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Every week, our students share their ideas, opinions and insight in the Wenona Weekly Student Blog.
As we announced our new School Leaders for 2018/19 at Assembly this week, our current Head Prefect, Nina, spoke to the School about what it takes to be a leader.
“In light of today’s leadership announcements, I would like to share this story with you.
A few years ago, I was in London with my Mum. We’d been visiting family and were returning to the hotel. As I walked over to the lift to go up to our room, I turned round to find Emma Watson standing right next to me.
As a huge Harry Potter fan and just a general lover of all things Emma Watson, this was my dream come true. I introduced myself, confessed my love for Harry Potter and told her how inspired I am by her work with the UN. I was hoping to have a decent conversation with my idol. But after an incredibly brief conversation - which consisted of a few words at most - Emma turned to face the other way and put her headphones back in.
Slowly, realising things were not going to plan, I attempted to extricate myself from what was an awkward situation. My Mum then politely asked if I could perhaps have a photo with her. A question to which Emma Watson replied, “No thanks.”
I found it incredibly disheartening that someone who I had always looked up to, would treat me in this way. The reason we admire people is because we want to be like them, because their actions, choices and decisions are ones we support and perhaps wish to emulate. Given we are celebrating our new leaders today, I wanted to share this story with you and explain why it had such an impact on my 15-year-old self.
A role model holds immense power. When someone is your role model, their actions and their values are incredibly important to you. When my role model treated me in a way that was less than admirable, I was disappointed.
Today, I can be a little bit more rational about it. Emma was probably having a bad day, as we all do, and didn’t want to talk to some random, lanky, awkward 15-year-old. And I also want to reiterate that I still find her work for the HeforShe campaign inspiring.
But any leader - whether you are as famous as Emma Watson or you are a leader here at School - has a responsibility to consistently act in a genuine and kind way. You don’t get to pick and choose when you want to be a leader and who you want to be kind and giving to. You can have a bad day, but you cannot take it out on the people around you. Being a leader is about acting with integrity at all times; it is about genuinely caring for others.
Being a leader is about understanding the impact of your actions.
I want you to think about someone you look up to. Maybe it is someone in an older year, a sibling or an actress. What impact do they have over you? How have they shaped the way you act?
To Year 11 and Year 10, regardless of whether you are elected in a formal position, you all have a choice to act like a leader over the next few years. And to every girl in this room in any year group, you have the choice to act like a leader. Because it isn’t something that just happens when you are given a badge. In reality, it is you who decides whether or not you are going to act like a leader. If you act with integrity, if you are authentic, and if you are kind and giving, you are a leader. And you will continue to be a leader, regardless of whether you have a badge.
I can think of so many girls who have the influence and the impact of a leader. Only some of them have badges.
Annie is a leader because of her passion and her hard-working nature. Katerina is a leader because she brings positivity to any situation, and positively influences those around her. Sophia is a leader because of her strength, her ability to share with others and her humour. Julia is a leader because all she ever does is try to make the people around her smile.
While these girls all have different qualities, they all share something in common: they choose to act in a way that changes the days and lives of people around them for the better. They choose to be leaders.
So, in light of Harry Potter, I want you to consider the words of Dumbledore, “It is our choices that show who we are, far more than our abilities.”
I want to leave you today with a challenge. Today’s leadership announcements will only define who you are and how you act if you let it. Regardless of the results, be true, be genuine and be kind to everyone. Uphold the values you hold dear and use them to bring positive change to the lives of those around you. Be resilient, act with grace and give your time to others. Take the initiative to be a leader!
Ahead of Refugee Week 2018, Rose (Year 12) addressed Assembly and encouraged everyone to celebrate the valued contributions refugees make to our society.
“According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of a refugee is: a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
Over the past few years, Australia has engaged in the processing of asylum seekers in offshore detention centres in an attempt to stop refugees arriving in Australia by boat. This decision stemmed from a perceived ‘loophole’ in our Human Rights legislation – if refugees do not enter Australian waters or arrive on land, they are not ‘our problem’.
This method of detaining refugees in offshore detention was meant to be a deterrent to asylum seekers using unsafe boats as a means of transportation here – which is considered illegal by our government as they do not have Australian visas.
