Eight years have past since I was last here, standing at this very podium, bracing myself for life beyond Fairholme College. While the setting this evening is very familiar, that girl who stood here those eight years ago seems almost a stranger to me now. I’ve changed more than I could have ever imagined and so too has our world.
2010 me would never have imagined that the conflicts in Syria and Yemen would rage on to this day at such hideous human cost. I could never have imagined that Australia’s most powerful figures would continue to mistreat our First Nations peoples and the vulnerable families indefinitely detained offshore. No way could I have imagined that the future held a place for Donald Trump as the elected leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world, nor could I have foreseen that two words of relatively insignificant meaning would later become the defining symbol of a campaign driven by the collective strength and bravery of women across the globe. Climate change continues to be the elephant in every room and who knew that the tentacles of social media would extend as far as they do today?
Reflecting on these stains in the fabric of our recent history, and indeed our present day reality, can be both shameful and painful when considered in isolation.
Now before I get ushered off stage, I want to acknowledge that I’m off to a very dark start and I know you all don’t need reminding of these issues, especially at such an exciting time of the year for you all in your school calendar. Tonight, we've all been invited to explore a theme- ‘blessed is the night, for it reveals to us the stars’. It’s against this dark backdrop that I want to share with you just some of the stars that have revealed themselves to me to remind me that peppered throughout these examples of injustice and adversity are stories of kindness, of love and of incredible human resilience.
My own story tells the tale of a girl- now a young woman- who has been witness to the resilience of others all of her life. Having fled the violence of a formidable occupation in Palestine, my father’s family lived for some time in UN sponsored refugee camps in Jordan, where my father speaks of caring for his younger siblings and the harsh realities of becoming stateless. My mother, whose generosity and faith in humanity are immeasurable, has always been ready to sacrifice personal reward for the benefit of others, without ever hoping for a return. At university, I met students who had come from faraway places, at great personal cost often borne by their families back home, to immerse themselves in an educational experience that I had the privilege to so seamlessly transition into. I now work with women and children who have experienced, or are at risk of, family violence and other forms of abuse to whom every day is a challenge to survive.
I’ve come to learn that witnessing the resilience of others is itself a great privilege. It’s given me insights into my many blessings, it’s reminded me to feel immense gratitude at times where it can be easy to overlook and it’s taught me so much about how and when to practice resilience myself. Navigating the night skies of adulthood has been made much brighter for me when I’ve made an effort to recognise the resilience of others and to be fiercely resilient myself.
The second star that will forever be etched in my night sky is a piece of advice given to me by a woman named Noura, a legal scholar and human rights advocate. Noura once said to a very deflated and emotionally exhausted me at a critical time in the history of our shared cause that being a capitalist activist is a recipe for disappointment. It took some time, but I now understand that her appeal to me was to never think of activism in the same way I have grown up to understand investment; to protest, not for a return, but to add my voice to a cause that is important to me, without expectation of where that may lead. Do not demand change, she said, expecting that that demand will be matched or exceeded by the change that I seek. Simply call for it and let your faith in humanity carry you forward. Her advice gave me strength, it gave me perspective, it gave me purpose and it lifted a great burden I was feeling to measure my efforts against real and obvious outcomes. Noura’s words are precious to me and I share them with you tonight because I hope that they bring you all the perspective, the inner peace and the inspiration that I have felt deeply ever since.
Lastly, I want to impress upon the young women in the room still discovering the warmth of sisterhood just how priceless that collective is. Sisterhood is the Venus of stars, it’s the promise of hope for our future. Take a moment now to think about who you are surrounded by this evening and what we could accomplish together. From the beginning of time, women have proven themselves to be indestructible and every day you will have opportunities to follow that example. Know that sometimes those opportunities will feel more like moments of hardship or failure and it’s in those moments that I want you to remember the unique membership you have to a group that values compassion, bravery, and integrity. Look out for each other, encourage one another and celebrate the diversity of thought, experience and culture among you.
I started this speech by telling you about what I couldn’t have imagined the future held in store for the world just 8 years ago. I’d like now to share with you what I couldn’t have imagined the future held in store for me. 2010 me would never have imagined that I would be standing here again, having the privilege to share in your celebrations. 2010 me would never have imagined that I would in the next 8 years travel to so many strange and wonderful places, including Vienna, London, Paris, Dubai and Jordan, nor did I see myself becoming an officer of the Supreme Court of Victoria and the High Court of Australia, practising in the field of family violence, and no way could I have seen myself becoming the independent, strong and capable woman that I am today and I thank the people of Fairholme- my friends, my teachers, my mentors- for the integral role you’ve played in my happiness. I think back at my time at Fairholme often and I really don’t think I could do what I do today without having had the opportunity to learn and grow in the warm embrace of this school and its people.
It is an honour for me to share in your celebrations of the year that’s been and to hear about your resilience, your activism and the very many accomplishments of the incredible sisterhood that is the Fairholme College community. A special congratulations to those receiving awards tonight, to the young women experiencing their final moments of grade 12 and to the incoming school leaders. My very best wishes to you all.
Now a practising lawyer, I’ve come to accept that I am professional storyteller with an agenda and tonight my agenda is this: I want to challenge you all- students, staff and dear family- be kind to one another, work hard, reflect critically on the information shared with you on all platforms and do not fall victim to adversity, be resilient in the face of it, because what awaits is the brightest star of them all - peace.