As the new students arrive at the Melbourne Indigenous Transition School to start Year 7, one of the people helping make them feel at home is Michelle Kerrin, who recently wrote about her experience as the Inaugural RG Menzies Indigenous Mentoring Fellow.
Michelle Kerrin and Menzies Centenary Prize winner, Courtney Dove, come from very different parts of the country with different aspirations but they've both just spent a life-changing year in Melbourne pursuing their passions with the help of the Menzies Foundation.
Michelle has documented the challenges of her year but says it was one of the best years of her life.
In fact it was so successful Michelle has been asked to stay on at MITS as a Pathway Coordinator, while new Menzies Indigenous Mentoring Fellow, Serena Thompson, takes on the 'big sister' role for the 2018 MITS students.
When Michelle finished her year as the MITS mentor - the same week she graduated from the University of Melbourne - she told her scholars to dream big and soar high and she is certainly showing the way.
"My passions have grown through my work as a mentor and my own future as a leader and an academic.
"The journey I have taken this year has been challenging, yet rewarding. I have inevitably had my moments of sadness and exhaustion, but I have grown into a stronger and prouder Aboriginal woman," Michelle said.
"My strengths have grown from simply communicating my ideas and aspirations to a few people, to over 400 people at once. I find myself incredibly proud of the achievements I have made this year; whether it was travelling to Canada by myself, receiving an award for my academic work, speaking in front of a large audience, or growing my own network. My confidence has risen to a level that I never thought it could, whilst remaining humble and aware of my surroundings," Michelle said.
The proud Arrernte and Luritja woman, originally from Darwin, has recently been using her confidence and her voice to shed some light on the issue of educational attainment and closing the gap in a story published for IndigenousX in The Guardian.
It seems we'll be hearing a lot from our Inaugural Indigenous Mentoring Fellow. Michelle's full piece on her year as a mentor follows this story.
Courtney Dove is from Dimboola in the wheat-growing Wimmera country of Victoria - about a four and a half hour drive from Melbourne.
She has finished her first year at the University of Melbourne studying psychology, media and communications, having been awarded the Menzies Centenary Prize for 2017 to help with her living expenses at Queen's College.
Courtney sent a message back to her old school mates at Dimboola Memorial Secondary College - via the school captain - describing how she got through Year 12 with a strong ATAR score despite her mental health challenges thanks largely to the combination of excellent teacher support and her own significant goals and ambitions. "If I can leave you with any parting moral or message," Courtney said, "it is simply to set your goals high and always strive towards them.
"With my first year outside of Dimboola and in the University naturally came many ups and downs. I was suddenly faced with this enormous task of moving five hours away entirely alone, finding a place to live and work, and figuring out how I could realistically support myself in this new stage of my life.
"This is where the generous help of the Menzies Foundation truly came to the rescue - their generous help allowed me to begin my studies with much less stress, and even allowed me to move into a residential college within the University of Melbourne.
"Queen's College has been one of the craziest experiences of my life, and I have loved every second of it. From the 2am cups of tea in a corridor with friends, the extravagant events, to the supportive culture and loving environment, Queen's has easily been the best part of my university experience thus far, and it simply wouldn't have been a possibility for me without the Menzies foundation." Courtney said.
Courtney sent the message to the graduating year 12 students at Dimboola that despite the differences between school and university "Go in prepared to make friends and study hard, and you'll survive just fine."
The next Menzies Centenary Prize winner will be announced in coming weeks.
Sir Robert Menzies Indigenous Mentoring Fellowship
Melbourne Indigenous Transition School
My year as a mentor...
This year I have had the privilege of being the inaugural Indigenous Mentoring Fellow at MITS. It has been an extraordinary year filled with moments of joy, sadness, exhaustion, hope and success. A lot of my exhaustion has risen from the ongoing fight to shift the perception of our young people within the broader Australian community. However, I have been lucky enough to work and engage with young mob with a range of skills and with tremendous personalities, and at the same time young people who have experienced high levels of trauma and disadvantage. I have worked extremely hard to change the narrative of disadvantage and trauma around our students, to a narrative of which they feel hopeful, optimistic and recognise their potential as young and proud Indigenous peoples. At such a young age, our young mob are aware of their surroundings, their positionality and their own strengths. Every day that I entered the doors of MITS I have recognised their talents and the capabilities; their intelligence is instilled in their every movements and aspirations, and their courage continues to guide their movements on Country.
My role as a mentor has varied throughout the year. I have worked hard to ensure that I was dedicated to my studies and that my commitment remained at the forefront of my role at MITS. I have been there as a source of comfort for our kids, as another voice of fight and justice, and as a respected family/community member. My passions have grown through my work as a mentor and my own future as a leader and an academic. The journey I have taken this year has been challenging, yet rewarding. I have inevitably had my moments of sadness and exhaustion, but I have grown into a stronger and prouder Aboriginal woman. My strengths have grown from simply communicating my ideas and aspirations to a few people, to over 400 people at once. I find myself incredibly proud of the achievements I have made this year; whether it was travelling to Canada by myself, receiving an award for my academic work, speaking in front of a large audience, or growing my own network. My confidence has risen to a level that I never thought it could, whilst remaining humble and aware of my surroundings. I transitioned into this role wanting to support our young mob, but it has extended beyond that to a passion for study and a drive to connect with my own family and culture. My identity as a proud Aboriginal woman will always remain at the forefront of everything that I do, and I will continue to do it for the people around me.
I am incredibly humbled that I was able to take on the role as a mentor at MITS. Whilst there is a lot that I can say about my year and the relationships that I have formed, I want to thank everyone for the endless opportunities that have been placed in front of me, the support I have received and the trust that people have had in my work and my role as a community leader. I will treasure this moment as one of the best years of my life. I hope my passion and goals can be filtered throughout MITS and through the role of the mentors in the years to come. MITS will certainly be a place of support and opportunity for many of our communities and young leaders in the future.
Menzies Indigenous Mentoring Fellow 2017