As King's College celebrates 40 years of educating girls, its former "old boys" are headed by a woman.

It was no surprise when Auckland GP Julyan Lawry was named the first female president of the King's College Old Collegians Association (KCOCA) — after all, she's been leading the way for women throughout her association with the school.

Not only was Lawry a trailblazer in even attending the prestigious South Auckland school, but she also set a new bar by being named dux of her year in 1987 — the first female student to top the school in academic achievement. Lawry's success came just seven years after girls were first admitted to what had been solely a boys' school since its establishment in 1896.

In 1980, the first year female students were able to study at King's, Nicola Butt (now also an Auckland GP) was joint dux; Lawry was the first girl to take the honour alone. "It was quite a big deal at the time," she says.

This year, King's College is celebrating 40 years since those first female pupils were enrolled. Initially only a handful of girls attended, completing their last two years of secondary education at the school.

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Numbers have steadily increased. Since 2016, female students have been able to start at year 11 level and complete all three years of senior schooling at King's — a move which has seen their numbers increase to around 225 of the school's roll of 1100.

Lawry, whose brother also attended King's, says she became attracted to the idea of spending her senior years there after attending school events with her family and seeing first-hand its ethos and the opportunities it offered.

"Through attending events such as Big House Music and prizegivings, I could see the atmosphere and environment and I thought I'd really like to be a part of that," she says.

After a rigorous selection process, she was one of 39 female students — 13 day pupils and 26 boarders — selected for the 1986 intake. "In my second year there were 55 of us but we were still a tiny minority," she says. "When I was in seventh form, sometimes I was the only girl in the class for some of my subjects, such as physics."

Lawry, who had previously attended an all-girls school, relished moving to a co-educational environment, where male students were both academic peers and friends. She says her time at King's gave her "the confidence to speak up and not be intimidated. It gave me a lot of self-belief, as well as some amazing opportunities to be involved in a range of sporting and cultural activities".

The friendships and connections cemented at King's have also remained lifelong: "Because we were a small group of girls we all got on really well, and we still keep in touch, the guys and the girls. I have some really strong connections and lasting friendships with the people I went to school with."

These ongoing relationships have led to her new role as leader of the KCOCA. The advent of female pupils at the school meant the association changed its name to the King's College Old Collegians Association in the 1980s. Women now make up around 24 per cent of its membership under the age of 55.

As part of her role with the KCOCA, Lawry is involved with maintaining connections between Old Collegians, which have assumed special importance in the current climate.

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The association is establishing a business-mentoring programme to pair students who have recently left King's with established Old Collegians, and a Business Networking Hub to enable ex-pupils worldwide to connect with and support each other, especially in these times of economic uncertainty.

"The biggest thing is the sense of community the association offers," Lawry says. "There is a really strong school spirit at King's which I hadn't experienced at previous schools; that provides a connection people like to keep in touch with."

Among the ranks of current pupils are many daughters of Old Collegians, continuing family traditions at the school. There are a growing number whose mothers were among those early female students.

Lawry says, as in her time, King's offers female students significant opportunities, including a dual-qualification pathway for those who want to sit Cambridge International Examinations in addition to NCEA.

"As well as that very high quality of education, there are also many sporting, cultural and extra-curricular activities that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to take part in," she says. "Overall, it's a fantastic environment for girls to learn and grow in."