However, what our government has done, and continues to do is illegal.
It is in direct violation of Article 9, 13 and 14 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document which our government has signed and ratified into law in this country. Article 13 stipulates that no individual may be unfairly held in detention with Article 14 outlining that everyone has the right to seek AND ENJOY in other countries asylum from persecution.
We have been called out by the UN and other countries due to our conduct in the treatment of refugees and this era of wilful ignorance must come to an end.
The gross abuse of Human Rights which occurs in these centres gains publicity for a short period of time, and henceforth appears to dissipate from public discussion.
We must take action or we are just as culpable as those who put these innocent people behind bars.
This year’s theme for Refugee Week is #WithRefugees. Its purpose is to highlight the success of refugees in our country and foster support for those who remain unable to enter Australia.
Consider this. Since beginning this speech, 40 people have been forcibly displaced from their homes.
Do we want history to remember us as people, women of agency and privilege who stood by and said nothing, who did nothing about the illegal prosecution of those fleeing their war-torn countries in search of a better life?
Or do we want to be remembered, both by ourselves and under the harsh light of history, that we, as articulate, privileged women stood #WithRefugees in opposition to this policy of human rights abuse?
I urge you to consider and discuss with those around you the ramifications of silence in this matter and to contemplate what we can do to change it.
Rose (Year 12)
Last week, Wenona marked National Reconciliation Week with some inspirational speeches at Assembly. Here is an excerpt from Brooklyn’s speech (Year 12) about Reconciliation.
“I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land both past and present, the Cammeraygal people of the Eora nation. That may mean nothing to you right now, but to an Indigenous person that’s everything, getting recognition for something that belongs to you.
Now for those of you who may not know me, my name is Brooklyn. I’m a Year 12 student and I’ve been attending Wenona since Year 8. I’m meant to talk about Reconciliation so I researched the word. It came up with “restore friendly relations between” and I thought, that’s not really true. Not everyone is friendly, have you seen me on a Monday morning? I’m basically a black version of the Grinch! Not even kidding though.
Instead of telling you the urban dictionaries’ idea of Reconciliation I thought I should give you an example of someone who shows the true meaning of Reconciliation. Reconciliation is about integration, it’s about coming together, not judging a person by their race. I believe the person who best represents this is my dad. I’ve always had quite a strong connection with my dad because he is such an inspiration to me. I look up to him. In my eyes no one can even compare to how caring and compassionate he is. Growing up was extremely hard for him. A lot of people in his life put him down because of his colour. No, it’s not because he’s black, it was actually because he wasn’t black enough. When dad was growing up he used to ask why he was lighter than everyone else. My nana told him it’s because he was born in the sun. My dad is truly amazing, he’s made connections all over the world. Firstly, he married my beautiful step mum. Guess what! She’s Dutch, Spanish and English and was born in Australia; she’s the whitest race to come into my life. She’s the first white person to become part of our family and honestly, I love her just as much as I love my black mum. My dad branched out and became a part of the Native American community. He contributed in their traditional dances and was welcomed into their tribes. He doesn’t just accept other races, he’s also adamant about helping our home community to get our lands back. And the movie he made was showcasing our culture, airing it to the world. He released it at the Sundance Film Festival, the Byron, Melbourne and Sydney film festivals, winning numerous awards. I think having a harder life growing up was what made him the man he is today and I admire that. He’s so humble with everything he’s done. He’s delivered a TedX talk. He’s made his own movie. He’s been an actor. He’s done so much with his life because he doesn’t let his skin colour bring him down. He’s owned it. He wears his colours with pride.
Reconciliation is about accepting people, no matter what their colour or religion and recognising who they are as a people.”
Brooklyn (Year 12)
During the holidays, Alisha and I were fortunate enough to participate in the Cochlear Autumn School of Engineering. We are both interested in studying engineering in the future, and this week gave us a chance to learn about the different disciplines of engineering and what is involved in the everyday life of an engineer.
On the first day, we visited the University of Sydney and Macquarie University. At both schools we were able to learn about the different types of engineering they offer, tour the facilities and complete a couple of engineering challenges, which included making and launching bottle rockets!
