“You can take the girl out of McAuley but they cannot take the McAuley out of the girl” The School Dux for 2019, Rebekah Nehme, addressed the school community at the 2019 High Achievers Assembly and gave each Year group some valuable advice.

Rebekah Nehme Dux 2019 High Achievers Assembly Speech

I guess I'm going to start with an apology - I was up fairly late writing this speech, I probably shouldn't tell you that but it’s true, and until right now it's never really dawned on me how many people I would be addressing today, so if I sound nervous it is because I am.

That being said, it is an incredible honour to be here. Thank you to the leadership staff and especially Ms Refalo for inviting me back and giving me the opportunity to congratulate my incredible cohort on their amazing achievements!! I am so proud of each and every one of you, I know the mammoth effort you have all put in over the past two years, Blacktown and Western Sydney libraries miss you already and I cannot wait to see you go far. Congratulations class of 2019!

I found it surprisingly difficult writing this speech - I found myself wanting to say the things that I always wanted to hear when I was sitting where you are now. But the truth is there was really nothing anyone could say to make me feel completely at ease, unless they were announcing that the HSC was cancelled and I'm so sorry but I can't do that. I was never really comforted by people telling me that I could do it, as much as I was when people said that even if I couldn't, it wasn't the end of the world. So if you find yourself stressed, no matter how you go, it isn't the end of the world - so just try. And I say this because no matter how much you may think I'm lying to you, when they say "the HSC rewards hard work", they REALLY mean it. And when they say its not your ATAR, it’s what you do with it that counts, they mean it even more.

I've split the next section into grade groups because I remember a Dux doing that once and I thought it was kind of cool, so I'll start with Years 7 and 8.

I entered high school with nothing but the 'classic' advice gifted to me by my older brother which is - "Years 7-10 don't count, just buckle down in Year 11". I'm not saying that he was misguided but I'm not not saying that. Don't get me wrong, nothing bothers the older grades more or confuses literally anyone as much as when you see a Year 7 stress cry over an assessment. When 'they' say “the HSC starts from Year 7”, just know, no one expects you to be checking out HSC study guides or anything. At this stage the most important thing you can do is develop a respect for learning and a curiosity toward the world around you; your raw grades themselves aren't a concern, as long as they are an accurate reflection of your best efforts. Your HSC starts by having a positive attitude toward school in general, so join clubs, sports teams, whatever you're interested in to make school less of a chore than it really can be; you will have more to look back on and be thankful for, and trust me, there is nothing quite so quietly heartbreaking as when the girls you've always known as dancers stop doing troops or when the athletes stop making practice so they can study in Year 11 and 12.

Moving on! To Years 9 and 10 - By this point you will have probably found your close friends, and established what subjects you are drawn to. So my advice for you is to make mistakes and learn from them, don't be afraid when Mr Grumley suggests you stop using PEEL for your essays, just roll with it and see how you go, if it doesn't work out for you, at least you'll know. At this stage also I would say take notice of the people around you and be inspired by your peers, friends and teachers. I would not care so much for chemistry and physics if I didn't see Ms Cahil and Miss Reynolds get genuinely excited as they taught me Year 9 and 10 science. If Ms Kempys hadn't been as passionate about math as she was I would never have found so much satisfaction in solving an equation. If Abby didn't write up flashcards in Homeroom, if Angela didn't make up songs on the spot about historical figures (yes she really did that and yes they were really good), if Margreth didn't host group Skype calls for religion, I would never have maintained the interest I needed to motivate me.

Year 10 specifically - when you are choosing your courses for Year 11 and 12, as annoying as it is when they tell you, "pick the subjects you are interested in and good at", believe me they know what they are talking about. That being said, English is still mandatory... I'm sorry, its true, I checked. I'm just kidding... mostly.

Which brings me to the Seniors - Hopefully, you have found yourself in courses that you enjoy for the most part - if you haven’t, please by all means speak to the Director of Studies and get that stuff sorted because, and I'm sure all my fellow high achievers can agree, if you are not genuinely interested or curious, or cannot muster a positive attitude towards what you are learning, you are going to struggle to pay attention and paying attention is the most important thing you have to do. In class, to your homework, during exams - in your senior years of study the most practical advice I can give you is not to do anything mindlessly; looking isn't reading, hearing isn't listening. And it is so much easier to pay attention if you do not already find the subject matter dull and pointless.

