Of Course Ravenswood Isn't Perfect. No School Is

08/12/2015 11:47 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Fairfax Media/Michele Mossop

"Nothing is perfect. Nothing should be expected to be perfect."

After listening to Sarah Haynes' powerful and thought-provoking graduation speech, I wanted to yell "Go girl!!!" and give her the world's biggest high-five.

I can't really relate to Sarah's position. I didn't go to a private school. I went to a co-ed public school and it certainly didn't run like a business. But I was surrounded by high schools like Ravenswood.

I attended Rose Bay Secondary College -- one of the only public high schools in Sydney's prestigious Eastern Suburbs. Before going to Rose Bay I was terrified, having been told by all my friends heading to private schools I would be forced to take drugs, smoke cigarettes and lose my 'v plates' by year eight. I was naive and easily tricked into thinking I was going to the worst high school in the east. My parents (pro-public school enthusiasts) promised me it was nonsense but assured me if any of the myths were true I could change schools.

I quickly realised the kids who fed me the lies had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Rose Bay was a place I belonged from day one. I made friends quickly and felt safe going to school. It wasn't perfect but it didn't pretend to be. Its doors were open to everyone, irrespective of where they came from, how much money they had or what religion they were.

Being the only public high school in the area, we were looked down upon. I hate to admit it now, but sometimes I was ashamed to say I went to Rose Bay. Not because I was ashamed of the school, but the reaction was always awkward and sympathetic -- "Kincoppal Rose Bay?" or "mmm...okay."

I was often asked why I didn't go to Reddam, Moriah, St Catherine's, Sceggs or any of the other self-proclaimed 'elite' schools surrounding my home. I guess if my parents were spending $20,000-plus a year on my education they would probably need to justify it by belittling the public system. At the age of 13 or 14 I didn't understand that and felt like a poor relative.

Calling private schools 'prestigious' or 'elite' is a misnomer. Expensive does not make them anything other than exclusive to only those who can afford the fees.

Rose Bay was often perceived as the school of last resort and my private school peers were threatened with being "sent up the hill" if they misbehaved or didn't get good grades. It was where you were sent as punishment. And Rose Bay's role is to provide an education to everyone -- some of the kids did start fights, were disruptive, smoked at school, jigged class and talked back to teachers. But they are all entitled to a quality education. It's wrong to judge any school on the basis of a few "naughty" students, on a few "extraordinary" students or on the cost of the education. At the end of the day it's about the values and the integrity of the school.

At Rose Bay we were encouraged to stand up for what we believed in, accept everyone's differences and believe in ourselves.

I wanted to be a role model and do as well as I could in my HSC just as I would have at any school. I wasn't alone -- everyone in my year had aspirations, based on who we were as individuals, not the school we went to. I was vice captain in year 12 and worked hard to get a good ATAR. I wanted to dispel the stereotypes -- and show what the kids at Rose Bay actually achieved. I wanted to make my teachers and family, who had invested so much time in my education, proud.

Rose Bay Secondary College admits it isn't perfect. But no school is. No amount of money can buy perfection. Does an expensive uniform, blazer and tie make you a better person?

I could argue it makes you less tolerant, respectful or aware of how to survive in the real world. But that's not the point. Rose Bay gave me a great education and the wisdom to not judge a book by its cover. It gave me the skills to stand on my own two feet and thrive at university and now in the workforce.

Rose Bay taught me the truth -- that "perfection is unattainable," a fact Sarah Haynes wishes her 'elite' private school had admitted.

More On This Topic