On the Tuesday, we visited UNSW where we spent the morning making solar cars that we then raced, despite the unfortunate lack of sun. Wednesday started with a Q & A session with engineers from a range of companies. We were given time to ask them questions and learn about what to expect going into the profession, especially what is like to be a woman in the field. Later that day, we visited the Royal Australian Airforce Base to learn more about the role of an aeronautical engineer there. We also had the opportunity to have an inside look into some of their incredible planes.
The next day, we visited ResMed, a company that makes products to assist people with breathing difficulties. This was a unique experience as we were able to enter the manufacturing area and see the processes and machines used to build the products. We later visited UTS, exploring the campus and completing some very cool challenges. Our team even broke the UTS record for the ‘floating house’ challenge in which we had to support as many marbles as possible on a contraption that we built from limited materials.
On the last day, we visited Cochlear, a company that makes devices for people with hearing impairments. It was amazing to see the life-changing work they are doing and we even heard from someone whose life has been made much easier due to the implants they produce.
The week was an incredible opportunity and we were very lucky to experience it. It has helped us gain a better idea of what sort of engineering we want to do and how we can change the world in the future. So watch this space!
Rebecca and Alisha (Year 12)
They say that we're not in the scientific zone
There is the issue of a single chromosome
They say that there’s a difference
And there’s a silent inference
That we can’t do it.
Stephanie Kwolek made us bulletproof
Mary Anderson keeps our windshields smooth
Amelia Earhart literally took flight
Mary Shelley got sci-fi right
Then there’s Agnodike
She existed probably
First female midwife
Threatened with loss of life
When the men tried to get her throat slit-ed
The women got together and got her acquitted
Now people like Rosemary Jones find genders that fit-em
And go on to be gynaecologists!
She can do a thing called ‘Laparoscopic hysterectomy’
And some people say girls can’t do chemistry!
Clementine Rappaport whose name makes me feel incompetent
Founded and runs a child-psychiatry department
Elin Rova is a trauma nurse
Marie Curie, of the women, won the Nobel prize first
And then again
For an advancement in a different field
Guys, female STEM power hasn’t been ‘revealed’
It’s not a thing that’s just been unsealed
Cool? We’ve always been.
It’s only now that people are listenin’
Doctor Judith Dey won prizes for chemistry at school
She went on to work with disabilities developmental
And maybe you think that isn’t a place where you could be at But ladies, you’re sitting where she once sat
You might meet someone who’s stupid and feeble
Not able to see that people are people
But that’s okay
You don't need them
You just need you and the people who can
Yes, there’s women who’ve been pushed and they fell
And that sucks and that’s bad and it’s a modern-day hell
But they stand up just like us for the truth I’m trying to tell
For a fact it’s hard to get it taken well
Men and women in all ways including STEM are equal
And those who say stuff otherwise are being quite deceitful
If I have to, just for them, I will write a sequel
This is really for you
Stand up for what’s right
And stand up for what’s true
Don’t let anyone lord it over you
That they ‘know’ there’s something that you can’t do
Because women weren’t allowed to Antarctica
On the basis of their gender
And 30 years later
We’ve got ourselves there
Let me get it across: nice and peaceful
Even in science, women are people!
Sophie (Year 12)
Without a doubt, Wenona has been a place that I have loved to be, growing up. I’ve always thrown myself into school life, whether that be on the sporting field, battling my way through choir or attempting to build a car at Restoration Club.
Thinking about being out in the world next year is nerve racking. I won’t have Ms Lovell to help me with essays or Ms Jalili to keep me on track. Like the rest of Year 12, I’ll have to fend for myself, but I know that my year group and the year groups following us, will thrive because Wenona has provided us with the best possible opportunities to succeed.
Before my legendary hockey team takes to the field each week, we try to focus on three key things. So I’d like to propose three key things that every student here - whether you are just starting your journey at Wenona or you are in Year 12 like me – can focus on in order to tackle life with confidence.
