“Oh my god, that’s Meghan! I’m actually going to meet Meghan!” was one student’s reaction as Meghan surprised students at Robert Clack’s upper site in Dagenham ahead of International Women’s Day.
The visit comes a day after she made a secret trip to the National Theatre in London and was revealed just hours after both Meghan and Harry made a dazzling appearance at the Mountbatten Festival of Music. Click here to read the post!
A few weeks ago, Ian Pittaway – Deputy Lieutenant for Barking had received an email asking if any local schools would like a visit from the Duchess. The theme of the event was International Women’s Day.
With Dagenham holding such an important place in the history of women’s rights following the Ford sewing machinists strike which was instrumental in passing the 1970 Equal Pay Act, Robert Clack was particularly keen to welcome Meghan. The action of the women-led by Rose Boland, Eileen Pullen, Vera Sime, Gwen Davis, and Sheila Douglass – acted as a catalyst that made discrimination against women by paying them less for equally skilled work illegal. They were supported by the women at the Ford Halewood plant in Merseyside, who also walked out on strike.
Many of the children were speechless, while others gasped as they set eyes on the Meghan who was standing before them in Dagenham. Meghan was warmly welcomed by Pittaway – Deputy Lieutenant for Barking and Dagenham and Co-chair of the Robert Clack Alumni Association. After being introduced to Head Teacher Russell Taylor and Senior Deputy Head Teacher Steve O’Brien, Meghan smiled broadly as she was presented with a bouquet of flowers by Year 7 students, Fiona A and Harvi S.
Omid Scobie reported:
‘For Fiona Addai, 11, presenting flowers to Meghan when she first arrived was a moment she will never forget. “She is my biggest idol,” she said. “She is Black and you don’t normally get that inside the royal family so I hope when I’m older … she’s taught me no matter what color you are, I am able to do anything any other person can. She’s helped me believe in myself.”
As royal patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and Vice President of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, Meghan has been a tireless advocate for education, opportunity, and programs that provide young people with the tools to succeed. The choice of a school to mark International Women’s Day was very fitting.
Meghan went inside the school in Dagenham to visit the Information Centre where she was welcomed by Assistant Head Izzy Eames and her Year 9 students who were working on a project about female poets. The students had researched a variety of female poets, studied unseen poems, and were busy creating their own poems using their research as inspiration. Meghan told one student who had been moved by Maya Angelou, “She’s incredible isn’t she? Have you seen her work before?” before heading off to meet with Assistant Head Emily Valentine and the Year 12 Debate society who were prepping for the Model United Nations. They were discussing equality and women’s health, all issues Meghan loves!
Robert Clack school reported:
Meghan then met Assistant Head Emily Valentine and the Year 12 Debating Society. Robert Clack Debaters have rubbed shoulders with stars and politicians over the years – but never royalty! Miss Valentine shared her experiences of the day:
“When Mr Taylor told me about the Royal Visit from the Duchess of Sussex there was no question about ensuring that our wonderful debaters got an opportunity to show off their skills, especially as the issues that the Duchess holds close to her heart are the same as those involved in the Debate Society. What struck me about the Duchess was that she was incredibly down to earth and keen to hear the views and aspirations of those taking part in the session. She remarked on the fact that they were able to discuss their future careers. One example was embarking on work in Gynaecology in the developing world, and how student Aeesha was able link science and debate effortlessly.
She recognized that our students have the ability to change the world using their voices and encouraged them to continue to have their voices heard. Debater, Aeesah A added, “The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, is an inspirational person not just to young people from ethnic minorities and females, but to the general population. I believe she has this influence because she has already accomplished so many great achievements in her life whilst overcoming many difficulties thrown her way. To have her join our Debate Society has made all of us more proud of being part of the Robert Clack Debate Society. Meeting the Duchess of Sussex has given me personally more confidence and assurance that my ability to speak out can make positive changes and help improve the lives of people for the better. Her joining of our Debate Society has helped solidify the fact that young people can make a change in the world that we live in and that the steps that we are taking to do this are being noticed by many people from all around the world.”
Meghan was also delighted to receive her very own school jacket, she then mentioned Archie saying, “He’s exactly ten months today and he’s started trying to walk”. She also spoke about the importance of motherhood adding Archie “changed my life”.
Meghan made her final stop of the visit at the assembly hall where she was keen to take part in the Year 11 assembly which was themed around International Women’s Day.
Meghan gave a speech saying:
“Your school mantra, as you all know, is ‘Excellence for All, Excellence from All. So, how does that apply in your minds to International Women’s Day? I think in many ways, it’s very much the same thing: this idea of excellence for all and from all, equality for all and from all. In many societies, it doesn’t matter where you are, it’s very easy to sometimes compartmentalize or silo this idea of International Women’s Day solely being about women. But it’s not; it’s about all of us. I encourage and empower each of you to really stand in your truth, to stand for what is right—to continue to respect each other…. Let’s all rally together to make International Women’s Day something that is not just on Sunday, but frankly, feels like every day of the year,”
Meghan then introduced the school’s head boy Aker Okoye to the stage to talk about why he believed men need to help women to achieve equality. Aker gave Meghan a kiss on the cheek, before saying into the microphone, ‘She really is beautiful, innit?’ While the audience erupted with laughter, so did Meghan, before tapping him on the back and wagging her finger.
Watch the sweet moment below
Before departing to cheers and a standing ovation Meghan posed for a photo with all 700 children holding their forearms parallel for the Each for Equal Campaign (#eachforequal) to signify the International Women’s Day symbol for equality.
After the visit, Head Teacher Russell Taylor reflected on the day saying:
“The visit of The Duchess of Sussex was a truly great moment in the history of Robert Clack School. As I listened to the wonderful speeches given by Renee, Rhyanna, and Olivia during the assembly, I found myself feeling overcome with emotion. All I could think was: this is what Robert Clack School is about. This visit wasn’t about one individual; it was about us, all of us, working together as one for the benefit of all. I’m sure you have seen the media coverage of Meghan’s visit and I’m sure, like me, you cannot fail to have noticed the look of shock, exuberance, and unadulterated joy on our pupils’ faces. Meghan told our pupils – girls and boys – that they matter, that they have a voice and that they should use it. What a powerful message!
A video from the visit:
Meghan looked so casual and elegant during the school visit in Dagenham! She wore the Me + Em textured bouclé Belted Fringe Jacket! The brand is London-based.
She styled it with the Jennifer Chamandi Lorenzo 85 two-tone leather pumps.
She carried the Rejina Pyo Nane Ivory Cotton Weave Bag.
Meghan accessorized it with an Edge of Ember Kismet Charm Necklace
And her Jessica McCormack Chi Chi Rose Gold bracelet
We will see the Sussexes again soon! Stay tuned!