Freedom. What does it truly mean? It’s a hard word to define as it’s subjective, based on our personal tastes and feelings, but most people accept it as the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants. So let me ask you this. At this moment in time, as you’re sitting in this hall at Newstead Wood School listening to me talk, are you truly free? And you know what, before anyone says anything, I can answer that question for you: you aren’t. You do not have total freedom and the harsh truth is, you never will. And there are a few reasons why.

The first and most prominent reason is society. We are living in a society where although we are considered as individuals, we must bow down to all of these standards that we are expected to live up to. When you think about it, we are forced to lead lives that are eerily similar in structure. Let's flashback to the day that you were born. Imagine that it’s been an intense 24 hours of labour but after what seems like days, you pop out screaming and crying into the world, a healthy 6 pounds and 7 ounces. The hospital lights are blinding and around you there are these weird creatures cooing and crying and laughing. You later realise that they’re your parents. Your dad takes one look at you and says “Listen to that scream! Our daughters going to be a feisty one at school! And look at how quickly she opened her eyes! With that intelligence she’s going to Newstead Wood School for sure, and then it’s off to Oxford for her!”. Your mum agrees. “That loud voice is going to make on hell of a lawyer one day. I can’t wait to see what my grandkids are like!”. Your parents have a long debate on what age you can date at. They agree on 25. And just like that, within your first few hours of living, your whole life is planned out for you.

And that’s the truth of most people in this room. It’s as if when civilised societies began to form, a template, a cookie cutter if you will, was formed with it. We are all made with different flavours of cookie dough with different filling and toppings, but we are all moulded and cut into the same shapes with that cookie cutter. This cookie cutter consists of a few things: birth, school, university, getting a job, having kids, retiring, and then ultimately death, with a few holidays and cruises thrown in here and there. It’s what is expected of us, because society has formed an image of what a normal life should look like. And we’re painted and edited and moulded to fit into this template from the day we are born. And by providing these foundations for our lives, there isn’t anywhere for us to exercise our freedom and freely dictate what we want to do with our lives. There’s no choice for us. It’s against the law for us to not come into school. We could be travelling the world and learning whole new cultures and experiences and life skills that can we can actually apply, we could be photographers or volunteering in countries that desperately need aid or we could be competing in competitive sports. I’m not saying that school is a waste of time or that we shouldn’t go. It’s just that 3there is a whole new universe of things to learn outside of school. And the fact that we can’t do that? That’s not freedom.

I promise you that the purpose of this article was not to depress you or make you come to the realisation that you are indeed chained to a life that is planned out for you. The purpose of this article was for me to tell you, that although we cannot change the major foundations of the buildings that are our lives, we can refurbish and add new furniture and redecorate. We can paint the walls wild colours, like bright yellow. Our freedom lies in the small changes, in the decisions where we choose what to wear, our personalities, the memories we make and the relationships we create. The huge choice of history or geography for GCSE. So that’s what I want you to take away with you today. To know that you have the freedom to make choices. Use that freedom wisely.