From the Principal - What would Miss Mitchell do?

Posted 8 May 2020 8:47am

Our history is instructive when predicting the future of Canberra Girls Grammar School – PART 2

Miss Una Mitchell was Headmistress of Canberra Girls Grammar School (CCEGGS) from 1937-1947.

Miss Mitchell was educated at Perth College (also founded by the Sisters of the Church) and despite specialising in Maths and Physics, took on the role of Biology teacher with great enthusiasm. Miss Mitchell oversaw the addition of a Kindergarten to the School. She also led the School through World War II, where air-raid precautions and food rations were a reality. While she sought to protect students from the fighting abroad, she also made a special effort to keep the senior Boarders informed, showing them dignity and respect by inviting them into her sitting room to listen to the wireless once a week.

Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm. —Publilius Syrus

How leaders behave in troubled times is a fine metaphor to draw on when observing how organisations behave in difficult times. It goes without saying that March through to May in 2020 has been a lesson in resilience, patience and kindness for us all.

It is difficult to draw a direct comparison between World War II and the COVID-19 global pandemic, but both are once-in-a-lifetime events. Our current challenge is that we are living through one of history’s great social dilemmas. If we work together effectively (social distancing, using masks and gloves, sheltering-at-home), we can defeat the pandemic. But if a few act selfishly or impulsively with respect to these mandates, they invite the possibility of surges of reinfection that will prolong the crisis for us all. The students of the School during WWII, were given updates and reassurances once a week via the wireless. By contrast, we receive several missives a day by way of updates, new advice, metrics and human-interest pieces. I am acutely aware that the School sends out updates, ‘possibles’, ‘probables’ and refreshed arrangements almost daily. Also, by contrast, at the time of the War, the students and staff hunkered closely together in shelters, compared to our challenge of mandating distancing. In 2020, we are craving social interface and we are learning about social interaction without social contact, as well as processing what is lost.

Where one is located at the time of a crisis and who one shares a crisis with is rarely forgotten. We never forget what shapes us. The people and places, the organisations and our School, the pain and loss, the triumphs. We as community are sharing this crisis and our community is constituted by the students in our care and those who care for them. In this week of Founders’ Day, our students and our past students – the Grammarians – are living the values of our founders. I have met many Grammarians, who when  returning to Canberra and walking onto the campus, always have a deeply personal response – surprises and reassurances.  

To the Grammarians

You are part of an institution that is over 90 years old, and you have played such a significant part in shaping this School. Our current students talk about you. We look back and feel soothed by familiarity but equally by progress. We do reflect and we reflect with pride, but also with hope and confidence in the future. We draw on your example to give us strength to face today’s challenges.

We are committed to honouring our service-minded foundational values, our wholesome history, our purposeful courageous past, and we will not tread on the principles of the past to get to the future. We look ahead and will guide our school through the coming opportunities and challenges. Thank you. We know who we are and we will never forget where we came from.

To the President of Grammarians Association, Sanchia Glaskin, and the Grammarians’ Association Committee members and every Grammarian, Happy Founders’ Day!

Mrs Anna Owen

Photo at top: Mrs Anna Owen (right), pictured with Grammarians: Liz Mulcahy, Margaret Cornwell, Sue Hart and Sophia Notaras.