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I gave a keynote speech at South Wirral, my old high school

Following the successful publication of my first book, I have been in contact with South Wirral, my old high school, with a view to mentoring students and playing a greater role in their alumni society.

I dedicated the book to Mr Robinson, my only real English teacher, and I donated a copy to the school library, hoping to inspire future generations. In particular, I'm keen to encourage creative writing among kids who may be otherwise discouraged through peer pressure.

On Thursday, I was invited to present awards at South Wirral's Upper School Presentation Evening. I also delivered a keynote speech, sharing lessons from my journey and thanking South Wirral for the fundamental role it played in shaping my career.

I would like to thank Mr Goodwin, headteacher, and Andrew Stewart, marketing officer, for giving me the opportunity to share my ideas. I hope this is the start of a long and fruitful relationship that helps me give something back to the community that launched my career.

Here is my speech in full:

Thank you for the warm welcome. It's great to be here tonight, back where my journey began. I really appreciate the opportunity, so a big thank you to Mr Goodwin and all the staff who made this possible.

Now, I know what you are thinking: here we go, another boring speech to endure. But don't worry, I'm used to being the one sat out there, wanting to go home and watch the footy. I know the heating is on, but please try to stay awake. I won't take too much of your time, I promise. 

On a serious note, this is a very important date in the school calendar. Upper School Presentation Evening is a chance to celebrate some fantastic achievements and inspire the next great wave of South Wirral students.

We are going to hear some remarkable stories tonight, and I would like to congratulate everybody who has been recommended for an award Yes, even the people who haven't won a trophy.

By this point, you are probably wondering "who is this guy, and why is he on the stage?" Well, I did think the same thing this morning when I woke up, and I don't really have a good answer for you, to be honest.

I've never given a speech like this before, and I'm usually the one sniggering on the back row, rolling my eyes and causing chaos. So thank you for not booing me just yet. I"m sure there will be time for that at the end.

All the YouTube videos about speeches say I need to introduce myself in some way, so let's give that a try:

I'm Ryan Ferguson, a writer, author, blogger and journalist. My work has been published by the Guardian, BBC Sport and Liverpool Echo, among other outlets, and I recently published a book about Tranmere Rovers.

But perhaps more importantly, I was a student here at South Wirral between 2006 and 2013. I started in Year 7 and finished with my A-Levels. I made some great memories along the way, and this building holds a special place in my heart. 

I wasn't always such an angel, though. Some of my old teachers will find it absolutely incredible that I have been allowed back through the door, let alone invited to present awards.

I fell in with the wrong crowd early in my school life. Born and raised on a council estate in Bromborough, I tried to be someone I wasn't: loud, brash and generally uncontrollable. My mum once threatened to wallpaper my bedroom with all the angry letters that came through the post. But one day, everything changed for me.

It started like any other day: shouting something stupid, being sent out of class, then waiting for lunch time to cause more destruction. But one teacher disrupted that plan and gave me a rude awakening. Mr Robinson was absolutely livid.

A great man with an unfortunate love for Manchester United, Mr Robinson was the only real English teacher I ever had. Where everybody else saw an attention-seeking brat, he saw potential buried somewhere inside me, and he was determined to get it out.

In his loudest voice, Mr Robinson told me to get a grip. Turning purple, he told me to respect the talent I had. He said that I had the ability to write for any newspaper in the world, but I was throwing it all away. And for what?

From that day on, I knuckled down and unleashed my potential. It was difficult to change opinions and make amends for years of unbelievable stupidity, but I kept going, kept trying and kept applying myself.

People disowned me because it wasn't considered cool to read books or write stories. One day, I was throwing apples across the yard, and the next day I was keeping a diary? "Are you mad?," people asked. "Have you lost the plot?" Quite possibly, but I never looked back.

My mum always said that I'd be on this stage one day, talking about my achievements. I never really believed her, but I guess mum's are always right in the end. 

Deep down, I was always shy and introverted. From an early age, I was obsessed with words and stories, news and books. While my mates were pretending to be Steven Gerrard or David Beckham, I pretended to be Trevor McDonald. Those kind of things don't go down too well in the schoolyard, let me tell you.

In reality, I have always struggled with anxiety and low self-esteem. I gained a place to study Journalism at John Moore's University in Liverpool, but the thought of meeting new people crippled me, and so I never actually went. Mental health problems robbed me of the chance to study beyond South Wirral.

I managed to build a successful freelance career, writing for prestigious newspapers and websites, but my psychological battles continued. I was later diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, while acute anxiety made every day a struggle.

In 2017, I was headhunted by a local company to be their Media Manager. I was promoted twice in as many years, becoming Commercial Manager and then an executive Commercial Director. At the age of 23, it was all a bit too much, and I suffered a mental breakdown, being diagnosed with depression.

I lost the instruction manual for life, and I lost all hope for the future. I din't want to carry on, but a few things pulled me out of the abyss. 

Firstly, I met Patrycja, my girlfriend, and she changed my perspective on life. Secondly, I had great support from my family, who are here in the audience tonight. There was a time when tomorrow seemed unlikely to arrive, so to share this moment with you all is incredibly special.

My brother, Nathan, also went to South Wirral, and he is currently achieving great things at the University of Liverpool. If I experience half the career Nath is set to have, I will be a very happy man.

One other thing saved me during the darkest times of mental ill health: the cathartic power of writing.

With Mr Robinson's words ringing in my ears, I delved deep into writing once again. I built my own website and relaunched a number of blogs centred around my passions.

Most importantly, I wrote and published a book - which, by the way, is available on Amazon if you are thinking about Christmas presents!

Planet Prentonia tells the real story of Tranmere Rovers, my beloved football club. At 75,000 words, you could call it a monument to OCD, and as Patrycja will tell you, I had almost as many meltdowns along the way.

I dedicated the book to Mr Robinson, and a copy is now available in the school library. I hope it can inspire future generations to dam big. Where you have come from doesn't matter as much as where you are going. My dad taught me that, and it is one of the most important lessons I have ever learned.

In closing, I just have a few words of advice for the next generation of South Wirral students:

1. Don't make your English teacher turn purple with rage

2. Don't let your mum decorate your bedroom with complaint letters

In all seriousness, I believe strongly in following your passions. We live in a world of tremendous opportunity, and the Internet makes it easier than ever to enjoy a fulfilling career.

There are people recording podcasts in their underpants for a living. Others are modelling toothpaste on Instagram and earning a fortune. The opportunities are endless.

So, whatever you are passionate about, chase that dream. You may be passionate about bowling or business, badminton or baking. It doesn't really matter. Start that blog. Launch that podcast. Talk about your dreams and post them to YouTube.

The jobs market is changing, and the shackles of tradition are breaking every day. Find something you love; take care of your mental health; and focus on the most important things in life.

As you are defining those passions and choosing a modern career path, just promise me one thing: pick something a little less heartbreaking than following Tranmere Rovers around the country.

Thank you.

🗣️🗣️🗣️

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1 comment

  • Great article & fabulous speech , so good to hear about South Wirral – So many memories.

    Faye

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