Sally Irwin, Emma Szczotko and Dr Jane Thomson at the he Emmanuel College Women’s High Tea

Emmanuel College Students’ Club Vice President Sally Irwin, Emma Szczotko and Principal Dr Jane Thomson at the Emmanuel College Women’s High Tea

Girls to the front! at the Emmanuel College Women’s High Tea

24 October, 2018

Speech by alumna Emma Szczotko (EMC 2011–2013) at the Emmanuel College Women’s High Tea, Sunday 7 October 2018

Firstly, I would like to say thank you to Principal Dr Jane Thomson, Advancement Manager Michelle James, Students’ Club Vice President Sally Irwin and the College for inviting me to speak. I am both humbled and thrilled to be at this high tea for Emmanuel College women. Yeah the girls!

This event is a fantastic initiative. And it’s supporting the Black Dog Institute, even better. And I hear you’ve established a Women’s Committee of the Emmanuel College Students’ Club — brilliant! I wish we had both when I was at College.

Ladies of Emmanuel, the time is ripe; the world is shifting; girls to the front!

We are witnessing global social change. From the Macquarie Group, which is Australia’s biggest investment bank, appointing its first female CEO to the #metoo and #timesup movements, we are in a position where the voices of women are becoming louder.

Every day I am inspired by the intelligent and dynamic women making waves in the world. From Annabelle Crabb and Leigh Sales — two of Australia’s best journalists — to Rosie Batty, whose strength and courage is unbelievable. And don’t get me started on how much I fangirl for Jacinda Ardern. What. A. Woman!

Now tell me how many well-known Emmanuel female alums who are leaders, game changers, in their fields do you know? Unfortunately, I cannot count a real lot — YET.

Don’t despair, because you know what, they’re making history now. In fact they’re sitting next to you.

Let me tell you about the amazing EMC women I had the absolute privilege of sharing my time with at Emmanuel. I called Emmanuel home for three years, from 2011 to 2013, which, after some simple maths, made me realise it’s been almost five years since I left College. And, wow, how far all my gal pals and I have come since then. From being queens of the dance floor to queens of the office / shop / parliament / gallery floor, we’ve come quite some way in five short years.

My best friend from College Lucinda Bourke (who was also an ECSC President) is a policy advisor to the NSW Attorney General. Every day she works to change policy and the law for the better. Iszy George, our ECSC VP, and my fellow Art History major mate, moved to New York (along with several other career-goal kicking alums) and is a PR specialist and sales representative at Guy Hepner, a premier New York gallery for contemporary art. Jordan Cory moved to Melbourne is a doctor at Royal Melbourne Hospital, working in surgical oncology, and sits on the executive committee of the Victorian Medical Women’s Society and represented the Medical Women’s International Association at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women held in New York.


I value and cherish my friendships enormously with these and all the women I bonded with at College. It’s a very special connection you make.

I also had the privilege of having strong female Emmanuel College staff members who backed me. Dr Lesa Scholl, our Academic Dean, supported me both academically and personally during my time at university and I am incredibly appreciative. Advancement Director Margy Chatburn helped me get my foot in the door with my first law firm experience, which helped to kick-start my career.

So where have I gone in five years since leaving College?

To Toowong. And you know what? I love it. Brisbane is an incredible place to live, work and play.

So what have I been doing since College, then?

I went on exchange to Paris for a semester. I played football (soccer) in a French university team that played around the country, from Bordeaux to Nice. I studied art history in the best art museums in the world. I spoke French every day.

I returned home with the not-uncommon post-exchange blues, searching for what’s next. Fortunately, I lived in a series of share houses with champion Emmanuel alums who motivated me with their drive and energy.

When I got back from exchange, I was determined to throw myself into all of UQ’s opportunities. I rejoined my football club, UQFC, which also has a number of Emmanuel “old girls”, including my coach, a team mate, and our physio — all absolute top dogs. I volunteered at the UQ Art Museum as a collection management intern, which meant I was handling Queensland’s second-largest art collection every week. I became a careers officer for the Justice and Law Society and organised events with social-justice-minded professionals and students, including community legal centre lawyers, barristers and judges. I also became the events coordinator for the Society of Fine Arts at UQ, and helped organise a bunch of extra-curricular art-world events.

Doing this, I did the unimaginable; I made “day kid” friends — and realised they’re all right.

I graduated from a dual law and arts degree in mid-2016, then worked three jobs and went travelling for six months through Central and South America. Teaching myself Spanish and hiking any trail I could. I had an amazing time and was ready to start full-time work when I came home.

The start of last year I commenced the 18-month graduate program at Herbert Smith Freehills, a top-tier global law firm. I did my graduate diploma of legal practice and became admitted as a solicitor in the Supreme Court of Queensland. I work with highly intelligent and motivated people every day. I’ve completed three rotations in different areas of commercial law and am now on secondment to Queensland Treasury helping to set up CleanCo, Queensland’s new government-owned renewable energy generator company. I’m now working in a multi-disciplinary team of government project directors and advisers, business analysts, commercial and trading energy experts, and technology and stakeholder advisers to support the growth of Queensland’s renewable energy industry. I never imagined upon leaving College almost five years ago that I would be so fortunate to have all these wonderful opportunities and experiences.

In an attempt to leave you with some parting wisdom, I have been reflecting on what I wish I knew at College, or what I wish I did, or how I wish I could make College a better experience, not only for me, but everyone around me. The following is my top five:

  1. Embrace diversity. Difference is beautiful and makes the world a richer place. College students can be rather homogenous, so, when there is difference, it should be nourished. I didn’t come out at College because that was just too different from the norm, but I wish I felt that I could have.
  1. Be brave. If you think something, then say it. Your voice matters. If you want to meet someone, then do it. If someone inspires you, then organise a coffee to meet them. They will be flattered by the gesture and impressed by your energy and initiative.
  1. Make the most of what College life offers. Those academic tutes can make all the difference. And the fact that you have your peers around you 24/7 is completely unique.
  1. Find your people — those that you can be completely comfortable around and cherish and nourish those friendships.
  1. Support each other. Women supporting women is essential. We must stand by each other and promote each other. It’s good for you; it’s good for all of us; it’s good for the world.

I want to try something, a bit of an experiment. Could everyone please turn to the person next to them and say “You’re going to change the world!”.

Thank you again for having me. I wish you all every success and happiness as you go forth and change the world.