7 March 2023

Woman of the Year finalist Jorja O’Brien already making the world a better place

| Katrina Condie
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Jorja O'Brien

At the age of 17, Jorja O’Brien has her sights set on becoming a lawyer. Photo: Jorja O’Brien.

Young’s 2023 NSW Woman of the Year Awards finalist, Jorja O’Brien, believes she has the “potential to make the world a better place” and says she will “work as hard as possible to achieve this”.

The 17-year-old Hennessy Catholic College student is among 10 finalists in the Advocate for Children and Young People One to Watch category, which recognises girls and young women who have demonstrated a single act or ongoing acts of courage, strength, determination, or kindness to help and support those around them.

The winners will be announced in Sydney on Thursday, 9 March, as part of NSW Women’s Week celebrations.

At such a young age, Jorja has already accumulated an incredible list of personal, academic and community achievements, which is why her school careers adviser, Leanne Parkman, nominated her for the state award.

In the submission, Mrs Parkman described Jorja as “an exemplary student who displays courage, strength, determination and kindness within the college community”.

The year 12 student was selected as one of 20 exceptional students from across Australia for the Mathspace Transformative 20 Awards, which “celebrate individuals who strive for impact, work with purpose, focus on continuous improvement, and demonstrate selflessness through their commitment to helping others”.

Jorja represented her school in the Sydney University debating workshop and took part in the Law Society of NSW Young Justice Program, which increased her desire to complete a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of NSW.

“I aim to become a political lawyer and eventually work for organisations similar to that of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) to ensure Australia remains an equitable society,” she said.

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“I intend to ensure that, with a high position within an Australian law firm, I am able to provide opportunities to all people across our country that encourage them to achieve the goals they wish to – no matter their extravagance.”

Jorja contributes to the college’s fundraising efforts for charities such as St Vincent de Paul, Caritas Australia and the Presentation Sisters Lismore Flood Appeal. She is a cinema volunteer and has been an active participant in the college Dine and Donate program, which helps those in need.

She’s a diligent peer support leader and volunteers with the Young North breakfast program for primary school children and, in March 2022, she walked five kilometres every day to help raise $900,000 for Canteen Australia.

In 2021, Jorja won the Country to Canberra annual leadership competition and took part in a five-day ”Power Trip” to the national capital.

She was one of 20 students across NSW to receive the Premier’s Anzac Memorial Scholarship, which recognised her positive contributions to her local communities, her respect for the service and sacrifice of Australian Defence Force personnel and her passion for studying history. The two-week historical study tour visited important places associated with Australia’s military history, including Darwin.

Jorja said the trip was “genuinely one of the most incredible experiences of my life” and encouraged her to study History Extension as part of the HSC.

“Not only was it historically enlightening, but I also met many people who have experienced events, such as an incredible Holocaust survivor from the Sydney Jewish Museum, that inspired me to encourage a safer and more holistically inclusive society,” she said.

Jorja said she was extremely grateful to have been nominated, which she believes “reflects the hard work I have dedicated, not only to myself and my studies, but the wider community, with the goal of fostering a world that encompasses all people equally”.

“I attempt to work as hard as possible for my own future, which is reinforced by my encouragement of those around me to adopt the greatest possible version of themselves, both academically and socially,” she added.

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One of three siblings, Jorja grew up in Boorowa before her family moved to Young in 2019.

She said that while opportunities were “relatively limited in comparison to those who live in urban areas”, the regional sense of community was “irreplaceable”.

“The community of Young, and Boorowa for that matter, has been incredibly welcoming, as most regional communities are,” she said.

“I have had a very fortunate life that, despite the occasional challenge, has been crucial in forming who I am as a person and who I will continue to become.”

Jorja said every experience and opportunity had been “significantly enlightening” and fundamental in fostering who she had become as a young woman.

“In order to honour my nomination, I will attempt to work even harder to ensure those around me are guaranteed a future that is positive and prove that I demonstrate courage, strength, determination and kindness as my ethos, like this incredible nomination.”

Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor said the finalists were 34 remarkable women and girls making a significant impact across the board, from science to education, health, industry, culture and community.

“I’m always inspired by the calibre of women nominated for these awards and the outstanding contributions they are making in their communities across the state,” Mrs Taylor said.

“These finalists are an inspiration to us all and it’s wonderful to see them getting the recognition they deserve.”

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