The ability to bounce back from a moment of weakness or disappointment is an essential life skill. We’ve all received bad marks. We’ve all come second in a race or missed out on team selection. But never stop trying! The capacity to brush yourself off, after taking a moment, and move forward will help you become a stronger person. Never let failure stop you from diving in and doing what you love.
2. Learning from others
No matter what you do or what your passion is, there will always be people better than you. Don’t let this limit you. Instead, see it as an opportunity to learn from them. Wenona has allowed me to explore my passion for sport, both in the classroom and on the playing field. While studying PDHPE in Middle School, I looked at successful professional Australian women’s sports teams. Although the majority of these athletes do not earn enough to be full-time professionals, statistically they are smashing the men out of the park because they are playing for the sheer love of sport. No arrogance, no greed, just fair play. Their hard work and determination is inspirational. Our learning isn’t restricted to a textbook. We can learn a lot from observing and reflecting on those around us.
Nothing is ever gained by being arrogant. Always be kind to yourself and to those around you. Whether that be helping a friend who has missed a day of school, or helping a competitor who has fallen on the sports field. At a time when bad sportsmanship is making headlines, it is important to let kindness and respect for others define you.
For me, my dad is a prime example of kindness. Last year, my uncle had to sell the family farm. On the very last day, my dad collected small jars of soil, which he gave to each family member so that the farm will always be with us. This is an example (and typical of my dad) of how a small gesture made other people smile at a time of great sadness. Kindness doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; it should be a part of everyday life.
So in conclusion, embrace resilience, learn from others and actively display kindness at Wenona. Take every opportunity here and don’t waste a moment! One day you will be standing where Year 12 is now, ready to move forward and thankful for everything you’ve learnt!
Grace (Year 12)
As young people, we need to be aware of what is happening in our world, so that we can understand life from different viewpoints. In recent weeks, we have seen the horrors of the Florida school shooting, the unveiling of unfair play in the Trump election campaign through social media, and over the past few days, we’ve heard about the Cricket Australia cheating scandal in South Africa. Learning about the world around us, and what is happening in it, means we are better prepared to face any situation.
As I am sure you are aware, this coming weekend is Easter. People celebrate Easter in many different ways, and it is interesting to hear from our fellow students about their respective cultures, beliefs and traditions. Some of us might just enjoy the chocolate eggs, while for others Easter has more meaning. Regardless of how you choose to celebrate, it is important that we listen and learn from the people around us in order to gain insight into their lives.
So, what can we learn from recent events? Who do we turn to when people we would normally look up to as role models - like those in the leadership team of Australian Cricket - fail to act in an admirable way?
At Easter, a time of rebirth and hope, we must look to ourselves as the next generation. In times of difficulty, we can still make choices. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we react and we can make informed decisions about what is right as we work towards bringing about positive change.
Over the weekend, 9-year-old Yolanda King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King, spoke to the tens of thousands of protestors demanding gun control at the March for Our Lives protest in Washington. She lead the crowd in a massive chant, cheering, “Spread the word, have you heard? We are going to be a great generation.”
While our circumstances might be different from the students involved in the Florida school shooting, we are the same age as them. These students faced an experience that we cannot comprehend, and in response, they stood up and demanded change. Suffering the loss of friends, this group of students refused to take the easy option and throw in the towel. Instead, they have tried to do what they think is right, as informed, educated and powerful young adults ready to bring about change. They are excellent role models of our generation.
It’s called ‘the easy option’ for a reason, because it doesn’t challenge us. Choosing to do what is right and what is fair is important. It can be difficult to navigate the best course of action, but if we don’t inform ourselves about important aspects of people’s lives, about their cultures and traditions, we will struggle to make the right choice. It’s hard to choose how to respond when the people who should be our role models are not doing the right thing. But as the next generation, we must be our own role models.
The players involved in the Cricket Australia scandal chose the easy option, cheating rather than playing fair. In contrast, I watched Ella (Year 11) display great sportsmanship last week during a tennis match. When the umpire called her shot in, Ella told him that it was out, and that the point should go to her opponent even though the score was against her. It made me so proud to see Ella selflessly choosing the harder option in order to play fair.
