Reunion Reflections


I live in Sydney, but was in town for the 20-year Woodleigh reunion at the beginning of October. Everything had changed, but really nothing had changed.

If I had to describe Woodleigh to Sydneysiders in three words: Footy. Wattle. Transformative.

The photography dark room has gone. The smoking spots are still there (and probably a bit easier to hide because the trees have grown up). The Agora is still exactly the same. The art room and gallery; 20 years on, that space has not aged a day and smells exactly as it did; a heady mix of timber, hot sun on glass, acrylic paint and ceramics. The trees have grown, and I think Brian Hendo would be very proud of how his banksias are looking.

The path to Woodleigh for me was not all that straight forward. I had a detour via Padua and Mornington High before I finally ‘made it’ to Woodleigh for Year 11 and 12 on a scholarship. The real struggle for me was getting to Woodleigh. When I arrived, I was so relieved and awestruck: it felt like where I belonged, but at the same time it came with pressure to perform. Managing that pressure was quite formative, but I never felt as though I had to do it alone; encouragement and belief came from every single teacher, reception person and friend I met along the way. It grew a sense of ambition and confidence in me that I could do anything. But to really do anything, you have to ask for help, be helpful and cultivate a community of support and reciprocity.

The loss of Kate Boden and Emily Masterton in 2000 deeply affected all of The Class of 2001. The way that loss was dealt with by everyone remains one of the most enduring examples of courage, kindness, and compassion I have ever experienced. To this day, I cannot walk past flowering wattle without remembering not only Kate and Em, but how elegantly and compassionately that loss was honoured, and how their lives were celebrated. That level of care, connectivity and value of community has remained, and will always remain with me. That to me is the ‘Woodleigh Way’ and has undeniably made me a kinder person, leader and friend.

Jess Miller 2001

When was the last time you were back on campus?

I was back on campus for the 10-year reunion in October 2022.

If I could describe Woodleigh in 3 words, it would be … unique, adventurous, a privilege.

What has and hasn’t changed at Woodleigh? Although the new Homesteads are seriously lush, a lot of things haven’t changed; the VCE history classroom; the smell of Jago; the feeling of having the bush all around.

Michael Norman is famous for his ‘no growth without struggle’ quote. What was a struggle you faced during your time at Woodleigh? And how did you grow from it?

Ms Shep never believed me when I explained that it wasn’t me who took out the IOU at the canteen in Year 7, even though my best friend admitted to taking out debts under my name. Consequently, I was in the bad books of the most powerful woman at Woodleigh from Year 7 to 12. I tried to fix it by trying to suck up to her, which (unsurprisingly) never worked. I put my foot in it again and again. Eventually I gained the dual gifts of acceptance and humour in the face of dire circumstances.

They say when you leave Woodleigh, the Woodleigh stays with you. What’s the biggest Woodleigh element that has stuck with you out in the Real World?

Apart from my friendships, probably the biggest lesson I took away from Woodleigh was the understanding that fitting in is boring. Caring about the things you actually care about – no matter how niche – is the best ticket for a life well lived.

Gabi Stanszus 2012

When was the last time you were on campus?

Besides our 20-year reunion, I have been lucky enough to be invited back by former head of the Arts Faculty, Kristen Guthrie to run Photography lessons during Arts weeks and Activities weeks.

If I could describe Woodleigh in 3 words it would be …

Grounding, creative, supportive.

The main difference on campus is …

Maybe the same thing most people from my era notice, all the new Homesteads.

What hasn’t changed is

The smell of the Jago. Not sure how or why, but it’s been like that since day one. Also, the feeling of the courtyard and senior area of the arts buildings. I spent a lot of time there, I just remember it being a lot bigger.

What was a struggle you faced during your time at Woodleigh? And how did you grow from it?

Our Year 12 Arts class had a rough start to the year. We lost a brand new teacher right at the start of the year. It actually led to an amazing art teacher, Rachel Boggan (now Rachel Bryant), who stepped in to team-teach and switch up the classes. Looking at the photo from that class, even with that rough time, there are now over half of that class working in some sort of creative / art profession.

They say when you leave Woodleigh, the Woodleigh stays with you. What’s the biggest Woodleigh element that has stuck with you out in the Real World?

I guess that it’s not just about making friends and meeting people in your own years; it’s also the people above and below you. Outside of Woodleigh I have seen and worked with more people in the years below me; Tristan Graham, Francesca Laude (Pizzey), Thomas Rennie, Serrin McCallum, Marc Baker, Frances Richardson and Sam Davis, to name a few. The amazing thing is that we all get along because of the unique experience we had at school.

Ryan Wheatley 2002