Illumine Podcast: How Traditions Shape a School

This article is part of the School’s podcast series. Read other articles from BGGS staff and listen to their discussions on Illumine—a BGGS podcast.

Mrs Pauline Harvey-Short OAM

Manager, School History and Culture

It doesn’t take long for a new Girls Grammar family to realise that our School is steeped in tradition. From the moment their daughter is accepted into their House before they enter Year 7, they begin to learn about the people, occasions and folklore that will become important to them as they become part of the School community. So why do we continue these traditions? How do traditions shape a School and its community?

By defining traditions, and subsequently, accepting they underpin culture, we can more fully understand their impact.

According to Simon Bronner, ‘tradition is a living and ubiquitous, if often neglected or suppressed, process in modern people’s lives.’ At BGGS, traditions are alive and well. In a secular school, they are even more crucial to the development of a school’s characteristics, values and personality. Traditions can be described as beliefs and behaviours that are passed down through generations. Culture can be described as the shared characteristics of a collective, in this case, a school.

Traditions are central to our success as they are expressions—things, events, activities, beliefs—passed on from generation to generation. They form our culture and demonstrate who we are. So our values—an appreciation of excellence, our belief that nothing comes without hard work, commitment to service, caring for others, the sisterhood, a sense of the ridiculous, celebrating those who achieve in all aspects of the school community’s life—are expressed tangibly by practising our traditions.

A standing joke amongst BGGS staff is that if an activity is held once, the girls regard it as a ‘tradition’. It does not take much to create a tradition. However, I think we understand that it is much more complex. Traditions evolve when there is a ‘fit’: where an event or behaviour reflects our values; longevity of a tradition or event such as Speech Day; and the celebration of significant aspects/members of our community are some of the criteria that create a tradition.

Frank Sonnenberg, American award-winning author and blogger, lists seven reasons why traditions are important and thus shape our institutional lives and the institution itself.

  • Tradition contributes a sense of comfort and belonging. It brings families together and enables people to reconnect with friends
  • Tradition reinforces values such as freedom, faith, integrity, a good education, personal responsibility, a strong work ethic, and the value of being selfless
  • Tradition provides a forum to showcase role models and celebrate the things that really matter in life
  • Tradition offers a chance to say ‘thank you’ for the contribution that someone has made
  • Tradition enables us to showcase the principles of our Founding Fathers, celebrate diversity, and unite as a country
  • Tradition serves as an avenue for creating lasting memories for our families and friends
  • Tradition offers an excellent context for meaningful pause and reflection

These seven reasons translate well into the Girls Grammar context with very tangible examples.

There are many traditions, some longstanding and some more recent. One of the School’s longest traditions has been its commitment to Service. The concept of giving and service has been an integral part of the Grammar ethos since its establishment. It has been clearly documented in the work of both the Old Girls Association and current students and demonstrated daily by the Trustees of the School. Some of the earliest references to Service include the Soldiers Fund in WW1, with the funds raised from the 1917 inaugural intra-school Athletics carnival donated to this important charity. Gifting and giving of time and talent, articles and donations continues to this day and has been a constant in every generation of Grammar Women. This tradition enables our community to reflect on what is important, to embrace and reinforce our values of selflessness, integrity and sharing, and to acknowledge diversity and responsibility.

The traditions captured in events such as Speech Day clearly reinforce our cultural beliefs of hard work, celebrating role models in all spheres of the school community, excellence and high achievement, and aspiration.

A more recent tradition has been the Year 12 final week and the traditions and celebrations encapsulated in these intense five days. External examinations have shifted the focus somewhat. However, the Valedictory Dinner, final assembly, the Year 12 party at Rangakarra, Speech Day, and the exit by the Year 12 students up Gehrmann Lane are powerful traditions that emphasise the School’s values, bond graduating students and create lasting memories for the years to come.

These traditions shape the School, whether it is Blue Day, the presentation of the Lady Lilley Gold Medal, the Gala, Second Chance or the Kirsten Jack Memorial Leukaemia Committee. Each event, artefact or committee reinforces in each student’s and staff member’s mind the values the School embraces and it is through these values the School moulds its character and worth.




BGGS School 1917 Magazine

Bronner, Simon, J Explaining Traditions: Folk Behaviour in Modern Culture The University Press of Kentucky, 2011, Kentucky

Peng, Kaiping, Ames, Daniel R., Knowles, Eric D.  ‘Culture and Human Inference: Perspectives from Three Traditions.’ University of California, Berkeley. To appear in David Matsumoto (Ed). Handbook of Cross-cultural Psychology. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Sonnenberg, F. (2014). Follow Your Conscience: Make a Difference in Your Life & in the Lives of Others. Accessed via: Downloaded 8.10.21