Summit to Think About

Ms Ruth Jans, Head of Mackay House

As someone who abhors any form of exercise involving perspiration, I must ask you to forgive my use of the following analogy, but each year I find myself reflecting that the end of Term III feels like reaching the summit of a very high mountain after a very long trek. The point of reaching the summit is — I am told — the view, so I would like to take in the view by reflecting on the journey, the destination, and the road still to travel, especially as they appear to our 2016 Year 12s and their families.

The first step of this reflection is to acknowledge what the Brisbane Girls Grammar School, under the leadership of the Seniors, has achieved: another spectacular Open Day, the much-loved Interhouse Athletics Carnival, the much less loved QCS test, a Blue Day, an Olympics Day and countless other landmarks. These, however, pale alongside the constant stream — or perhaps torrent — of curricular, co-curricular, and assessment tasks that characterise each school term. Then, of course, there are the often unshared personal trials many of us have had to overcome throughout this time. It is no wonder that at the end of such a busy period, a school-wide sigh of relief-tinged accomplishment marks the end of Term III.

Summiting is important, not so we can give ourselves a smug pat on the back, but because it allows us to take stock of our journey thus far — what went well and what did not. Looking behind we can see what we have achieved, and looking ahead we can see how tantalisingly close we are to our year’s end — and for the Year 12s, school’s end.

Making it to the end involves the second step in our reflection: identifying and preparing for the path ahead. Although Term IV is the shortest of them all, it can be treacherous indeed if we fix our eyes only on the holiday horizon.

The last stage in this mountaintop reflection — and the key to success — is setting goals. Many of these will obviously focus on academic achievement, but for a great number of girls — especially our graduating class of 2016 — their attention will no doubt also be focused further in the distance, on friendships and making the most of opportunities. I have selected two key ideas from the many excellent goal-setting tips included in Rachel Gillett’s Australian Financial Review article titled, ‘25 of the best career and life tips ever given to graduates’ (Gillett, 2016):

  • do not fear failure; rather accept and embrace it; and
  • acknowledge privilege and opportunity and be grateful for it, while accepting that it also comes with responsibility.

In his 2000 Harvard Commencement speech, American television host and comedy writer, Conan O’Brien, picks up on the first tip. He proposes that success is like ‘a bright white tuxedo: you feel terrific when you get it, but then you’re desperately afraid of getting it dirty, of spoiling it’ (O’Brien, 2008). I suspect that this comparison may strike a chord with many Girls Grammar students, because although their determination to succeed and their experiences of success are admirable, the concomitant pressure they may feel in order to maintain such high standards can sometimes be overwhelming. If this is the case, perhaps it might be helpful to consider O’Brien’s advice about the importance of embracing failure as well as the need to recognise that our ‘mistakes are [simply our] own unique way of getting to where [we] need to be’ (O’Brien, 2008).

The second tip is from Salman Khan – CEO of the Khan Academy, a free online global education platform. Khan’s altruistic focus was on what really matters in life: ‘to better use the gifts [we are] given to empower others and make the world better’ (Khan 2012). This was also espoused by Rebecca Sparrow, a recent guest speaker in our Year 10 Ethics program, when she invited the girls to recognise that the opportunities afforded to them through their education were indeed privileges and that it was their responsibility not only to make the most of their learning, but also to do something with it. Her empowering message was that while they do not need to go out and change the whole world, they should try to do something that makes a difference to at least one person each year. The arithmetic is impressive: if each of our 237 Year 12s helps one person each year for the rest of their lives, they will have made a lot of difference.

For me, as Mackay’s Head of House, this year’s graduating class holds a special place, as these girls and their families are the first group whom I interviewed prior to their commencement in 2012. It was such a privilege to meet them in 2011 as excited Year 7 students full of anticipation and hopes for their high school studies. I have cherished watching them settle into the School community, establishing themselves academically, making friendships and learning how to be independent, proactive, thoughtful and judicious students. The Year 12 Formal was also a true highlight for me as it encapsulated beautifully the stage of this cohort’s growth and maturity from adolescents into young and gracious adults.

I hope that all of our Year 12s as well as all students from Years 7 to 11 enjoyed the well-earned Term III holidays, taking the time to rest and refresh, to reflect on what they have learnt and also to set goals for what they wish to achieve before the school year finishes and further into the future.


Gillett, R. (2016, June 16). 25 of the best career and life tips ever given to graduates. Australian Financial Review. Retrieved from

O’Brien, C. (2008, September 11). Conan O’Brien’s Speech to the Harvard Class of 2000.(Pt 1 of 2) [Video file]. Retrieved from

Salman, K. (2012, June 8). Sal Khan’s 2012 Commencement Address: Alumnus, Khan Academy founder speaks to the Class of 2012. Retrieved from