Search icon
Explore icon

From the Deputy Principal – Students, Ms Gabby Smith

2024 International Women's Day Assembly

2024 International Women’s Day Assembly – Campaign Theme ‘Inspire Inclusion’

On Thursday 7 March, the College community celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) at our Years 5-12 College assembly where we were joined by former world number four tennis player, Jelena Dokic.

Booked around a year ago, Jelena’s visit to Waverley was long-anticipated. Student leaders from St Clare’s College and St Catherine’s School attended this special live-streamed assembly in our gymnasium, which College Vice-Captain Ricardo Zanapalis led with grace and confidence.

2024 International Women's Day Assembly

Although Jelena Dokic is a household name to most generations of Australians, our student audience did not grow up ‘knowing’ her, and so a video clip of her now legendary achievements on the tennis court came to life on our large screens, which provided context and enjoyment for us all.

Making the semi-finals of Wimbledon at 17 and being a doubles Grand Slam finalist at 18 are sporting highlights which remain etched in the memories of many, however Jelena’s success was shadowed by darker elements, trauma and abuse.

With skill and sensitivity, Ricardo bonded with Jelena, creating a safe environment for her to express her vulnerability in a compelling Q&A session. She responded to our questions openly, and revealed the extreme expectations of her to win tournaments in a very high-pressure situation. A refugee at eight and 11, sometimes with not enough food, no English, bullied at school and in the tennis community, she loved Australia and exhorted our students to “keep going and never give up. This can take you far.”

2024 International Women's Day Assembly

But Jelena spoke less of her adversity and spoke more about the ways she chose to respond to it. She told us that she could not have survived without finding her voice, speaking up and sharing her story. That she had to reinvent herself and was proud of coming out the other end. Talking about her PTSD, trauma, depression, abuse and anxiety, she explained, “I didn’t want it to define me – it almost cost me my life. I didn’t want it to define my future.”

Jelena couldn’t play tennis after age 29 and went on to build a life where she is now also known globally as an author, commentator, broadcaster and thriver. Writing is a passion and her two best-selling books, autobiography Unbreakable (2017) and Fearless (2023), are testaments to her strength. Her autobiography took 13-15 months of hard work and was draining mentally, but cathartic, because she believes in vulnerability.

Q: How did you find the process of putting your life on paper while writing your two books?

“My two books are my legacy. The books have helped me to thrive. The day my book came out was the best day of my life.”

She believes that her autobiography garnered such a positive public response because she talked about things that people don’t want to talk about.

“Each time I speak, it helps me forward on my healing journey.”

Q: Did you encounter double standards in the way male and female athletes were treated during your tennis years?

“There has to be an equal amount of respect and opportunities whether you’re a man or a woman – we’ve come a very long way. I am a massive believer in kindness – we need to look after girls as well. Kindness saves lives … 99% of coaches are still male in tennis.”

2024 International Women's Day Assembly

Q: You are an example of adversity, courage and unwavering resilience. If you could leave us with one piece of advice or a thought, what would it be?

  •   Believe in yourself and your capabilities
  •   Embrace vulnerability
  •   Have purpose and meaning.

Q: Where was your favourite place to play on the circuit?

“Melbourne, Rod Laver Arena – it’s one of a kind. New York and Rome are other favourites.”

Q: Do you still play tennis non-competitively?

“Yes, it’s good to go out there and have fun. I don’t do it a lot, as 11 months of the year I am doing books, commentating and speaking.”

Jelena remains goal-oriented and when speaking of her future she is excited that there are two more books planned, including a children’s book. She said that she’d like to do more commentary around ‘speaking up’ and standing up for herself and her beliefs, being her best self, and continuing to work hard and be disciplined.

2024 International Women's Day Assembly

Her advice in helping to work towards equality?

  •   Be kind
  •   No abuse
  •   No bullying
  •   Don’t do things to others that you wouldn’t like done to yourself
  •   Have a good heart
  •   Be a good person
  •   Have good core values
  •   Be resilient and never give up
  •   Find your goals and passions and work hard
  •   Don’t ever give up on yourself.

Jelena farewelled our assembly, commenting that we were “the quietest 1,500 people ever!” Copies of her two signed books are now in our library for students.

Jelena Dokic - Unbreakable

Jelena Dokic Fearless

Mr James Horrocks (Head of Student Wellbeing) was invited to the lectern to conclude the assembly, then Jelena headed to our IWD lunch in the Performing Arts Centre with our College Leadership Team, student leaders from Waverley College, St Clare’s, St Catherine’s, and students involved in the Q&A session.

As a community, we feel privileged to have met Jelena Dokic, a living testament to the human spirit’s resilience. Collectively, let’s strive to forge a more inclusive world for women everywhere, not only on International Women’s Day but every day.

Thank you, Jelena.


Ms Gabby Smith

Deputy Principal – Students