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High School - Going back after 20 years

Susan Murphy, riding a bike

I was recently asked by my high school to speak at an assembly in honour of their highest achieving students for 2015. I felt so privileged to be asked, although I wasn't at all a model student back in the 90s, nor was I the kind of student who was at the top of my class.

When I asked what they would like me to talk about at the assembly, I was told to talk about my time at the school, my life since leaving more than 20 years ago and some of the things I'd learnt along the way.

The school was aware that I was a marriage celebrant and justice of the peace and that I had written a couple of books, but I decided that I had much more than that to say about life and to tell an auditorium full of hopeful kids about what lessons life had taught me.

I spoke to them that day with honesty and I wanted to share with you my speech in the hope that it gets some of you thinking about how far you have come since those early days and how the lessons you have gained along the way have shaped you. xx


Good morning to all of you and thank you so much for having me today. It’s definitely an honour to be asked to come back here and speak to you and I’d like to say that I’m excited, but to be honest I’m nervous because teenagers can be a tough crowd!

My name is Susan Murphy and I was a student here in the 1990s, the era of big hair and mobile phones the size of bricks that no one could afford. My memories of my time here are definitely filled with a lot of laughs and great friends and when I recently organised the 20 year reunion for my year level it was amazing to see all of the people I had spent those important years with and where life had taken them.

I liked it so much at TMC that even when my parents moved and I had to leave half way through Year 10 to go to a new school, I cried so much they eventually gave in and let me come back half way through Year 11 and I stayed until graduating.

Some of you here already know me. I won’t point anyone out for fear of total embarrassment, but I know some of your parents through the local community and friendships I’ve made along the way. I also have a nephew in the room so you can try and guess who that is.

As some of you start your final year here at TMC and prepare yourselves for life in the big old world, I wanted to talk to you today about my experience of Thomas More and what I’ve learned since leaving more than 20 years ago.

At school I wasn’t the kid who had it all figured out. There always seemed to be those who knew exactly what they wanted to do and others who weren’t quite sure, but had a rough idea. That wasn’t me. I had no idea. I was always the kind of person who liked to try out different things and once I felt I’d experienced that I’d move on to the next. Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to work well with a career so I worked hard and kept my options open. I did reasonably well in school, although if I’d put a little more in I’m sure I would have done amazingly well. I kind of regret that now! I think that if I’d taken the time to not just do the work that was set so I could pass, but to really take it on board and do it well, I would have opened up the opportunity for many more choices later on.

I came from a large family who didn’t have much and I think that led to a lot of assumptions and beliefs about myself that took me years to realise were complete rubbish.

When I left school I went straight into a Nursing degree at UniSA and worked part time in a snack bar, but 2 years into it I knew Nursing wasn’t the right fit for me. It was a hard decision, but I left the university and took up a position as a medical records clerk at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital. At the same time I enrolled in TAFE and began certificates in office administration. Soon after, I landed a cadetship with a Government legal department and for the past 16 years I have worked in many different roles there. I am currently in the Community Education section where I am lucky enough to look after the social media and web stuff. Who wouldn’t love a job that requires you to sit on Facebook all day?

While in this role my love for diversity could not be quashed. I did a course in massage, worked other jobs, completed a Certificate 4 in Workplace Training and was appointed as one of the youngest Justices of the Peace in SA. Still not satisfied, I began a certificate in marriage celebrancy and was appointed as a Commonwealth marriage and funeral celebrant in 2006. While doing all of this I also got married and had 3 amazing children. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, but at least I was on the right track!

And then something happened that changed the course of my entire life. In the space of 6 months my brother was killed in a workplace accident, I almost lost the baby I was carrying, my grandmother died and the day after my baby was born my best friend died suddenly. My world fell apart and everything that had seemed important no longer seemed to matter. The petty fights with my sisters, the family squabbles the small ding in my bumper – none of it meant anything.

This was a really dark time in my life and it took me a long time to come out the other side, but when I did I was different. Completely different. I think that my perspective on everything changed. I began to write as a means to making sense of things, but I soon remembered that I loved to write when I was here in school. I recently even found some of the things I had written in English class and it was like an entire piece of me that I had left behind because I got so caught up in the business of my life and trying to work out what I was doing.

In 2013, instead of taking up the Law degree I was about to start I took a chance and made a decision that was less practical, but about which I was more passionate. Instead, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Writing and Creative Communication with a major in Adult Education and I am now in my final year. In 2015 I had two of my books published by Harper Collins Australia and I hope to have 2 more on the way this year. I also now teach Professional Development for TAFE and travel all around Australia delivering sessions, something I absolutely love.

So I would like to share with you some of the things that I learned from that experience and from living the 38 years that God has given me so far.

  1. Life is short. It’s too short to worry about many of the things that bog us down with worry on a daily basis. Ask yourself if it will matter in 5 years and if the answer is no, move on.

  2. Love and family are, above all else in life, the two most important things we have. Ask a person who has been told they only have a short time to live or who has just lost a loved one what is important and none of them will say money or winning. Love and loved ones always come first and foremost.

  3. Being a good person is about how you behave when no one is looking. There are plenty of people who do good deeds for applause, but it’s the ones who do good things when there will be no reward and thanks that truly make a difference. Be one of those people.

  4. In life we have the opportunity to choose, so choose kindness and tolerance. There’s already enough hate in the world.

  5. When it comes time to make decisions about your future, think about the fact that this is something you will be doing over and over again every day. Think hard about what really makes you happy and fulfilled and find a way to make a career out of it. If you love being outdoors, don’t do a degree that will lead to a job where you’ll never see the outside world. If you love having a desk and a computer, don’t put yourself in a position that will cause you to work away or be out and about all the time. Choose wisely. And if you find you’ve made a mistake, start again. Life is too precious to do something that makes you miserable every day.

  6. There are lots of things that bring us happiness – good friends, having money, taking holidays etc, but we are only ever truly happy and fulfilled when we give of ourselves. Volunteering for Fred’s Vans who feed the homeless was one of the best and most humbling things I have ever done. Every Christmas I now deliver food hampers for Adelaide Day Centre to the homes of those who are doing it tough. I take all 3 of my kids along so that they are reminded that not everyone has an easy road. Life is tough sometimes.

  7. Every person in this room has a story. Every one of you have probably experienced something difficult, but here you are, still putting one foot in front of the other and doing your best. That is all anyone can ever ask of you, but not all you can ask of yourself. In hard times we sometimes need to push ourselves a little harder than anyone else will and know that we can do it. Believe in yourself because there are times when no one else will.

  8. Learning is life-long. This was something I really learnt here at TMC. Learn everything you can and soak it in. Knowledge is power!

  9. Force the little voice in your head to be nice. Practice every day speaking positively to yourself instead of beating yourself up about everything. Be your own best friend and supporter.

  10. Lastly, I wish I had made a plan for my life when I was younger instead of just letting it happen and hoping something good was coming next. I wish I had actually written down the kind of life I wanted to have and made a plan of how I could work to achieve it. If you think you can, try to take some time to imagine the kind of life you want and a make a path toward it. Unfortunately, just hoping doesn’t take you very far, trust me!

I won’t go on, but you get the picture.

Out of all of this if there is one thing I hope you take from today it would be that we are all running the same race and no one is getting out alive, so give it your all and be fearless.

Thank you

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