One of my bigger worries entering my senior years was that I did not actually know how much work was expected of me - people talked about notes and past papers and study guides as though they were part of some unending list of study habits I was just not aware of. For any of you with the same worries, don't. Trust me, when the time comes it will feel natural; your teachers will always be there to suggest study material, and from there you'll get a sense of what needs to be done, its just up to you to muster the botheredness to do it. If you love what you do enough, if you respect learning, and are inspired by the people around you and pay attention, then you are trying your best and that's all that's ever been expected of you.

For Year 12 - I know there is nothing I can really say right now to make you all feel better, right now but I have full confidence in you; everything is going to be alright. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving it a shot. I wish you the best of luck.

And finally, I'm so sorry this speech has already been so long, but I can't leave without thanking, from the bottom of my heart, the teachers here at McAuley. The things I disliked about school would have been the same at every school; at every school there will be exams and essays and uniform codes etc. But the things I loved about school were unique to McAuley and for the most part that is the people I met here, and their infectious passion for learning.


It is not lost on me that I have been lucky enough to have had the teachers I needed when I need them, when I needed to adopt a mature approach to schooling, Ms Brincat was there to introduce our grade to high school as our Year 7 Coordinator. When I needed to feel understood and encouraged to make mistakes, Ms Morrison was there to support us. When I needed to rip off the band aid and just DO MY WORK, Ms P was there, pushing us to 'just give it a red hot crack', no holding back. And when we all got tired or stressed or hurt, Ms Morrison was back again with tea and mindfulness and we were all good. Thank you all for your support.

Thank you to Sensei, for 5 years of wisdom and power chocolates in Homeroom, for teaching Year 12 Caritas to be respectful and joyful - I miss them every morning.

And of course, I do not have enough words to thank my senior teachers. Mr Grumley, an honorary mention for letting me eat all of the food in your room, with nothing but my word to believe that I would stock up again for you, and for pushing us all to step out of whatever box we were in, even if we hated it. Ms Newman, when I needed someone to just Make Me Write, no excuses, you were there when I needed you. There is no feeling like the complete wonder when you finally understand what Shakespeare is trying to say because Ms Newman read it out loud.

Miss Van Domburg, you are exactly what I mean when I say "I was inspired by other people's enthusiasm" - there is not one person who could leave your classroom without wanting to whip out their textbook and a pen and start drafting some five markers. Thank you for pushing us to be passionate learners. Mrs O'Connell, since leaving school, I think about being in your classroom, doing some prac with our lab coats most of all; in my imagination we are all wearing our safety goggles so hey your plan worked! Thank you for everything you did for our class, for extra resources on the classroom, tutorials at lunch and watching me struggle hopelessly with every type of lab equipment there is and maintaining your patience.

Miss McCaul; I was forced to attend all my other classes, but I CHOSE to show up to yours even after I had dropped, because it was just that awesome. Thank you for putting up with our 'jokes' about wanting to date JFK and start our own dictatorship, for your emails before exams and your weekly memes which always made my day. Thank you for everything.

Mr Johnson, I cannot physically (haha see what I did there) express how much I loved showing up to physics, and it was not because I LOVE circular motion. I loved everything about that class - your jokes, when no one laughed at your jokes, our jokes about no one laughing at your jokes, it was a great time. I could not have asked for a greater teacher or a better group of people to struggle through physics with. Thank you for everything sir.

Miss Ko!! Miss Ko, had to put up with our extension one class almost every day for two straight years and is still sane to this day. And what a class it was. We had an email chain like 60 memes long. And not normal memes either. Math memes. That were mildly funny at best. Miss Ko put up with Angela asking about asymptotes for TWO YEARS, and made us like math on top of that. Thank you for absolutely everything Miss, there aren't enough words.

I cannot thank all of you guys enough. Thank you also to my family - my mum and dad especially who never pressured me to do anything I didn't enjoy and who went to whatever lengths necessary to keep me calm and happy. No David, I will not do your homework.

Thank you to my friends, seeing you guys everyday got me through the dark times, I couldn't be anywhere without Amber watching me almost set the chem labs on fire, Angie quoting the Tempest in her sleep, Kaiya's gentle hugs before exams or Amanda's laugh literally anywhere. Finally, thank you and congratulations to my cohort, to my Mercy girls, to everyone who believed in me and inspired me - I have never been so grateful to know that ‘you can take the girl out of McAuley, but they cannot take the McAuley out of the girl’.

Thank you all so much for everything, I hope you enjoy your time here as much as I did.


Learn more about Rebekah's achievements.


Written By

Catherine McAuley Westmead

Catherine McAuley Westmead

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