As feature speaker, what could I say to the smart young women of Parvati
Girls’ Hindu College that wouldn’t make them zone out? When I was
graduating I was agonising about my weight, dress, boys. I was not
popular. I was wispy thin. I wore glasses.
My father took me to a seamstress and I picked out a design that was a
cross between a medieval collar and a gypsy skirt. Thankfully, only one
blurry photograph survives of that time. My dad took me to my graduation
and my brother stayed by my side the whole time. I was home by nine,
even before the party got going.
Now graduation ceremonies are as hyped as a mass audition to play Evita
Peron, with elaborate attention to hair, nails, dress, shoes, jewelry,
makeup. I marvel at our secondary school girls (who have academically
shot way past boys)—they can look like they’ve walked out of a Vogue
shoot, while acing exams and applying to do engineering and math
I brought the troops. I asked my dynamite women friends for advice that
I shared with the Parvati Girls. Here is some of it.
From Sharon Amow Gay:
“You’re living in an over-sexualised world. But you should avoid an
intimate sexual relationship for as long as possible, perhaps even into
your 20s. Our sexual drives at this young age determine with whom we
form relationships, which in turn determines our future life partners
(or ex-partners who cause us deep emotional wounds, depending on how
Regardless of how independent and mature you believe we are at 17, 18 or
19 years old, we can never anticipate the emotional storms that
accompany our sexual relationships. You simply do not have the
experience at this age to grasp that sex is never casual, even when it
is your intention for it to be ‘no strings attached’ or ‘a small ting.’
“Give yourself time to grow, to recognise a messed-up young man who
comes into your life, often to satisfy his fleeting desires, fill his
voids or soothe his emotional wounds. Don’t be somebody’s collateral
damage as they work through their issues.
“I’ve seen so many bright, beautiful young women who end up abused,
disrespected and discarded by their messed-up partners.
“What exactly are you offering semi-clothed at a party to the young men,
looking for some action—action that doesn’t include any form of
commitment, short- or long-term, to you and your well-being?
“Yes, there are psychologically healthy youths, but they will still be
around in the next couple years if you are meant to be together in
fulfilling, respectful long-term relationships.”
From Dr Charlotte Bigland:
“My father said: ‘Take what you want from life—you are young and it is
yours for the taking. But understand, everything comes with a cost. Be
prepared for that cost. When making a decision, carefully consider the
cost/implications of doing or not doing something. Understand if the
price is right for you, and if it is, let nothing stop you from getting
what you want.’ It helped me get through many exams by consciously
knowing that the cost of a missed social event or watching TV was worth
it for a scholarship. I still analyse decisions that way now.
“My own advice is: There is no such thing as the ‘Disney princess
happily-ever-after’ life. The universally perfect woman is an
unrealistic myth, but you can strive for what’s perfect for you.
“As a doctor, people often tell me about their actual life, and it’s
quite different from the front they put on. We should discuss our
struggles more to let other people know that success requires work and
is not simply delivered by a fairy godmother.
Choices are necessary. Compromise is not a failure.
“In a similar vein, it is also worth remembering that real women’s boobs
don’t look like you see in the movies—so quit worrying about it.”
From Teresa White:
“Be reflective when faced with criticism—even if it is given unkindly or
by somebody who does not like you. Do not let this cloud your ability to
digest a harsh truth about yourself. You may decide to discard the
message if it is untrue, but you might be able to take something useful
(even though it is painful) out of it.
“The best career advice I have been given (three instances come
immediately to mind) came from line managers who, put baldly, disliked
me—what they said was not gentle or sympathetic, but it was true. I am
better off for having internalised it—though it felt very crappy at the
Finally, from my sister
“This world is vast—keep your eyes, heart and spirit open to everything
new. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone or try something new because
“Have strong relationships with family and friends—it grounds you and
gives you a sense of self.
“You don’t need to fill all your time with external distractions such as
TV, radio, someone. It’s important to hear what’s in your head so you
can start trusting your own voice.”
Congratulations, girls. Go forth and conquer.