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Meet the alumnae

Shirley Charters attended St Mary’s School, Cambridge between 1938 and 1951 before reading Geography at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, where she gained a double blue and played county netball. Shirley is a Senior Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; has directed scripts by Sir John Betjeman, Christopher Fry and Eric Linklater; and wrote and directed a History of Cricket, a study of the Clean Air Act, which won an award, a History of Wales based upon the inauguration of the Prince of Wales at Caernarvon Castle, and about Balinese temple dancers, Philippine head-hunters, Alaskan salmon fishers, fairy stories in Czechoslovakia, and so on.

A script and marriage took Shirley to Fiji for 25 years where she wrote on Pacific Arts for the Fiji Times and various antipodean and US West coast magazines whilst starting up the country’s first serious art gallery, via which she provided interior decoration for several Pacific resorts and Fiji’s new parliament building. For that and for her work as Chairman of the Nadi Hospital Board she received the Fiji Medal from the Prime Minister. Returning to the UK to retire allowed Shirley to research and write the book, based on her long time interest, Whatever Happened to King John’s Lost Treasure? – due to come out in March 2017. The next book is in preparation, Somerset Maugham; First World War spy in the South Seas?.

Shirley feels that much of her success is down to the start she had at St Mary’s School, Cambridge. It gave her all the tools necessary to lead a fulfilling, busy, useful and loving life in whatever areas of interest have fascinated her. Her advice to others is to “make the most of such a wonderful platform to leap out in the world”.

Sue Rapley attended St Mary’s School, Cambridge between 1981 and 1986. Now a Cambridge-based artist, Sue’s creative practice explores her response to the natural landscape, drawing inspiration from this ever-changing environment.

“From an early age, creativity and the arts have always played an important role in my life. On leaving St Mary’s School, Cambridge after A Levels I studied at Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology (CCAT) on their one year Art Foundation course in preparation and application for a degree. A pivotal period was the time I spent studying for my degree in Art & Design in Brighton.

Following graduation, and a well-spent year out exploring different continents and cultures in Australia and Asia, I gained commercial experience in both London and Cambridge in various business sectors. These included publishing, marketing and recruitment – so it was some time later that I returned to my artistic roots to develop a career as a professional artist.

On a personal note, I have settled in the village of Barton, just outside Cambridge, with my husband and daughter. I have remained close friends with a number of my contemporaries from school days!

I am a member of Cambridge Open Studios, and the Cambridge Creative Network. Selected paintings are available to purchase from local galleries in the region – the Darryl Nantais Gallery and VK Gallery – and also from my on-line shop on Artfinder. My clients include both private and corporate collectors.”

Maya King attended St Mary’s School, Cambridge between 2009 and 2011. Maya joined the school in Year 9 and stayed until Year 11.

“I have to say I have some fantastic memories from St Mary’s – particularly Physics lessons with Dr Miller! At A Level I studied Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics, before taking a gap year. I worked in John Lewis and then as a Healthcare Assistant in Addenbrooke’s Hospital for six months. This was one of the most challenging, and rewarding, things I have done – I worked 12 hour shifts, constantly on my feet in a very busy ward. I had a real impact on someone’s experience in hospital and it was very humbling to care for such lovely people in their time of need.

After this I went to Fiji for a month to work on a conservation programme helping to protect sharks in the local area. I worked alongside research scientists who taught us about the importance of sharks in the ocean: without them the whole ocean ecosystem would collapse, algae would take over and everything we know and love about the ocean would be gone. I loved seeing the principles we learnt at school in real life contexts.

During the course of the year I applied to read Medicine at Durham University. I first realised I wanted to do Medicine when I was at St Mary’s. For our English coursework we had to give a presentation to the class and Mrs Helen Garrett told us that the best presentations are ones that are personal to you. So, I did some research and spoke about an operation I had as a child. I found the human body, its precise functions and mechanisms behind diseases, fascinating and have wanted to study it ever since.

I have just finished my first year of medical school, which has been an absolute rollercoaster. The intense hours I spent with other medical students meant we made close friends very quickly, and supported each other through the ups and downs. Some parts were a real challenge – watching a patient break down in tears during a consultation, or learning about conditions for which there are no cure. But there were moments where I knew I was absolutely doing what I wanted to – starting my first real consultation with a patient or spending time on the neonatal ward and witnessing the extraordinary medicine which keeps tiny babies alive.

I think my favourite moment of the year was my final OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination). Now I know that sounds odd – but these are practical exams in which we perform procedures such as an examination of a patient’s chest, taking blood, doing CPR, or just taking a patient history. This was the first time I had a sense of the responsibility, sensitivity, knowledge and skills I will require in the future as a doctor and, despite the fact it was an exam, I thoroughly enjoyed this feeling.

When I started medical school, I thought there was no way I would ever become a GP – I thought it might be boring! However, my experiences this year have made me realise it may be the perfect career choice for me – I even set up a GP Society at the university. I also thought there was no chance I could be a surgeon and also raise a family (a dilemma many female medical students consider) – but I know now that this isn’t true; while it might take longer than it takes men, it is totally possible.

My advice to students would be: Don’t be too rigid in your ideas about your future – let it evolve and surprise you! Don’t be put off any career because you’re a woman! You can do whatever you so desire with your future, you are the only person that can hold yourself back!”