Last year’s Head Boy, Mateusz Kapustka (R20) recently reflected on his time at Downside and, in particular, life in Roberts House.

His letter (see below) echoes the strength of community that is evident in all aspects of life at Downside, and how important the values learnt at the School have benefitted him, not only during his time at Downside, but also now, as he faces the challenges of university life.

Mateusz joined Downside in September 2018 as part of the School’s Polish scholarship programme. He quickly immersed himself into Downside community, taking advantage of the many opportunities that the School offers: a wide range of academic opportunities and complementary co-curricular activities, opportunities for Service, and the chance to deepen his faith and his sense of self. 

To my Downside family:
Being a member of the Downside community is something in itself, yet being part of Roberts House has been something more than that to me. I feel that many more of my peers felt the same way but, only after leaving everything behind in the search of futures at universities, internships or gap years, did we come to realise how much we miss our Downside brotherhood, the daily rivalry over who gets more toast and the Fourth Form night duties.  

I am currently reading Economics at Glasgow University. In Halls, above my desk are two shelves – one packed with textbooks and favourite reads of mine, and the other quite proudly presents all my Downside memorabilia: a Bible with a leather cover made by one of the St. Scholastica leaders, the Roberts water bottle, a pair of our House cufflinks, a Roberts Colours Cap, and the self-crafted Downside Ball Game bat with a Roberts House crest. I’m quite fond of my collection but, more importantly, it reminds me of the great experiences, lessons (literally and not) as well as challenges that I have been through at the place that I still want to think of as my home. 

The amazing time which I had in Roberts will forever live in my heart. Those moments, probably more than any other, shape the way I think and the person I am. Coming from a very different background I witnessed what the world of opportunity has to offer. I tried many things in my time at Downside, some of which I was good at, and others probably less so. But what I have stood by for a while now is that, it’s not about whether you fail or lose, it is about how you lose and how you get up again to do better. My experiences and memories of my time in Roberts have undoubtedly changed the way I look at many factors of my life, not only academically, but also personally and in my social life, and the values learnt have shaped me to be something more than just another individual in the world of 7.8bn others. This might sound very cliché, but it has been proven scientifically by many researchers, e.g. (Banks and Roker, 1994), (Del Siegle et al., 2013), (Hoge et al., 1990) that our late school experiences have a huge impact on our motivation, social life, and self-esteem, amongst others. 

During my time at Downside, which is a school where the inclusiveness of community, Benedictine values, as well as a pursuit of academic excellence are rooted in the core, I was very often struck by the kindness of people, and equally by their openness to diversity and difference. I know from my personal experience that this is sometimes taken for granted by other educational institutions where adolescents form some sort of racial clustering among each other. From time to time, I would show prospective pupils, families and staff around the School, some of whom would later tell me how positively surprised they were by how our community welcomed them, whatever the circumstances. It seemed like we would see a novel idea, an individual’s or a group’s success, and so many more, on a daily basis as the busy Downside days went by. 

The benefits of Downside as a school, community and state of mind are of course immense and much broader than that. I have often underlined this on various occasions during my short (yet very important) two years spent at the School. No words or actions can depict the feelings and memories that many of our Old Gregorians, including me, have when they think about time spent in the House Common Room, for example, or the Fifth Form kitchen. Downside also taught me – through successes and failures – how to be an individual responsible for my own fate, and how important it is to never give up. Roberts taught me how to have a family outside of my family, how important it is to give, to stay humble, and how to make sure you have a dream to aim for, because dreams will be dreams – until you actually step up to make them happen. 

Downside and, Roberts in particular, provide a challenge to one’s personality and help us to define who we really are. I would like to finish by thanking everyone who makes Downside, and Roberts especially, as great as they are – a home for a diverse family of unique mindsets, talents and many more, a place where many generations wish they could still wake up to.