Claudia Nguyen
2023 School Dux Claudia Nguyen addresses the school assembly on Wednesday 21st February 2024.

Claudia Nguyen, Dux for 2023, returned to Catherine McAuley Westmead on Wednesday 21st February for the High Achievers Assembly.

Claudia achieved an ATAR of 98.9 and has accepted an offer from Sydney University to study a Bachelor of Law and Arts. Claudia addressed the students, staff and parents who had gathered for the special assembly and told the Catherine McAuley students they should enjoy their high school journey but know that life has so much in store for them. "You have yet to meet so many people and accomplish remarkable things”, Claudia said. “Your story is just beginning and I am so excited to see each and every one of you illuminate the world in your own unique way”.

A full copy of Claudia’s Dux Speech is below:

Good morning Ms Refalo, Catherine McAuley community, special guests and my fellow 2023 HSC High Achievers. I am so incredibly proud and honoured to be able to represent such a vibrant and dynamic cohort of girls who have achieved so much in their six years of high school.

Today I want to acknowledge the growth you accomplished in your academic endeavours but also your blossoming into unique individuals who will make a positive imprint on this earth. From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for being the most supportive year group anyone could ask for and I know you will all go on to achieve extraordinary things! Thank you to Ms Rehayem for being the glue that bound this cohort so strongly. Standing by our side since Year 7, you were always proud to see us succeed. Without your undying support, we probably would have found it very difficult to make it all the way through high school! I would also like to thank Ms Refalo and members of the leadership team for hosting such an important event that congratulates the achievements of these young women while inspiring the current students of Catherine McAuley.

I recall six years ago listening to the Dux speech when I was a fresh-faced Year 7 student. I remember she had presented it in a way where she gave guidance tailored to each year group. In writing this speech I wanted to honour this way of delivery and be able to share the pieces of advice that supported me from Year 7 up until my very last HSC exam.

To Years 7 and 8 - First of all welcome Year 7 to the Catherine McAuley community. I hope you have enjoyed the first couple of weeks settling into your new school. I know it can be daunting transitioning from being the eldest in your primary school to now being the youngest in a completely new environment. Trust me, I’m experiencing it all over again through entering university! In these first two years of high school, my advice would be to try as many different things as possible, whether it is joining clubs, sports teams or applying for leadership positions.

These experiences help broaden your horizons and teach you many practical skills that you wouldn’t normally have been taught in a regular classroom setting. If you are currently sitting here, tossing up whether to join a club or a sports team, take this as a sign and do it! For me, applying for a leadership position was the best decision I made for my confidence. If it weren’t for that experience, I would probably be too scared to be up here speaking right now!


Claudia Nguyen and Mary Refalo
The 2023 Dux Claudia Nguyen with Principal Ms Mary Refalo.

For Year 8 at the end of the year when selecting subjects, don’t be afraid to try a subject that you’ve never really experienced, especially if it piques your interest. This sounds very cliche, but if you never try something new, you won’t ever know whether you like it or if you’re good at it. Extracurricular activities are also a great opportunity to meet so many new friends. Friendship was a significant part of my high school years. Meeting new people helped me learn from different perspectives and diversify my worldview. I found that it also made school a much more enjoyable experience. With that being said, friendships, like all good things, can take time to cultivate and blossom. In these initial years, it can be easy to feel out of place and like you don’t belong. Please don’t lose hope because these feelings will not last forever. It takes time to gain your footing in high school and it is not a linear path. Be patient but be perceptive with what works for you.

Moving on to Years 9 and 10 - These years were very unorthodox for me because they were spent in lockdown. However, they were the years where I struggled a lot, but also learnt a great deal. The workload and expected standard of your school work definitely increases in these years and I think it’s the best time to start getting into good study habits. For maths, practice questions will be your best friend if you want to improve or consolidate knowledge. Although it may seem counterintuitive, you don’t learn anything from getting every single question correct. I found the most valuable way to achieve results is by analysing the questions I got wrong and finding the issue. For English and more writing-based subjects I found the best tool for my learning was teacher feedback. Start getting into the habit of handing in sample responses and applying the feedback teachers give you. At first, some of the feedback can be seen as a personal attack. Don’t take it as an insult to you, but view it as a list of things to improve on the next time you hand a response in.

Throughout these years you are going to make many, many, many mistakes and I guarantee you that there will be times when you are going to be disappointed in your grades (English Task 1 in Year 11 was not my proudest moment). Sometimes it’s good to sit in your disappointment, but after a little while turn these feelings into motivation. Set yourself the goal to improve, even if it is just getting one mark higher than your previous score. This is where you build resilience - such an important skill that you will definitely need for your senior years!

