Congratulations Melissa Downes (Class of 1988) - Principal's Award for Excellence - Speech Night 2020

On Thursday 8 October 2020, Somerville House celebrated the 121st annual Speech Night. In a year with significant challenges, Speech Night was a wonderful celebration of achievement, especially for the girls of Year 12, who now face final exams. This year due to COVID19 restrictions, only Grade 12s, their parents and a restricted number of guests were in attendance, whilst the broader School community watched via live streaming – a first! A separate awards ceremony for years 7-11 will be held later.  Addressing the Grade 12s, Principal Kim Keipe spoke about facing into the wind and making your mark on the world. She profiled Old Girls of the last 10 years who have careers that see them living in Antarctica and the USA, and the importance of self determination. (Full address is listed below).


Melissa Downes (Class of 1988) was awarded the 2020 Principal’s Award for Excellence, celebrating her career in journalism and charity work.



Wearing red for Franklin, Melissa spoke about her Somerville House journey from Grade 5 and the importance of resilience, as you don’t always get your first choice in life. Throughout her career she has covered natural disasters and listened to the stories of Queenslanders - everyone has a story. Melissa is now part of a third generation Old Girl family, with her mother Diana Downes (Ray Class of 1958) and daughter Dee Dee Wendt, in Grade 5 in Junior School. (Full address is listed below).


 Melissa Downes (Class of 1988), Diana Downes (Ray Class of 1958) and Dee Dee Wendt Grade 5. All Franklin girls.


We welcome the Grade 12s of 2020 into the Old Girl family and look forward to hearing of their future success.


Rebecca Bauer

(Vice President OGA)



Melissa Downes Speech - 2020 Speech Night

Mrs Kiepe
Mr Demack
Mr Parker
Other distinguished guests
Staff, families and students

Thank you so much for this award, I have to admit I had a tear in my eye when I was first notified. 2020 has been an incredibly intense year of rapidly changing circumstances, that have challenged all of us .. and this award was an unexpected delight, pulling me out of that Coronavirus whirlwind, inviting me to remember the bigger picture, the broader passage of time.

It took me back to my Somerville days. I can remember the first day I walked into Somerville .. it was an orientation day for the year five class of 1981. I can remember holding hands with two girls, one of whom is here tonight - our mothers were old girls, we already felt like family, and it's a bond that has lasted a lifetime.

I can also distinctly remember my last day at Somerville .. walking out of the gate on Graham Street. I didn't look back, I wasn't sad to leave .. and that's not because I didn't love the school, it's because the school had helped me develop confidence, resilience and optimism .. a sense that I was ready for the next step.

I believe the lime green uniform plays a vital role in that. You can't wear the uniform for that many years and not learn something about standing out and standing up for what you believe in.

I needed it, because my career path was not straight forward, I didn't "know" what I wanted to do.

I started one degree, then took some time off, leaving my family at 18 to move to Sydney and model for two years. When I realised I wasn't going to be the next Elle Macpherson, I decided to head back to Brisbane and resume my education .. but I didn't get into my first pick, or my second. Instead I started a Bachelor of Arts wondering where it would take me.

I found myself remembering one of my favourite Somerville teachers, my English teacher, Mrs Jamieson. She brought literature to life .. with an infectious, delightful love of words and performance.

As well as family influence, Mrs Jamieson helped me decide upon journalism .. and here I am .. still telling stories nearly 30 years later.

People often ask for highlights .. and there certainly are stories that stand out .. Brisbane's 2011 floods, cyclones and flooding in the north, droughts out west .. Travelling to London to cover William and Kate's wedding .. and this year, Covid-19.

They have made their mark .. but truthfully, every story, every day - not matter how insignificant some may see it, is the most important story, because for the people involved, it is .. and it's my responsibility to tell their story with respect.

And so I come to the end of this short story ... which ends with a sequel .. as my elder daughter begins her own Somerville journey, starting year five, a third generation green frog, third generation Franklin girl.

My words of advice to her and you, are these - never be afraid of fear.

Fear is a good thing, it's something you feel in the pit of your stomach, to reconsider what you're doing, whether it's the wisest course of action. Listen to that fear, and if the situation doesn't feel right, step away .. but if you realise the only reason you're not doing something is because you're frightened, because it's new or challenging .. take a deep breath and do it. Never let fear stop you from experiencing all the wonderful opportunities of the world.

Thank you.


Melissa Downes



Principal Address -2020 Speech Night, Kim Kiepe, 8 October, 2020

Good Evening Mr Demack, Mr Parker, distinguished guests, staff, Year 12 parents and students of Somerville House.

