All Saints Catholic College Liverpool Year 9 girls were inspired to be themselves when Monika Radulovic visited as part of a wellbeing and reflection day for the grade.
The current Miss Universe Australia and psychology graduate, whose refugee parents relocated with her to Australia from war-torn Bosnia 20 years ago, spoke about the value of education and how to deal with negative comments on social media.
Monika said she was honoured to meet the students, who applauded enthusiastically as she shared anecdotes about her Miss Universe journey and school years, culminating in some good advice.
“I think the number one thing that everybody can take on board, no matter how old you are or where you are is just to be yourself,” she said.
“I think it’s so important we embrace what makes us different, and we utilise that rather than trying to hide it and blend in with everybody else. It’s what makes us special. That was what I really wanted to tell the girls because I remember in high school not feeling that confident. Now I embrace all my differences.”
Monika said her number one aim was to get a good education. She encouraged students to be aware of how airbrushed and unreal a lot of the images were, saying personality and intelligence were what makes a person most attractive.
Her talk was also a lesson in persistence after she shared failing to win the Miss Universe Australia competition in 2014 and trying again the following year.
“Last year when I went into the competition I was really intimidated,” she said. “All the girls were so beautiful, and I kept comparing myself to them. I think a lot of us girls struggle with that, especially with social media and Instagram. Looking at all the insta-famous girls, it doesn’t do us a service to compare ourselves.”
I think it’s so important we embrace what makes us different. -Monika Radulovic
“The harder you work, the more you learn from your mistakes.
“You can apply that to anything in life. It could be your dream for the day, or the next month, or the year – just focus on that and believe in yourself, because that’s the biggest power you have. If you believe in yourselves, that’s all you need to succeed.
“I don’t know what the future holds but I’m so grateful I have an education behind me.”
Monika was invited to meet the girls by her friend and College Counsellor, Brianna Sada. The pair completed their psychology degrees together.
“She embodies beauty and brains,” Ms Sada said.
“Her passion is education and we really want to instill in the girls that education is important. The girls are always asking me about models and their diets and if they’re photo-shopped. They compare themselves to people like Monika, but I wanted them to see that she is actually really down to earth and what makes her so beautiful is that she has a brain behind her.”
“This morning I spoke to the girls about mental health and … needing a good support group of people you can rely on and talk to.
“Monika is one of my support people a friend I go to when I need help. I try to instill in the girls that support people are what will help get them through their challenges in life.”
Monika’s visit was part of a program which included a relationship talk, an activity where students made ‘stress balls’, and visits from other strong role models including Matilda’s football team member Alanna Kennedy, and past student Grace Micali who is currently completing a PhD in microbiology. The theme of the day was ‘Building bridges, not walls’ – encouraging young women to be brave, strong and to make the most of their talents.
“The idea is that life will throw these stones at you and it’s up to you what you do with them – whether you build a wall or you build a bridge,” said Year 9 coordinator Sue Foxcroft.
“As a teacher working in the west I think it’s so important to give the students these opportunities to meet people like this and know that they can live the dream and that they can have these aspirations. I feel very passionate that the girls know that things are achievable and that they can do exactly what they want if they set their mind to it and believe in themselves.”
Ms Foxcroft said students were keen to meet Monika.
“When they Googled her they were very interested, particularly because of the fact she was a refugee. We have a lot of students who were refugees, so they could really connect with her,” she said.
Year 9 students Samrawit Kidan and Simranjeet Kaur said they enjoyed Monika’s talk. “The thing I like most about Monika is that she broke stereotypes because she’s beautiful and a model but she’s also got a degree in psychology,” Samrawit said.
“I think what stuck with me the most was that the thing about social media is that it doesn’t allow girls like us to portray our inner selves. It likes us for our physical appearance. She [Monika] taught us that we need personalities and knowledge to back us up and to always respect our teachers, because that will get us far.”
Simranjeet said Monika was inspiring. “It felt like she broke a way and told the world ‘I can be beautiful, but I can also be smart’, and that’s something that really inspires me.”