At the core of every educational institution must be a principle that drives it to be a place that does not reflect society, but instead equips students with the tools and values to reflect upon society.
St Peter’s College’s ongoing commitment to this principle was evident last week in a lecture delivered by 2021 Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, as part of the Rex J Lipman Fellows program. Dr Lipman, an old scholar of the School, has left a legacy through his program which aims to invite inspiring individuals to address the community. As students, we are beyond grateful to be afforded the privilege to be inspired and motivated by outstanding thinkers and leaders. A description Ms Grace Tame certainly personifies.
Ms Tame is a survivor of sexual assault; hers is an abhorrent story of a teacher abusing his power to manipulate and repeatedly rape a 15-year-old. But Grace doesn’t let this define her. Sitting among the audience, the first thing that became exceedingly clear was her immense courage. As our Headmaster expressed, Ms Tame is a fighter and “a profound example of the light dispelling darkness.” Despite being subjected to assault at such a young age, Grace’s strength, bravery and genuine care and compassion for others, has allowed her to channel that experience to make a positive change, all while speaking in a beautifully eloquent and powerful manner. Ms Tame has an extraordinary gift; being able to rise above the pain and instead, put it into meaningful words that ignite a fire in anyone listening, to strive for a better tomorrow.
Yet, there was a possible reality that we would never hear Ms Tame speak. Gag laws in Tasmania prohibited Grace from self-identifying as a sexual abuse survivor in the media, subjecting her to a deafening silence worsened by her perpetrator taking to media to boast about the assault. As a country, we are fortunate that Grace felt empowered to successfully fight the courts to let her speak. In doing so, her’s became the first case to overcome the archaic law.
The theme of speaking up, even when silenced, was crystal clear in her message. As a student leader, I was especially moved by her explanation of the ‘power of one’. The idea that no matter how insignificant you may feel in the face of towering adversity, the impact of one person standing up, has a far-reaching ripple effect. Grace fondly recalled how special and meaningful each one of the 5000 signatures on her petition was. We must endeavour to ensure that every individual in our community, at Saints and wider Australia, are provided a safe platform to simply speak up about their truth. It is what we owe to each other.
Reflecting on Ms Tame’s message, the importance of courage has been elevated ten-fold, especially the courage to act. After the program concluded, Mr Browning, Sam and me, along with a few student leaders, came together to discuss where we go from here as leaders and a school. I was pleased to hear that next year we will have Dr Tessa Opie review our behaviour policy across all aspects of the School, while students discussed the importance of their role in continuing to raise awareness among their peers and to call out behaviour that was against a positive and safe culture.
We are indebted to Ms Tame for the opportunity to be in her company and be inspired by her strength. Thank you to Dr Rex Lipman for his vision in being a benefactor of this program, to Jess Adamson for her professional facilitation of the conversation and to Uncle John for his Welcome to Country and timely and relevant message about respect.
It is time for us as a school and country, to reflect and make conscious efforts to become a better Australia, for all Australians.
School Vice Captain