An evening such as this is an essential opportunity to recognise the outstanding achievements of our students and rightfully celebrate the diverse talents and personal successes, particularly of our young women in the graduating Class of 2020, as they move forward in their journeys, about to embark on their final exams in a number of days.

To our 2020 School Captain, Kate Lockyer and our Vice Captains, Alisia Aloisi and Madeline Webber, we thank you for your passion and commitment to leading, and in doing so, you have left your mark upon our school community and made it the best place for the future women of Somerville House.

We recognise and congratulate all student leaders of 2020 for their dedicated and purposeful leadership.

I wish to acknowledge and thank our School Council Chair Mr Jim Demack for his focussed commitment to our school and especially for his ongoing support of my role and his encouragement. 

Our School remains committed to a vision of educating girls to be fearless leaders of change, developing excellence, confidence and connection to their individual purpose.

The great paradox of change is that organisations that best adapt to a changing world - know what should not change. They have a fixed anchor of guiding principles; there is an understanding of the difference between what is sacred and what is not, between ‘what we stand for’ and ‘how we do things’. This sentiment reflects the work of our School Council.


So on behalf of the parents, staff and students of Somerville House, I acknowledge and thank all members of our School Council, along with the Old Girls’ Association Executive Committee, the Directors of the Foundation Board, and the various members of the Parents and Friends Association and Support Groups for their commitment and careful deliberation to ensure our school remains a leader in girls’ education.

Edwina Dunn, famous for her career in the United Kingdom in data analytics, is tackling a problem dear to my own heart, of how to inspire young women. Her new book, The Female Lead, sets out to inspire the next generation of girls; in the book, Dunn suggests the idea that you need to see it, to be it.


This simple, yet visionary proposition, focuses on the need for inspiring role models at all levels of ‘leadership’ to exist for young women today.


I wish to thank the Somerville House Old Girls Association Executive Committee, for enacting this belief every year, for their dedication to making the authentic and often trailblazing stories of Somerville House women more visible. In doing so, they offer alternative and relevant role models to those ever-present in our broader popular culture.


Thank you also to all of the Somerville House staff, for your outstanding professionalism and commitment throughout this year. Every year, our teachers have the pleasure of working with young women, each on their own path in a quest to navigate the often-mysterious landscape of life.


Our  teaching vocation allows the opportunity to participate in the lives of young people and assist them, shaping what type of person they aspire to be.


We should never underestimate the far-reaching implications of a teacher’s impact on a student to change their life forever.


One such teacher is long serving member of staff, Mr Tom Clarke, who is leaving us at the end of 2020. We thank Mr Clarke for his contribution as Head of Social Science and his 15 years of dedicated and professional service to Somerville House.

I especially thank the members of our Leadership Team who oversee the educational and business aspects of running a school.  We continue to be passionate and determined in the pursuit of our vision and purpose.

I would like to thank all members of the school community, staff, students and parents, for your contributions to another successful year in the history of Somerville House. I feel honoured to lead such a wonderful community of generous and gracious people.

Start clip Walking in the Wind 0.43 – 1.26

Awh, we had some good times, didn't we?
Awh, we had some good tricks up our sleeve
Awh, goodbyes are bittersweet
But it's not the end
I'll see your face again

You will find me
And you will find me
In places that we've never been
For reasons we don't understand
Walking in the wind
Walking in the wind

These lines from the One Direction boys, offer us an opportunity to consider our life’s pathway, not to forget the friendships of the past, but to be encouraged to walk into the wind.

Today, I use these lines as a preface to my encouragement to us all to take on the challenge of where our path leads us, even though at times, it can be a walk into the wind.

In 2018, I attended a Conference for the Australian Heads of Independent Schools in Queenstown, New Zealand. I, along with over 250 colleagues from across Australia, were encouraged to ‘walk into the wind’. This term was used to define the challenges in our role as school leaders, a role within an ever-changing world of legislation, compliance, government funding and risk management, coupled with the demands of an evolving and complex employment market in which we prepare our students to journey.


I am sure you would agree that for everyone, 2020 has seen us all navigate a challenging direction and our path has at times been a walk into the wind.

According to The Future Jobs Report (compiled by the World Economic Forum in 2018), an estimated 65% of children today will end up in careers that don’t yet exist.

We have already seen the shift occurring with the jargon and language of emerging job titles like ‘social media manager’, ‘augmented reality architects’, and ‘mobile app developer’ that no-one had heard of 2010.


Specifically, the use of descriptions such as ‘disruptor’, and ‘change maker’ indicate that, in the workplace of tomorrow, standing out will be more important than fitting in.


As I reflect on how my own professional life has changed in the past decade, with the impact of technology so significant in our workplace and what this means to teach in schools, I fear the great unknown is not only the uncertainty of which path a girl may take, but what the destination will look like when she gets there.


