UWC Atlantic College is not a place for the faint-hearted, nor should it be; it provides a very special kind of educational experience. Approximately 350 young people from over 90 different nations and from a wide spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds, cultures and creeds, congregate each year at the college. I suspect that, for a fleeting moment, many of the new arrivals experience moments of doubt, as they are deposited at the gates of a medieval castle. In no time at all, however, the warmth of the welcome provided by the second year students banish all anxieties, and the newcomers embark upon one of the most amazing and privileged journeys that they will make in their lives. It will not be easy, we set out to challenge, but it will certainly be worth it.
The concept of bringing together young people from around the world, to live, work and serve together in this dramatic setting is truly unique, and I know that the friendships that are forged here, and the opportunities to learn from each other, will resonate throughout the future lives of all our students. This wonderful opportunity, however, carries with it an enormous obligation: to uphold the values of the UWC movement, and to make a positive difference with our lives. This is no ordinary mission, but then, this is no ordinary place.
A lecture visit in 1956 to the NATO Defence College in Paris saw the beginnings of ideas on what would become a global education movement. It was at this meeting that British Commandant Air Marshal Sir Lawrence Darvall was inspired by Kurt Hahn's analysis of the state of the young. Hahn's ideas were original, imaginative and far-sighted enough to conceive a two year college bringing together students from all over the world, selected on personal merit, irrespective of race, religion, politics and the ability to pay, with the explicit aim of fostering international understanding. Both Kurt Hahn and Lawrence Darvall saw the college as a demonstration of how conflict and hostility could be overcome if young people from different nations, races and religions could be brought together to learn from each other. Eventually opened in 1962, it has educated over seven thousand students to date.
In this twenty-first century, tragically, there are still wars to protest, and refugees to embrace; conflict still seems to be a part of the human condition, but it is surely within the grasp of educated young people to make a difference. UWC Atlantic College strives to provide an education that begins and ends with our common humanity, and one that transcends the narrow ideologies that plague the world. This makes a difference. For all our sakes, it has to.