Their careers are worlds apart, but the four Our Lady of Mercy College graduates who spoke at the Parramatta school’s International Women’s Day forum are all women of action.
Ann O’Brien remembers the support of her principal when, as a 16-year-old student, she expressed a desire to be a social worker, a career then on the fringe.
She was joined on Saturday by fellow guest speakers: geology researcher Lani Barnes, history and geography teacher Sharon McLean, and ABC broadcast journalist Brigid Glanville.
Mrs O’Brien, who attended the college from 1967 to 1972, said most of her peers went into teaching, nursing or secretarial work, while a few went into medicine or science.
‘‘Our school was an environment that really fostered social justice, compassion, respect for others,’’ she said.
‘‘I was taught by many nuns who were great models of women who were trying to influence change [and] very knowledgeable about the world too.
‘‘They taught us that with preparation, education and with energy we could do pretty much all that we wanted to do.’’
Mercy values of compassion and service especially resonated with 2009 graduate Lani Barnes.
The Pendle Hill resident gives her time to support education programs for indigenous youth, when not travelling to Thailand and Laos to complete a masters research project on limestone caves in South-East Asia.
‘‘There’s a real focus on ... being a strong Mercy woman who can implement change,’’ she said.
‘‘Definitely I think it has influenced how I treat people and how I react to different situations.
‘‘One of my lecturers has set up an indigenous science day where we invite Aboriginal kids from regional Sydney and regional NSW high schools to come to Macquarie University.
‘‘It’s a day of fun science activities, really exposing them to the idea of tertiary education and the support systems there.
‘‘If they’re way from their family and their country it can be very confronting, so it’s just to show them that uni is a real option.’’
Principal Stephen Walsh said it was important for current students to see the depth and variety of past students’ successes.
‘‘I really believe for young people, but particularly for young women, that they can go into any field they chose to,’’ he said.
‘‘The challenge is to give our students the chance to be young women that are critical, that will challenge the foundations of society in terms of what’s perceived in the media and what’s presented to them in advertising.
‘‘They should be confident to be able to stand up and say ‘That’s not right, that’s not how we want the world to be and I’m prepared to make a difference’.’’