For youth and gender equality advocate Ashleigh Streeter-Jones, packing up her life to start over in a new city was a crossroads moment.
It wasn’t always easy, but Streeter-Jones told students at The Australian National University (ANU) 2024 Commencement Address that putting her stuff in the back of her car and coming to Canberra to study was worth it.
“For the first few months, I felt desperately lonely. I was so homesick that I delayed the completion of my Masters, extending it for another six months,” she said.
“Looking back, seven years down the track, I can hand on heart say that my Master of Diplomacy was absolutely worth moving for.”
For the students in attendance, many of whom were just beginning their journey at ANU, Streeter-Jones’ story would be familiar. Approximately 5,300 students are commencing at ANU in semester one, many of whom have moved from across Australia and around the world.
For students having taken the leap, Streeter-Jones encouraged them to be curious and question the status quo.
“I am an activist and an advocate who believes deeply in the power of the next generation, and is fascinated by systems,” she said. “I am deeply uncomfortable with the way the world works, and have dedicated my time to challenging the status quo.”
In 2020, Streeter-Jones launched Raise Our Voice, an organisation that runs training and campaigns on gender equality. Its programs have graduated 120 young people from training programs and resulted in hundreds of speeches from young people in parliament.
“The best things I’ve done in my career have often been the cheekiest,” Streeter-Jones said.
“Audacity drove the emails I sent to politicians in 2017, asking them to let a young woman take over their office for a day. It was audacity which started a conversation about the absence of young women and gender diverse people from politics.
“It does take audacity to look at something and think ‘I could create something better’.”
Canberra can get a bad rap from those who haven’t yet found the beauty in its roundabouts, wineries and lanyard-wearing public servants, but Streeter-Jones encouraged students to give themselves the time to love the city.
“Canberra will always hold a very special place in my heart. It was the place I moved to when I truly backed myself for the first time,” she said.
“It was the place where I consolidated my values, my identity, where I had some of my biggest career wins, and which produced some of the best opportunities and people that I know.
ANU Vice-Chancellor and President Genevieve Bell echoed Streeter-Jones’ words about the power new students have to shift the status quo.
“I talk a lot about the fact we have a responsibility to make the world a better place – to make it more fair, more just, more sustainable and I think to tell stories that are more hopeful and optimistic about a future we can make together,” Bell said.
“And there is no better place to do that than on day one.”
“This is just the beginning,” Streeter-Jones said.
“The journey is yours to define and the people sitting in this room are right there with you.”