At School, we must always strive to do what is right and what is fair, even if it means taking the harder option. This could mean working harder in class or bouncing back from failure when things don’t go our way. It could mean taking a stand for something we believe in, but whatever it is, we always have a choice: to give in, or to hold our head up high for what is right!
We should use Easter as a time of reflection, thinking carefully about any choices we need to make. We should also take the time to learn about other people’s traditions and cultures, in order to appreciate different perspectives.
We might be young, but we have a voice. How we choose to act and what we choose to do has an influence on others. We can challenge politicians. We can choose to play fair in sport. We can choose to treat the people around us well, and to be kind and considerate of their cultures and traditions. Sometimes this might mean taking the difficult option, but our role models should be those who play fair, such as the students campaigning for stricter gun laws in the US, and students here at Wenona like Ella.
We can be the role models of our generation!
Today is Harmony Day, a day when we celebrate peace and unity within our community. Today is a day when we reflect on the impact we have made within the Wenona community, our own local communities and the global communities we are all a part of.
Reflecting upon Wenona, this is what I found: an amazing place of diversity, difference, and acceptance. But I also found, as at any school, limits to this openness. We live in a community in which we can put up barriers and become distant from each other by what we say and what we do. The fault does not lie with any particular individual or group - that is not what is important. It is important that we endeavour to break the barriers to achieve respect and a better understanding of our common humanity.
For many, such as refugees or those trapped in the middle of a war zone, their normal lives are being displaced, without friends or family or a wider community to belong to. In a world as big as ours many of us often feel that we cannot make a difference. But I have learnt over my time at Wenona that the only way you will know is if you try.
Now, I know two things for certain.
Firstly, that kindness leads to a greater sense of belonging.
Secondly, that sometimes every once in a while, kindness can be a chain reaction.
So today I am not asking you to change the world or end a war. I will ask you to step outside your comfort zone, step outside of your way to be kind to someone and maybe you will be the start of a chain reaction which will change the world.
Smile when you cross the bridge, smile at those coming your way, or look someone new in the eyes and say hello. Whatever it is, whether it be big or small I implore you to do something to brighten someone else’s day.
I ask you, in the spirit of Harmony Day to “be kind and have courage”, and maybe we will be able to create a wider community of caring and compassionate individuals, where everyone feels as though they belong.
Start a chain reaction of kindness today, and we will create a community that is taking great strides to become indiscriminate of difference.
Paige (Year 11)
As we grow up we are all exposed to numerous influences that greatly impact on how we think and subsequently, how we act.
Whether it’s social pressures, celebrity icons, or even our parents and friends, these influences can make us second guess how we intrinsically want to act, and make us question who we are and who we want to be. But there comes a time when you have to let go of the constant desire to please those you idolise and want to be like, and instead accept who you are as an individual.
For me, this came when I started at Wenona. Starting at a new school in Year 5 was different from starting in Kindergarten, when you are less afraid about judgement and not fitting in…because if you wanted to wear a tutu and fairy crown everywhere you went, like I did, you just did it! For the first time, I was struck with the fear that people might not like me, or the possibility that I might not be able to make any friends. This again came in Year 7 when our grade grew, and as familiar faces became less and less, I had to gain the courage to put myself out there to get to know people, and to let them get to know me.
But I found this really quite hard, as I’m sure a lot of you would have, because putting yourself out there to possibly be judged and disliked at any age is a scary concept. So I instead tried to conform. I looked at how everyone acted around me: what movies they liked, what interests they had, and even how they looked, and I tried to pretend to be an exact copy of them. I would second guess what I said in conversations, in case I said something that was ‘wrong’ or something that they might disagree with. And though this was all well and good in the short term, it was exhausting trying to pretend to be someone I actually wasn’t.
So, my Year-7-self turned to the advice of my mum, who told me something that I still find important today. She said to picture yourself when you’re leaving Wenona and “all grown up”, and to go back to School trying to be that person. Well, I wanted to be a kind person with a group of friends I could always go to and be there for, be a bit taller and cool enough to wear the vest, and above all, really like who I was.
