Founders’ Day 2024: Making A Difference

March 25, 2024

Making a difference was the theme for this year’s Founders’ Day as the Withington community gathered at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall to commemorate the school’s foundation 134 years ago and to bid a formal farewell to our outgoing Class of 2024.

Speakers were Chair of Governors Mr Malcolm Pike; Withington’s Headmistress Mrs Haslam; current Head Girl Sonali Koku Hannadige and Lizzy Burden – a Class of 2009 alumna and now Bloomberg TV’s UK correspondent – who each shone a light on the school’s notable achievements, past and present, that have helped to effect positive change, in the classroom, our local area and across the world.

In her speech, Mrs Haslam spoke of the school’s defining qualities that saw Withington ranked as the best value independent school in the UK last year, and named as the North West Independent School of the year for Academic Performance, in its fifth consecutive Award from The Sunday Times.

“I believe we see the true value of our school – not in monetary terms but as a place where people can grow, where the value of shared endeavour is understood, and where people care about one another. In short, a place that makes a difference.” Headmistress Mrs Sarah Haslam

A popular highlight of Founders’ Day is always the presentation of books to our Upper Sixth cohort, a longstanding Withington tradition. Presenting each Class of 2024 leaver with her individual book of choice this year was guest speaker Lizzy Burden who recounted the story of her own personal journey that has taken her on a “path less travelled”, with influences from her Withington education helping to make a difference.

Failures, she said, had helped shape her life. And now, she believes she has found her calling, working as a journalist with global business and finance channel Bloomberg TV. “I feel it is what I was born to do,” she told the audience. “And yet, I hadn’t even heard of the US-based, global financial news outlet Bloomberg when I was at Withington, which proves to me that you have to be true to your own strengths, passions and values to get to where you’re meant to be in life.”

Her words of advice to the pupils present were:

“You are here to make a difference in the way that only you can. And whichever path you take, if you walk it your way, you’re bound to make a difference. That is what this wonderful Withington education is for.”

The final Founders’ Day speech was delivered by Head Girl Sonali whose Withington tale has been one characterised by “triumph, tears and togetherness”.

I’m always left in awe by what we achieve as a school and the marks that we have left on both a local and international scale, whether it’s through charity events, the Senior Citizens’ concert, or The Gambia Project,” she said.

Thanking the teaching staff for their incredible time, efforts and dedication, she spoke of being inspired to wholeheartedly pursue her ambitions, culminating with her decision to study Medicine.

“To receive unwavering support and enthusiasm for your passions, whatever they are, is something that not everyone gets,” she said.

During the ceremony, posthumous tributes were paid to two highly respected former members of staff, Miss Marjorie Hulme (WGS Headmistress from 1961 to 1985) and Mrs Catherine Ositelu, Teacher of French since 1994 and Young Enterprise Lead. In keeping with the day’s theme, they were both recognised for the impact they had made during their respective times at Withington and for the meaningful legacies they have left behind.

Amongst her other significant contributions to the school, Miss Hulme had established the school’s vitally important Bursary Fund, which provides financial assistance to one in six of our pupils, whilst Mrs Ositelu’s work with Young Enterprise has seen the organisation create a new regional award in her memory.

Founders’ Day has been a popular fixture in the WGS calendar since 1925. This year, Withington’s talented musicians and choristers, as always, made a wonderful contribution, ending with a rousing selection of pieces from Les Misérables. Readings delivered by Upper Sixth students were The Star Thrower and Hope is the Thing with Feathers.