Claudia Nguyen
Claudia Nguyen with her family and School Principal Ms Mary Refalo.

Year 11 - Welcome to your first year of senior school! This year is going to be extremely different to what you have previously experienced up until Year 10. This is the perfect time for you to hone your study skills and organisational strategies. Personally I found using a daily planner, writing regular study notes and completing past papers or practice questions to be the most effective for me. I want to stress the fact that you have plenty of time to test the waters and see what works for you. While your Year 11 marks are important and useful for early entry, pace yourself and conserve your energy for the real marathon that is Year 12.

Year 11 is also very fast-paced as you are fitting a year’s worth of content into three terms. With this in mind, I encourage you to update your study notes quite regularly. This enables you to consolidate your knowledge as you are learning it and by the time your preliminary exam block rolls around you are not left with the mammoth task of writing all of your notes!

Year 12 - Your final year of formal education and the year in which you will sit your HSC exams! During this year it will be very easy to feel burnt out especially when you have three different periods of exams. Rest is such a crucial component for both your well-being and academic ability. The one piece of advice that I remember Ms Robson giving my Homeroom was that if you’re studying and you feel like you are getting nowhere, sometimes the most productive thing you can do with your time is rest. This way, your brain has the capacity to process and comprehend new information. I also recommend having an outlet, such as a hobby or a job, as a circuit breaker to split up long hours of studying and give you something to look forward to. In terms of study tips, by far past papers will be your best friend. These help you identify gaps in your knowledge and also expose you to different types of questions, which help sharpen your problem-solving skills. I found that the subjects I did the most past papers on are the ones in which I performed the best in.

Year 12 is such a monumental year and I’m going to be honest, at times it will be incredibly difficult. For me, it was very taxing on both my mental and physical health. Going from performing fairly well in Year 11 to struggling and slightly falling behind at the beginning of Year 12, took a massive hit on my self-esteem. I felt like everyone had this expectation for me to constantly achieve the best, the top mark and I couldn’t live up to this. In my head, I placed all my self-worth into how I measured up academically. It took me many months to realise that a mark on a test paper, a rank on a report card and an ATAR does not reflect the beautifully complex individual that you are. In all practicality, the ATAR is just a measure of how you performed on a handful of tests during a singular point in your life. While it does reflect the hard work and dedication you have put into studying the HSC course, it does not map out your life’s plan. It doesn’t determine what job you will have, your income or the type of person you are. This realisation only really came to me after I was able to zoom out of the chaos that is high school. However, there were people in my life who saw my worth even when I couldn’t.

To my beautiful family - Mum, Dad, Tristen and Lucas. I love you all so much. Thank you for being so supportive of my life’s journey thus far. In stressful exam periods, you were always there to help out when my mind was elsewhere. Mum and Dad, you have been living examples of how hard work pays off. From humble beginnings, you have created such a beautiful and fortunate life for my siblings and I to grow and prosper. I am eternally grateful that you have instilled in me the same determination and drive so that I can reach my own goals. It would be selfish of me to claim the achievements honoured today as solely mine. Without you and my support network here at Catherine McAuley, I wouldn’t have been anywhere near where I am now.

With that being said, my teachers during my time at high school have been so incredibly instrumental in developing me into the young woman I am. A massive thank you to Mr Johnson, Ms Reynolds, Ms Ruello, Ms Spelman, Ms Ghougassian, Ms Pasion, and Ms Kim - all of whom guided and supported me through the HSC coursework. To Ms Robson, whose face I saw every day, thank you so much for your motivational speeches and unconditional support towards Year 12 Coolock. Your ability to connect with and foster the growth of each and every girl in my Homeroom should be applauded. You are such an inspiring woman and I honestly probably wouldn’t have survived Year 12 without your guidance.

To my supportive network of friends - Chloe, Liz and Isabelle, you stuck by my side throughout this whole journey. Thank you for providing the much needed pockets of relief during the most stressful period of my life. To my study buddies, Daanya, Shreya and Jasmine, thank you for always challenging me to stay on top of my study schedule. You girls were one of my greatest motivators but also great supportive friends who were always down to solve a maths problem that I could not wrap my head around.

As my speech draws to a finish, I want to wish all the students here at Catherine McAuley a wonderful school year! Enjoy your high school journey but just know that life has so much in store for you! You have yet to meet so many people and accomplish remarkable things. Your story is just beginning and I am so excited to see each and every one of you illuminate the world in your own, unique way.

Thank You.

Claudia Nguyen


Written By

Catherine McAuley Westmead

Catherine McAuley Westmead

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