It is a huge pleasure to welcome you to St James’s Palace today, to congratulate, celebrate and thank all those who have participated in this year’s Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition, as well as some who were unable, because of COVID, to join us last year. I am delighted to report that this year, we received the highest number of entries ever, since the Competition began in 1883!
Now, I wasn’t quite around in 1883, yet I often wish I had entered this Competition when I was a child. Not that I think for one moment that I would have had a chance of a prize, but I know from talking to young people across the world that it is enormously exciting to write a piece and post it to the Royal Commonwealth Society to be read by experts like this year’s judges.
This train of thought made me wonder what I would have written if I were eligible to enter and were to submit an essay about “Community in the Commonwealth”. I think it might go something like this…
Those of us who are part of the Commonwealth of Nations are incredibly privileged to belong to this wonderful community of 54 countries, sharing a spirit of unity, purpose and friendship. To quote the famous Canadian literary character, Anne of Green Gables, “I’m so thankful for friendship: it beautifies life so much”. Our Commonwealth community gives each of us 2.4 billion friends. And I believe the 2.4 billion of us do much to beautify life for one another: rejoicing in each other’s successes, benefitting from each other’s wisdom, and supporting and sustaining one another through difficult times.
Like all communities, we are also united by a love of storytelling. This might simply be a single family telling tales of past generations. Or it might be an individual nation’s stories that help us to understand the world around us: “The Dreamtime” in Australia; the works of Tenali Raman in India; or the adventures of Ijapa the Tortoise in Nigeria. On a global scale, the young people who enter this Competition bring us together with their powerful stories, essays, poetry and letters on the issues that most matter today, making the profound accessible.
As your very proud Vice Patron, I have been delighted to, so far, see this at first-hand in New Zealand, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ghana, The Gambia, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. I am determined to visit more Commonwealth countries as soon as I can, and I promise you that I will always seek out the QCEC wherever I go….
Those are some of my thoughts on “Community in the Commonwealth”. I very much doubt that they would qualify me as a Senior Winner – or even a very, very Senior Winner. But I hope I have explained a little of why I believe the community of our worldwide family should be celebrated. Please keep doing so, through your brilliant writing. And now I shall heed more wise words from Anne of Green Gables: “the point of good writing is knowing when to stop”.