married and raised her three girls, Helena re-joined the Army in 2019 as part of the Army Communications Team and was last year named Army Communicator of the Year and awarded a commendation from Deputy Chief of the General Staff.
Imbert Terry was presented with The House Cup after a landslide triumph, while prizes were handed out to students for outstanding achievements in academics, art, sport, drama and music and other fields, including charity work, citizenship and community.
Director of Music, Mr Derek Harris, arranged a delightful mix with harpist Claire Chen; violinist, Eleanor Moore, Ladies in Lavender (Hess); and jazz trio Beatrix Bowman, Christabel Collett and Eleanor Walsh all performing beautifully.
Vocalists Christabel Collett, Grace Lewis, Lauren Powell, Emily Tyler, Eleanor Walsh and Sophie Williams gave a lovely rendition of Flashlight (Jessie J).
The Head Girl, Sophie Morrison, an active and keen member of the school rowing club, reflected on her wonderful experiences at Monmouth.
“This school has been so special to me,” she said.
“We inspire each other and have examples of amazing achievements throughout our school, including athletes chosen to represent the country, musical heights and inspiring charity drives, moving drama performances and the most beautiful art.
“We are awash with talent and we must take every opportunity to celebrate it.”
Sophie alluded to one of her rowing heroes, Helen Glover, whom she said had a strong mindset that had helped her excel in elite sport.
“Squeeze every last drop out of your experiences at Monmouth and let it set you up for the rest of your lives and, most importantly, be true to yourselves,” she told her peers.
“Our school has a rich history and we stand on the shoulders of the girls who have come before us.
“We are the future – so hold on to the progress we have made and push to achieve to the best of your ability. I wish you all the courage to achieve the dreams that are alive within you.”
Speeches were also made by the Chair of Governors, Lord Colin Moynihan, and The Master of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, Mr Christopher Hardie.