When the system says no – keep going

The below is a guest blog by Annika, a QFCC Youth Champion

2012 was my final year of high school and I would be the first person in my family to graduate. I wanted to be an Equine Vet, so I needed to graduate to get into university. I had spent my high school years homeless - couch surfing or sleeping at friends’ houses while also working hospitality jobs and at horse events. At the time it was fun because it was like a 5 year long social event with constant sleep overs. I wasn’t a straight A student with excellent attendance, but I did do my best despite the odds. In my last semester I was called into a meeting in the principal’s office – I didn’t know what to expect. The principal convinced me that my grades and attendance were so terrible that I would be dragging the rest of the school down, should I choose to graduate. She reminded me that I had a career in hospitality that I should continue to progress – I wasn’t smart enough for university and my grades wouldn’t allow me entry into vet sciences anyway. This conversation resulted in me dropping out of school feeling extremely embarrassed. I was convinced that I was also putting my peers first. I disengaged from everyone and everything that mattered to me the most in the months that followed. I even managed to get myself fired for the first time from my bar job. The lady that owned the bar was a dear friend of mine who I rode horses for.

Despite my spiral of consistent failures, I was still determined to become a vet. In 2013, I mustered up enough courage to walk myself into the university and request they enrol me into a Bachelor of Vet Science. I met with the enrolment advisor that day and she chuckled - she said there was no way I was going to be going to that university to study to become a vet with no grade 12 certificate. She suggested a year of entry courses or I go to TAFE. I left her office so determined. I wasn’t going to waste a year or go to TAFE. I was going to go to that university – that very next semester. I just needed to find another way in.

I spent the following weeks studying the university website. What I found was that I could do the first semester of subjects that were required in the bachelor’s degree through a diploma – enrolment required no grade 12 certificate. I found my way in. I marched myself back into the university, had all my paperwork completed and pretended it was the first time I had been into that enrolment office. My application was accepted, I was going to that university – that semester.

That semester was hard. Really hard. I had to try harder than everyone in the room as I was later diagnosed with severe dyslexia, which had been undiagnosed up until that point. During this semester that I took an elective in psychology. I fell in love with the subject and could see that the skills I would learn would provide me with the expertise needed to really help people. I also realised that I would not be able to put an animal down and that veterinarians have the highest rate of suicides of all professions. I decided I would steer clear of this and follow my newfound love of psychology. I topped that class and enrolled into a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences the next semester – at that same university, with a scholarship.

Today, I not only have my bachelor’s degree, but also an Honours in Psychology – I maintained scholarships the whole way through university and was even accepted and transferred into the best university in Queensland in 2015. I have worked in one of the biggest firms in the world within the field of Organisational Psychology, am a Youth Champion for the Queensland Family and Child Commission and an Advisor to the Queensland Premier on Cyber-bullying. I returned to the school that told me I wasn’t smart enough in 2018 as a Youth Champion to listen to young people’s perspectives for the Growing Up In Queensland Project. Interestingly this was the year that ATAR was being brought in - the ATAR system focuses on the individuals’ performance, rather than averaging the performance of the school or grade level. This should reduce schools influencing young people to leave school to maintain the grade average of the school.

Anyhow - the moral of the story is to never give up. Muster up the courage to find another way and don’t believe that the system or ‘executives’ know what’s best for you. The change you needed to see in the system may be just around the corner. Or maybe you should create it?

2012 was my final year of high school and I would be the first person in my family to graduate.