So I decided to go back to School and each day try to become the person I wanted to be. I had to make a conscious effort not to by-pass what I actually thought or what I really wanted to say, and instead just say it. And although it was scary to begin with, the more I did it, the easier it became. I just had to teach myself how to be me all the time and be happy with that, despite what other people thought.
Once I started to let go of being afraid, of being disliked or judged, and was able to be unapologetically myself the best things happened in return. I started to make real friendships with people I had things in common with. And I started to join groups and pick up activities that I otherwise wouldn’t have tried because I lacked the confidence, which ultimately has made my time at Wenona so much better.
You have the possibility to decide who you want to be, because despite what we may think, and what I thought, we are not defined by what we do or say in Year 7 or 10 or even Year 12. If you want a fresh start, then that is completely up to you, and we shouldn’t as a community, reserve judgement about people without allowing them to grow and change.
We have to accept everyone’s individuality, but more importantly, we have to accept our own and let go of the fear of judgement. Because everyone at Wenona has something unique and special that they can offer to our School community and the world when they leave it, but it can so easily get lost under the pressure to conform to be something we’re not. In order to truly be happy with who you are - and become someone you really like and the people around you really like - we have to be willing to be different and accept each other’s differences. That way we can dive into everyone’s individuality.
To end with a quote, because it wouldn’t be a speech without one, as Piglet says, “If you weren’t you, then we’d all be a bit less we.”
Prefect and Music Captain (Choral)
Happy International Women’s Day everyone! I don’t know if it is just me, but International Women’s Day is one of my favourite days of the year.
It is a day when we celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women in both the past and the present. It is a day when we thank women all around the world as they continually fight for our rights. It is a day when we take a moment to acknowledge women who have endured through times that we can’t even imagine, so that we are able to sit here and gain an education. And it is a day when we call for change as we recognise that the fight for equality is not over, and that we must stand together in unity against those who try to push us down.
International Women’s Day first started in 1910, at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. Clara Zetkin, a leader from Germany, proposed the idea and received unanimous agreement from over 100 women, representing 17 countries around the world. The first International Women’s Day was held the following year in a few European countries. It attracted thousands of women to hold meetings and protests for equality, which sparked much public debate. To put the significance of the day into context, at this time women did not have the right to vote. In the USA, women over 21 did not get the vote until 1928, a full 15 years after the first International Women’s Day took place. These women were protesting for rights that we in the present day merely take for granted. Since 2013, International Women’s Day has been held on the 8 March, and has become a global day to celebrate how far we have come in gender equality.
The theme of International Women’s Day 2018 is Press for Progress, based around the fact that, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, gender parity is more than 200 years away! We still have a long way to go. Australia’s current national pay gap is 15.3% and was ranked 46th on the Global Gender Gap Index in 2016. The highest ranked countries, such as Iceland, are taking active steps towards eradicating the gender pay gap, making the pay gap illegal in the hope of eradicating it by 2020. Furthermore, as of 2013, 34 million adolescent girls worldwide are not attending school. Put simply, 34 million girls do not have the chance to get an education and learn vital skills. These are just a few reasons why the Press for Progress campaign is so incredibly important.
With recent movements such as Me Too and Time’s Up, there is a strong call-to-action to press forward and make progress towards gender parity. This is a call to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive. International Women’s Day is important because it is not country, group or organisation specific. Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist once said, "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist, nor to any one organisation, but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights." This day belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. And together we must commit to a gender parity mindset.
So I invite you all to come and celebrate the power of women and the importance of gender parity. We will be selling white and black ribbons at the gates in the morning in recognition of the fight against domestic violence and to support the Time’s Up movement. Our Gender Equity Group will be having a bake sale at recess and a barbeque at lunch in the Undercroft. The Environment Group will be collecting cans for recycling on the day so please remember not to throw them in the bin. At lunchtime, we will also be holding Wenona’s very first Gender Equity concert – Let’s Hear it for the Girls. All the proceeds from the day will be going to the White Ribbon Foundation. So, please come along to eat, listen and celebrate with all your Wenona sisters!
Rebecca (Year 12)
Community and Service Learning Prefect
“Unapologetically yourself” feels like an oxymoron,
It feels mutually exclusive,
You cannot be one and the other.
