This year, Foundation Day and International Women’s Day fell in the same week and we celebrated them in our own ways. A stunning installation provided an opportunity to honour some stellar women on the global stage but, unsurprisingly, most inspiration was to be found closer to home with personal examples from our own lives–women who have shaped our experiences and sense of ourselves in the world.
We recorded our first Illumine podcast of 2021 with Julie McKay, Chair of the Board of Trustees, in which we discussed the importance of women in leadership. Our International Women’s Day Concert was an ambitious example of not just celebrating women’s achievements, but also bringing out of the shadows the extraordinary work of female musicians, commissioning new works and challenging the girls’ perceptions about the great body of music created by women. There certainly are women composers out there and they are amazing–we just don’t see so much of them as we should. Estonian composer, Mari Amor, was commissioned by BGGS and her work ‘Tune Thy Music to Thy Heart’ premiered on the night. It was a tangible contribution by the School to this endeavour of highlighting and supporting women in music and the evening resonated with a special meaning for all of our musicians who performed an entirely female repertoire including, most excitedly, the work of some of our own students.
So against a backdrop of great division on the pages of our news outlets and social media, we had the opportunity to celebrate something good. I have frequently urged our students to read the news, to keep up with global events, but I must say in these current times it is not, necessarily, to be encouraged. As we honoured the foundation of our School—in 1875—it was important to acknowledge that while there is still much more to accomplish, so much has been achieved and despite the concerning things we read about daily, hourly, it is important to remember that the great majority of people in our society are good and decent people. We might sometimes be encouraged to feel that we are living in a dreadful country but we ought, instead, be constantly reminded of the kind, even noble, behaviour of so many around us. To paint such a grim picture of our society can have the perhaps unintended consequence of self-fulfilling prophesy; rather than merely report on the challenges of our society, it often stokes and creates them. While bad behaviour must be addressed, structural disadvantage overturned, we should never lose sight of what a good nation we are a part of and what freedoms we, currently, enjoy.
At our Assembly this week I reminded girls that in our School community, passionate belief should never be nasty, and conviction, however strong and deeply held, should never equate with an arrogant certainty that our views, our own ways are always right. It is important that highly emotive, often instantaneous responses, do not make us deaf to reason. We encourage our students to assert their views, respectfully, always mindful of the right of others to express theirs. While there are so many ‘big’ things we must continue to fight hard for, I hope we do not lose sight of what we might lose in the process, for the ends may not always justify the means, and good intentions can have unintended consequences.
Our students are educated by expert and caring teachers who ensure they gain a substantial body of knowledge in their subject areas, are equipped with the skills to think critically about information presented to them and, with an open mind, will explore contentious issues. Teachers guide, but never, dictate to, the girls as they consider their own responses to the challenges with which our society continues to grapple. They learn through History, and other subjects, to discern the purpose, the agenda of people’s actions and communications. They learn through Visual Art, and other subjects, to appreciate different perspectives and come to understand that issues can mean different things to different people; some respond emotionally, others with reason, but we must respect the great diversity of thought that makes our lives more meaningful and our intellectual life much richer. And of course in other areas, such as Music, girls learn that sometimes things are just inherently beautiful; they are in and of themselves inherently worthwhile.
There are so many moments of joy in my working life at Girls Grammar and coming in to my office one morning last week to find a new stunningly beautiful exhibition of student art had been hung was certainly one of them. Bella, Millie, Rosie and Scarlett explained to me the inspiration for their works, why the original paintings had resonated with them and what conceptions of women and contemporary themes they had brought to light in their own. Each girl had approached the task differently, perhaps with deep feeling or with reasoned logic and careful crafting. Some preferred ‘making, others ‘theorising’, but all agreed that Art has an important place in their education regardless of what they go on to do in their tertiary studies or professional lives. That is the value of a broad, liberal education–it is not vocational, but develops a genuine interest in learning, for its own sake, and encourages the development of both the mind and the heart. Thoughtfully conceived, skilfully created and exquisitely beautiful (the photos on this page do not quite do them justice) I could not help but marvel at the astonishing talent in our midst and be reminded of how much good there is all around us.
Ms Jacinda Euler