Foundation Day Address—Josephine Auer (2015)

At the School’s annual Foundation Day Assembly earlier this week, Josephine Auer (2015), Queensland’s 2023 Rhodes Scholar, gave a Foundation Day Address in which she spoke of the ‘Grammar magic’ that inspired her to use her talents to the full in her life beyond School. Enjoy her speech below.

Good morning Principal, Ms Euler; Mr Sullivan MP, Member for Stafford; Members of the Old Girls Association; staff, and students.

Thank you for inviting me here today to celebrate Foundation Day with you all. I would like to first acknowledge the Turrbal and Jagera peoples as the Traditional Owners of the land that we are meeting on today. I pay my respects to them, and to their Elders, past, present, and emerging.

It’s an honour to be here today, back at Girls Grammar, a place I will always consider somewhat of a second home. I can’t quite believe it’s been almost eight years since I was last standing at this lectern giving a speech at a School Assembly. While the faces before me look different to the ones all those years ago, the buzz and excitement I felt among you as I walked down to Assembly this morning is just the same. The same Grammar magic that, since leaving School, has afforded me so many wonderful opportunities and experiences.

This week, as we celebrate the School’s foundation, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this Grammar magic, and the path it has led me on since graduating from Grammar in 2015. As Mrs Ingram kindly mentioned when introducing me, I was elected as the 2023 Queensland Rhodes Scholar last October. This scholarship—which is awarded to nine Australians each year—offers me the opportunity to attend the University of Oxford in the UK later this year, where I plan to undertake a Master of Philosophy in Economics. Given that I have already spent the past seven years at university, I can imagine that for some people, the prospect of five to six more years at school doesn’t sound all that fun. But for those teachers who taught me here at School, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that this is, quite literally, a dream come true.

In fact, let me take you back to 2011, my first week at Girls Grammar. It was a very exciting week—lots of new friends and faces, fancy new classes like Latin and German, and a million sports I could pick and choose from. And I am in the best house—Beanland! During this first week, we are escorted into Main Building for a welcome from the Principal and our House Coordinator. Lining the walls of the room are many wooden boards, each listing the names of past Grammar girls who had received various honours during their time at the School. I’ll never forget that day, scanning the board that listed Duxes of the School. There was one name that instantly caught my eye—that of Caitlin Goss, a 2001 Grammar girl who, in 2009, went on to receive a Rhodes Scholarship.

Caitlin’s story was one I was aware of coming to Girls Grammar. But sitting in the Main Building that day as a brand-new Girls Grammar student, my eyes were opened to the opportunities ahead. It made me appreciate how lucky I was to be at a school like Girls Grammar, with such a rich history of producing not only well-educated, but exceptionally well-rounded young women. Indeed, the criteria used by the Rhodes Scholarship selection committee—academic excellence, extra-curricular accomplishments, character, leadership, and commitment to service—are the very same principles that underpin Girls Grammar’s educational mission.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Caitlin was not the first Girls Grammar Girl to receive a Rhodes Scholarship. Elsina Wainwright from the 1988 class and Beth Woods from the 1972 class had also each received a Rhodes Scholarship. In fact, Beth was one of the first women in Australia to be selected as a Rhodes Scholar, after the award only became available to women in 1977. It’s rather inspiring to think that one of the first women in Australia to receive such a prestigious scholarship walked these very halls. Another glimpse of that Grammar magic. While many things have changed at Girls Grammar since we first opened on 15 March 1875, Beth’s story is a reminder that one thing has never changed: the power of a Girls Grammar education.

That Girls Grammar education has taken me on a wonderful journey since I graduated in 2015. In 2016, I began the Bachelor of Advanced Finance and Economics at UQ as part of the inaugural cohort. Upon completion of this first degree, I decided to enrol in a Bachelor of Mathematics, focusing my studies in the areas of pure mathematics and statistics. My academic achievements in both degrees have since opened many doors for further postgraduate economics study: alongside the Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford, I have also been offered fellowships to continue my postgraduate studies later at MIT, Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago, UCB, and Yale. These are all opportunities that would not have been possible without the educational grounding I received here at Girls Grammar.

Alongside my university studies, I was fortunate to enjoy postings at the Queensland Investment Corporation, the Reserve Bank of Australia and, currently, I work as a pre-doctorate analyst at the e61 Institute. At e61—which is a not-for-profit economics think-tank headquartered in Sydney—I work alongside several academics and industry leaders, with a particular focus on the labour market outcomes of disadvantaged Australians. Over the past four years, I have also enjoyed regular work as a Research Assistant in the School of Economics at UQ, focusing on environmental auction theory.

But my election as the 2023 Queensland Rhodes Scholar did not come from any one of my academic, career, or sporting pursuits. Rather, the awarding of a Rhodes Scholarship reflects a candidate’s commitment to excellence in several areas and a willingness to lead and serve others. Indeed, as part of the Scholarship application process candidates are asked to write a personal statement where we get to tell our story in our own voice. This is an opportunity for the committee to get a feel for the real person behind the CV and the academic transcripts. We are asked to reflect on the influences, experiences, and challenges that have shaped us, consider the relationships between ourselves and our communities and articulate how we might contribute to the world’s challenges. One of the prompts for this statement asks us to identify which of the Rhodes Scholar qualities we most aspired to. For me, this was: ‘Energy to use one’s talents to the full’. As I reflected on this quality, it brought to mind the Girls Grammar School motto, Nil sine labore, or ‘Nothing without labour’, a motto which struck a chord with me from the time I first arrived here in Year 8. My drive to maximise my talents, to achieve excellence in everything I do—both in the classroom and on the sports field—was all nurtured and encouraged here at School. Indeed, my own Rhodes journey began right here, and yours very well could too.

Before I sign off today, there is one more essential component of the Girls Grammar education I haven’t yet mentioned. Our teachers. The education I received during my time here—an education that has ultimately given me the opportunity to study under a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford—would not have been complete without the teachers who taught me. Each and every teacher I had the privilege of learning under during my time at Grammar helped to mould me into the young woman I am today. Each and every one of them showed up to class with an enthusiasm and passion that ensured me the best possible educational outcome. And to each and every one of them, I’d like to say a personal thank you. A personal thank you for always carrying that bit of Grammar magic and for gifting me all these opportunities.

Thank you all for your time today.

Mr Jimmy Sullivan MP, Member for Stafford, Ms Jacinda Euler Welsh and Josephine Auer