It feels like it’s supposed to cover,
For the versions of yourself you present to different people.
It feels dishonest, and overly emotional and paradoxical,
It feels like a boastful, bright banner outside an empty theatre.
The broken record at the back of your head clinically outlining everything that was wrong with the performance,
“Unapologetically yourself” feels like a lie.
But on the days when you choose not to care,
Whether it’s that you would rather write poetry than go to a party,
Or that you think dance is the best language,
Or that you actually enjoy studying,
Or that you were born without a soft volume,
Or that you are motivated to get up at 4am and train,
Or that you have perfect pitch,
Or that you listen to crime podcasts in your spare time,
Or that you know every word to Summer Heights High,
Or that you are actually passionate about something,
On these days, you wear yourself like a badge of honour.
It doesn’t feel like a question, it feels like an answer.
“Unapologetically yourself” is not constant.
Everyone wants to be validated.
Everyone wants to be told,
That every part of them is beautiful,
That every part of them is real,
That every part of them is enough.
“Unapologetically yourself” is not easy.
It would be easier to choose to believe them,
When they choose not to believe you.
“Unapologetically yourself” does not mean perfect.
“Unapologetically yourself” is a weapon,
A war cry,
A refusal to back down,
A promise to turn up the volume,
A hand on the drum,
A fist in the air,
A seat at the table,
A prayer to yourself.
You are valid,
You are real,
You are enough.
It is permission for you to let go.
Vice Head Prefect
Although it embarrasses me to say this, my mother has repeatedly referred to my high school period as a cocoon, where at the end I will transform into a majestic butterfly. Funnily enough, she used the same metaphor when giving me ‘the talk’ on puberty. But I believe she had a point this time round. As we develop our own metaphorical ‘wings’, it begs the question; where do we fly?
Now obviously the answer I’ve most commonly heard is that we should all aspire to be strong women of proper character. But as I consult various people with different viewpoints I have really struggled to grasp this concept. What makes a strong woman? Is it independence? Stubbornness? Authority? Virtue? Gargantuan biceps that put ‘The Rock’ to shame? Unchallenged dominance in the world open-mic slam poetry championships?
All of these are partly correct; yes, even the last one. Strength, in my humble opinion at least, is attained by avoiding both extremes: excessive pride and a low sense of self-worth.
On one end of the spectrum of vanity we have inflated self-worth; narcissists with excessive pride. To find a middle ground, we need to be realistic about our abilities, and that will maximise the amount of good we can do. People who overestimate their abilities, can often end up burning out, or feeling humiliated when being told by an important person that they are not good enough.
As Aristotle once said: “At the intersection where your gifts and abilities meet a human need, there in, you will discover your purpose.”
Your hubris or ego can make your ambitions misguided or misdirected. This doesn’t make a person any less valuable, everyone has strengths and weaknesses, however, we need to have strength of willpower and humility, and we need to be able to steer clear of this extremity and find a middle ground on this spectrum of vanity.
On the other end of the spectrum of vanity, is low self-worth. As I said before, humility gives you a clear sense of perspective. The issue lies in our coping mechanisms used to deal with events and issues that we face. We must learn to be more resilient through our own self-discipline than through seeking external gratification.
For example, social media obliges us to post the best parts of our lives to create implied superiority over others in their lifestyle, which makes others feel inadequate, or convinces them that they weren’t meant to enjoy life as much as possible. However, this low sense of self-worth occurs on both sides of the photo. People posting can often be victims of their own self-esteem as well. With an urge to find constant affirmation that their life is good enough, all measured by numbers. Their value is determined by others online and is completely out of their control.
In the middle ground, we need to find our virtue of strength as modern women. This strength to accurately recognise how much you can do, and have the conviction to do good with your abilities. Find the intersection between your ambitions and your abilities. Balance of your pride and self-worth.
Accepting who you are, whilst constantly trying to better yourselves. Recognising your mistakes but see them as complications that alter your plans rather than inherent faults with who you are. Don’t shy away from your mistakes, grasp them as a learning experience without letting them define you.
Reflect on yourself with honesty, dignity and don’t let your path in life be dictated by your emotions.
