TO MY DOWNSIDE FAMILY

Roberts House Master, Daniel McLean, recently spoke with last year’s Head Boy, Mateusz Kapustka (R20). This led to Mateusz reflecting on his experiences at Downside one year on, with special recognition to Roberts House.

To my fellow Roberts 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 felt that many more of my peers felt the same way, but only after leaving everything behind in the search of for futures at universities, internships and on gap years, did we come to realise how much we miss our brotherhood, the daily rivalry over who gets more toast and the Fourth Form night duties.  

As I sit in my university hall bedroom, my desk nearly always piled with papers, articles, journals and ZOOM open and running from sunrise to sunset, I often feel the lack of an everyday routine. The sense of a distinguishable work-life balance has perished in the unknown. A Monday is not any different from a Tuesday and so on… – quite different from what I imagined university to be like, but “hey, it will soon to be over”, I tell myself. I often look up from my desk; above me are two shelves, one packed with textbooks and favourite reads of mine, 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, which still waits to be used, are just a few of them. 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. 

Unfortunately, omnibus rebus finis est (lat. everything has its end), or does it? Well not really, actually. This amazing time which I had in Roberts will forever live in my heart and these moments probably more than any other shape the way I think, and the person I am. Coming from a very different background I have managed to witness 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, whether you get a bad grade when you realised there is yet another full set of maths questions on the verso of the exam paper two minutes before the end (a funny example from my personal life, but you get the point). It is about how you lose and how you get up again to do better. I feel like the environment at Downside allows for minor mistakes in your lives and helps you to be better next time, because no one expects you to be perfect, yet most expect you to be better. Don’t get me wrong; academic life is not a bed of roses, but at the same time why don’t we look for more? The concept of motivation here is quite crucial and I know myself that it is not always easy to stay on top of everything and do your best at all times – especially in such a busy place as Downside. Nonetheless, my experiences and memories of my time in Roberts have undoubtedly changed the way I look at many factors of my life and here I not only speak of academia, but also personal and social life and the values that 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. 

In 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 struck very often by the kindness of people, but 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. I myself had the opportunity to meet a lot of people from outside the organisation and show them around the House or the School. Sometimes these would be future staff members, or pupils, 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 that Downside as a school, community and state of mind (if I can call it that way – challenge me on that one if you can) are of course immense and much broader than that. I have often underlined this on various occasions during my short (yet very important for me personally) two years spent at the School. No words or actions can depict the feelings and memories that many of our OGs, including me have gone through in those corridors, that Common Room, Fifth Form Kitchen, or HsM’s office. These ups and downs, successes and failures taught me how to be an individual responsible for their 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 particularly, 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.