And for young women, leaving with the same aspirations as their male counterparts at BBC and Churchie – these young men (also graduating at the end of November) will be 9 times more likely to step into leadership roles than the young women graduating this year.

Indeed, in 4 or 5 years’ time, when the students in front of us tonight graduate from university, they will outnumber men at record levels in Australia, yet start out earning 90 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn.

This statistic, as alarming as it is in 2020, should not deter you. Edwina Dunn’s words ring true and inspire us more than ever – you need to see it, to be it.


It is every school’s responsibility, as it is at Somerville House, to equip our students well for this journey.


Together, we walk into the wind

This is a walk requiring our conviction, our courage and, importantly, our wisdom.


From a Somerville House perspective, the ‘getting of wisdom’, is not solely linked to the pursuit of academic success but the development of one’s character, commitment and life skills required to navigate a world with integrity, empathy and wisdom. 


Wisdom is one of those qualities difficult to define because it encompasses so much—but people generally recognize wisdom when they encounter it.


Girls, no matter how smart you are, and how many experiences you have had, you will encounter times when the line between right and wrong seems fuzzy, and you are not sure what choice to make.

Remember, an intelligent person believes only half of what they hear; a wise person knows which half.

I feel it is hard to gain wisdom when you stay in and do the same thing day after day. You become wiser when you put yourself out there, and give yourself the opportunity to learn, make mistakes and reflect on the experience.

I encourage you now, more than ever, to ‘walk into the wind’.

And as you walk, continue to enrich yourself with education.

Read as much as you can.

Be humble in new situations and use this as an opportunity to learn and deepen your knowledge, your wisdom.

Be courageous to step into the Board Room, or any room and be bold - your voices must be heard.


In all that we do at Somerville House, through the quality of our conversations, the language we use, the messages we convey - we aim to allow each girl to find her own, authentic voice, to encourage the responsible use of this voice and to engender the strength of character and conviction needed to stand up for what is right.


Somerville House girls have an established reputation, runs on the board if you like, for what they have given to others. Clearly following the example of young women who have gone before them, thousands of girls have gone into the workforce, into families and communities; they have walked into the wind and continue to do so

To walk into the wind we don’t all have to be like Rosa Parkes, who helped initiate the civil rights movement in the United States when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955.

we don’t have to risk our lives like Malala Yousafzai

the 14 year old Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ education.

We can be like past Somerville House student, Helena Franco, who completed Year 12 in 2012 and after working on a research project at the Mater Medical Research Institute, organised by the School’s Biology Department, was inspired to study Medicine. During her time at Medical School, Helena has organised overseas placements at Yale University and the University of Cambridge, was Vice-President of the Australasian Student Surgical Association, and Events Co-ordinator of the Australian Medical Students’ Association.

In 2018, she graduated as Dr Helena Franco and was honoured with the Bond University Young Alumni Award for outstanding voluntary service, exemplary student leadership and excellence in academic and professional pursuits.

or we can be like 2004 graduate, Abigail Lees, working as a Director for the BBC natural History Unit in Bristol, England. In 2017 Abi travelled to Antarctica and walked into the wind literally, as she filmed elephant seals and king penguins, and again the following year she was back in Antarctica, to visit an island with a resident active volcano,

where 100,000 chinstrap penguins make their home for the breeding season. Abi remains hopeful that her wildlife documentaries will inspire the next generation to tackle environmental issues, be it through making their own science or wildlife documentaries, through scientific research, or simply by engaging with their environment in everyday life.

Along with Melissa Downes, these girls, these Brisbane girls, these Somerville House girls are walking into the wind. They dreamed their dreams, maybe while they were sitting at their Speech Night or maybe at some other point in their lives. They have set the example for us all to make a life by what we give.

So, some 121 years on, I believe that the values held dear by our school remain absolute. I truly believe that these are core Christian values and will stand our girls in good stead as they take their place in this rapidly changing world.

In closing, I will share some lines from a brief but impactful poem penned by Ezra Pound, which for me signifies the shocking reality for many people in the way they live their lives. He wrote:

And the days are not full enough

And the nights are not full enough

And life slips by like a field mouse

Not shaking the grass.

At Somerville House, our aim is to promote among our young women, both the desire and the ability, to shake the grass, in whatever path of life each student chooses to pursue.

The values of compassion, true love and care for others; these values shake the grass of a complacent society every time,

So do values like: Integrity, honesty, faithfulness and generosity as well as a sense of justice and a desire to act for the good of others;

Year Twelve graduands, I believe you have been well prepared by our school and your families, I hope you have a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love. It is up to you to decide where you will go and how you choose to use your gifts and to walk into the wind, as you shake the grass where you pass.



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