Don’t view your journey as a thousand thorns, but as a rose. It’s impossible to pluck every thorn out; to remove every risk of failure in your lives. And even if you try to, you’ll end up becoming like that weird uncle you see every Christmas who wears a foil hat and cuts his meat into cubes for fear of a stray bone impaling him.
So, to answer my question, where do we fly? Being too proud can create hubris and entitlement, all the while losing perspective and lacking humility, which inevitably breeds disappointment. Like Icarus, you’ll fly too close to the sun. Being too self-conscious however, can create internal discouragements, preventing us from doing anything at all, stopping us making that inevitable first mistake that we all must learn from. It stops you from flying at all.
So in short, swallow your pride whilst maintaining a level of dignity. Building strong women is not about changing self-esteem, it’s about giving women direction, perspective and grit, whilst having the humility to remember where they came from. Most importantly, it’s about walking that tightrope for as long as we can, because our passions, our character and our futures depends on it, from the moment we exit our cocoon.
To all the new girls in Year 7 or in any other Year, I would like to say a very, very warm welcome to each of you. It is so very exciting starting at a new school especially one like Wenona, and to any of you who are feeling a little bit nervous or uncertain, just remember that the girls that are sitting next to you are probably feeling the same way. Every girl here today has started fresh at a new school at some point in their life, and so just remember, that we will not hesitate to help, if you are lost and need to know how to find a classroom or bathroom, or if you are just feeling a bit overwhelmed, so please do not hesitate to ask if you need anything.
Today I wanted to start by asking you this question: Is it more important to know exactly who you are all the time, or is it more important to believe in what you can be?
Sometimes it can feel as if you are treading on water, so to speak. We don’t quite feel like we have control of what is happening, and we don’t really know where we are going. It’s as if everything was completely fine, and then one day, something changes in your world, big, or small, and everything again becomes uncertain. It’s not like you are completely lost, but it also is as if the direction you felt you once had isn’t quite there anymore.
You can feel as if you know who you are, but this doesn’t mean you will always believe in yourself, and back your actions. You can know yourself, but you can also doubt yourself. You can know what you enjoy, but this doesn’t mean you will always participate in those things.
Inevitably, we do not always have control of what happens to us. Sometimes, in times of adversity, when things just aren’t going our way, when we aren’t sure of where we are going, we have to decide how we will react in the face of circumstances that are out of our control.
But regardless of what happens that is out of your control, there are always things that will remain within your ability to change, that you have the power and the agency to control. The first of these is the way you treat those around you, your reaction to the situations that you face. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own worlds, that we can forget that the people around us may also be suffering. We have the power, over our small actions, and do have the power to make someone’s day a little bit brighter, whether by smiling at them on the bridge or giving someone a compliment when you think that things might not be going their way.
A second thing that remains paramount is your belief in yourself. This to me has always been one of those things that I’ve heard, but not really understood the significance of until only recently. If we could all remind ourselves of our own value, of the things that we have achieved, and of the things that make each of us unique, can boost our belief in our own actions. If each of you were to back yourselves and your actions, you leave yourself so much more room to enjoy everything you do.
No matter what happens this year, we must try, even when it’s difficult, to accept that we can only control so much of what happens to us. But girls, just remember that you have the power to persist, to be resilient, and to change the things that you can. You have the power to change someone’s day or even their world for the better.
American Civil Rights Activist Maya Angelou once said, ‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.’
How will you each thrive, and how will you dive in and believe in yourselves this year?
If you feel like you are treading on water, just know that you have the ability to remind yourself of your own values and abilities. Thriving means doing the things you love and the things that make you happy, and it means giving those around you the support to do the same. You have the ability to persist, or to at least learn to do so. And once you learn resilience, the year in front of you will not fly by as an insignificant, but as one in which you learnt to believe in yourself. Don’t think that sitting back and doing nothing will enable you to achieve, but take the action to change the things that you would like to change.
Make the most of everything, and be proud of each other, take care of each other, and support each other. And make sure you learn to be proud of yourselves, and believe that you can do what you set your mind do. Have a fantastic 2018!