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Author: Head Prefect, Charlotte of Year 12
Good Afternoon Dr Scott, Mr Turner the Chair of the Board of Governors, special guests, staff, parents, and most importantly, girls. Today we come together to celebrate the achievements of an incredible school full of talented, intelligent and generous young women.
Today is a day we recognise the potential for so much achievement at such a young age. And the reality is, we are still very much children, if not defined by Australian law, then by the society we live in and by our parents. This school is exceedingly considerate that as young women we should be educated as adults, while having this luxurious net of childhood to fall back on is extremely comforting. For us older girls, there’s a sense of hesitancy regarding this ‘childhood’ coming to an end.
In 2013, Dr Scott launched Renaissance Studies, an additional subject in which girls are taught about the world beyond their own personal spheres in a space of learning that fosters empathy and a curiosity of world events.
I have so much love and admiration for this course. The discussions my year group have had over the past year regarding the intersection of religion and politics and the conflicts this can initiate have been so beneficial to my education, and have largely characterised my motives for career choices once I leave Wenona.
But most importantly, it has put my world into perspective. It has made me reconsider this notion of childhood because for others around the world experiencing conflict and discrimination, the concept of childhood can mean a very different thing.
So what do I consider to have characterised my childhood? My childhood included lunchtime games, arguing with siblings, sport and reading a lot of books. And this is probably very similar for many of you.
Our childhoods included iconic movies such Toy Story and Finding Nemo, and unforgettable books such as Curious George and stories by Dr Seuss.
But one book in particular I believe to be so much more than a children’s book, is A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, which I believe entails a lesson that extends far beyond the Hundred Acre Wood; lessons very relevant to our world today.
It is Winnie the Pooh that reiterates the need to be compassionate and considerate of those that can sometimes seem different and foreign, and seem so far and disconnected from our worlds. Pooh explains how “Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That's the problem.”
It is important that we listen to everyone’s stories, from all around the world, no matter how far away they may seem.
So lets start by considering how our experiences compare to other young girls around the world. The same ages, just living in a different country.
Girls in Year 3, you are around eight years old, living in Sydney. Your childhood is most likely focussed on developing your reading skills, starting to establish new friendships, and playing lunchtime games with your friends.
Nur is an eight-year-old, the same age, but living in Syria. Her childhood is characterised by violence and a constant uncertainty. She doesn’t feel as though she is “young” anymore, and all she wants is for the conflict to stop so she can play with her friends at lunchtime again. The same age, just living in a different country.
Girls in Year 9, you are around 15 years old. Your childhood is probably characterised by developing friendships, learning how to study and take exams, and experimenting with your independence.
For Malala Yousafzai, being 15 entailed fighting for female education in Pakistan, and her protests lead to threats on her life. Three years later, she was same age of the year group that just graduated, yet she stood before the United Nations and told the world of the discrimination and injustice occurring in her country.
For these girls, childhood isn’t a luxurious safety net. It isn’t comforting and it isn’t a chance for them to be supported as they learn and grow and dream about become an astronaut, a fire fighter or a doctor.
For them, it’s a time of extreme vulnerability, a time of terror and unimaginable situations. But from these girls also comes a very pertinent message of the strength and resilience of the younger generation, even though we are still categorised as children.
We need to recognise that we are very fortunate to live in Australia as we have opportunities many don’t. But instead of feeling guilty or ashamed, we need to use the education we have received here at Wenona to take action and stand up for those girls being born into difficult circumstances, whom fall victim to inequalities beyond their control.
As I see you all sit in front of me right now, I see a group of girls whose education has given them a voice. I see the future leaders of our world, who will take action and who will stand up.
But leaders aren’t just politicians and CEOs. Leaders are role models; examples of kindness and empathy, working selflessly - traits I believe may often go amiss in our world.
Ghandi famously stated: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”. So, if we want to see these notions of empathy and kindness translated into our wider world, it starts with the practicing and role modelling of these qualities on a smaller scale, such as within the Wenona community.
Because as Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh says, “a little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all of the difference”. But how can we actually translate this empathy into our own lives? I recently came across a saying from US author Lloyd Shearer, which I believe clearly illustrates this concept of empathy. “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life you will have been all of these.”
This consideration, and this capacity for empathy is incredibly underrated. And we need to role model this within our school. Because how can we expect our world to change, if we aren’t changing ourselves?
It is difficult to shift away from the clichés of school dramas and gossip. It can be so hard to not jump to conclusions and instead enact consideration, kindness and selflessness. But inevitably, we will struggle with these things, and it is during those times I always try to remember the words spoken by Eeyore. “Everyone just wants happiness. No one wants pain. But you can’t have a rainbow without a little rain.”
Although things may not always be perfect, that’s okay. But it is important that from these things we learn to be compassionate, because this compassion will strengthen our relationships throughout out childhoods.
Whether you have known the girls you’re sitting with for one year or 12, these are the girls who you will share your childhood memories with, and the connections you make with these girls will follow and support you far beyond Year 12 graduation.
Pooh says that “A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left,” and your time at school is one of the sweetest times in your life as you are forced to spend every day with your best of friends.
So girls, enjoy it as much as possible. Please make the most of it, because if I have any regrets from over the past few years, it would be that I didn’t smile more, or make sure my friends were really okay or I underestimated the power of a compliment or kind word.
Over the past year, Wenona girls have clearly shown their ability to translate small-scale compassion into support of larger social issues. We have had countless numbers of fundraisers, charity runs and donation drives. And girls are showing that they are role models and they are game changers, and are using their childhood as a platform to make a difference.
Because you’re never too young to have passion, a desire for change and a support network that will get you there.
This year, I have been inspired by a group of three Year 6 girls: India, Sophia and Isabella, who have started up their own charity Dream Out Loud, aimed at raising funds and awareness of RET syndrome. To have so much passion and to recognise a need for change at such a young age is admirable in itself, but their initiative, determination and perseverance are qualities that even older girls and parents can struggle to exemplify. So while we are still young, we have the potential to make such a difference, and Wenona girls, we will not let our ‘childhood’ go to waste.
So if you’ve nodded off, or forgotten to listen, please just take away these three things from my speech today:
Just as generations before us have fought to provide women with the right to vote, and establish organisation such as the United Nations and Amnesty International, our generation will dictate the world we want to live in. As Wenona girls, we won’t be content with a world of empty platitudes and averages, because Wenona girls, you are anything but average.
So as Winnie the Pooh has reminded me, and as I will now remind every single one of you: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think”. And while we are still stuck in childhood, we can’t let our spark of potential wait for us to age, let it ignite now.