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I can make a difference

2015 graduate Indiana Taylor-Stevens gave the following speech at an event marking NAIDOC Week in the Melbourne office of AIEF Corporate Partner BP on 6 July 2016.

Indiana entered St Vincent’s College, Potts Point on an AIEF Scholarship in Year 11. She began studying a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy at Monash University in 2016 with a view to working with children on the autism spectrum when she graduates.

Good morning.

My name is Indiana and I am a proud Tjapukai woman, and whilst my mob lives in far north Queensland, I grew up on Darkinjung land, on the Central Coast of New South Wales. It was here that I attended primary and high school until I was in year 10 in 2013. From there I moved to St Vincent’s College in Potts Point, Sydney, where I boarded for my final two years of schooling, graduating last year on an AIEF Scholarship. I think it was because I had such a positive experience moving away from home in 2014, that when I started looking at universities, I began to broaden my horizons and look at interstate opportunities. In February this year, I commenced a four year course in Occupational Therapy at Monash University, right here in Melbourne. If I’m totally honest, moving to a new state was probably the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done, but at the same time, I knew that this opportunity would allow me to push myself even further.

As a child, I tried to immerse myself in every aspect of Aboriginal culture. I had art classes with an Indigenous woman, who showed me how to express my culture through art. It was through this that I was able to exhibit many of my artworks at the local gallery for various reconciliation and NAIDOC exhibitions. This is especially relevant during NAIDOC Week, as it is a time to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and I was honoured to be part of an event that recognises Indigenous contribution to the community. One of my favourite artworks that was exhibited was a giant mural that was completed by an entire class of Indigenous kids. This painting contained the stories of Indigenous culture, such as the rainbow serpent, it had images of men hunting, native animals, and women sitting around camp sites. I think it was the idea that a painting was able to portray so many stories that really engaged me.

Whilst I was away from my Indigenous family in Cairns, I maintained my culture and in this way, was able to introduce Aboriginal culture to friends and family who had not previously been exposed to it. I think this is where my drive to unite both Indigenous and Caucasian culture originated from, and this passion has continued to grow over the span of my life. However I realised that in order to unite these two cultures, the stigma surrounding the cultures also needed to be changed, and thus, I was determined to break the stereotypes I had grown so accustomed to.

As the eldest of five children, I grew up in a household that was constantly busy and chaotic, so naturally, I was called on to be a leader and to set the example. I think it was this aspiration that has pushed me to constantly strive to achieve the best that I can. However self motivation and determination can only take you so far, and when helped by opportunities such as an AIEF Scholarship, I realised that I was capable of doing well in school and being successful later in life.

In 2013, I was at St Joseph’s Catholic College on the Central Coast, and it came time to choose the subjects we would take for year 11 and 12. For a 15 year old, these decisions were pretty daunting, and I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do once I left school. I always knew that I wanted to go to university, but my path wasn’t clear cut, and I wasn’t really sure which career was right for me, all I knew was that I wanted to help people, and I wanted to make a difference.

At the time, the subjects that were offered didn’t really cater to my needs, or reflect what I wanted to do. I remember going home to mum and having absolutely no idea what to do, it was then that she suggested changing schools, to somewhere that I would be able to properly excel at the subjects I wanted. When boarding school was first suggested, I thought mum was going a little bit crazy, because I knew it was something we would never be able to afford. It was then that mum showed me the AIEF Scholarship opportunities, and everything started to fall in to place. In a matter of weeks, I had visited St Vincent’s, had an interview, and received my letter of acceptance, only then did it all start to seem real and I realised how much my life was about to change.

I’ll be the first to admit that the reality of boarding school wasn’t quite how I had imagined; it wasn’t all that Hogwarts had set it up to be. Instead of watching quidditch, we sat in the common room watching The Bachelor and State of Origin, and whilst we didn’t have feasts every night or owls to deliver our mail, it soon became my home and the girls became my second family. Throughout the entire time I was at St Vincent’s, AIEF were a constant support and settling in was made infinitely easier, as the AIEF events made sure that I was welcomed into the Indigenous community there and I instantly felt like I belonged.

The Mentor Program that was offered by AIEF was so beneficial both in helping me to settle in, and in realising how to make my goals a reality. Stephanie Brantz, a presenter for the ABC, mentored me for the two years I was at St Vincent’s, and while she helped me achieve my academic goals, she was also there for moral support at everything that I did, and words cannot describe how grateful I am to have had her by my side during so many stressful times throughout the year. The Mentor Program is definitely one that I cannot recommend highly enough, for those who aren’t quite sure what they want to do, the mentors are able to offer advice and help you find a career path that perfectly suits you, it is also incredibly valuable in networking, as they introduce you to people who will open up many opportunities in the future. All the mentors are extremely successful in what they do and are thus able to give advice that is both helpful and realistic, and will be useful in the future. I so clearly remember being at one of the AIEF events, where Steph gave a presentation on public speaking, and lots of the advice that she gave us on that day, has been at the forefront of my mind in the past week, as I have been preparing for this speech.

The Mentor Program that was offered by AIEF was so beneficial both in helping me to settle in, and in realising how to make my goals a reality. Stephanie Brantz, a presenter for the ABC, mentored me for the two years I was at St Vincent’s, and while she helped me achieve my academic goals, she was also there for moral support at everything that I did, and words cannot describe how grateful I am to have had her by my side during so many stressful times throughout the year. The Mentor Program is definitely one that I cannot recommend highly enough, for those who aren’t quite sure what they want to do, the mentors are able to offer advice and help you find a career path that perfectly suits you, it is also incredibly valuable in networking, as they introduce you to people who will open up many opportunities in the future. All the mentors are extremely successful in what they do and are thus able to give advice that is both helpful and realistic, and will be useful in the future. I so clearly remember being at one of the AIEF events, where Steph gave a presentation on public speaking, and lots of the advice that she gave us on that day, has been at the forefront of my mind in the past week, as I have been preparing for this speech.

As I mentioned earlier, having both an Indigenous and Caucasian background meant I have been subject to a significant amount of prejudice and racism in society. Society raises us to see Indigenous people in a certain light, we grow up, accustomed to the stereotypes we create, not daring to break them, and not knowing how. Throughout my life, and especially this year at uni, people are often surprised to find out that I am Indigenous as they have a preconceived idea that Indigenous people rarely attend university. The education of Indigenous students is a stereotype I hope to change. In 2014, around 50% of Indigenous Australians, aged 18, completed year 12, as compared to around 80% of non-Indigenous students, in this way, it is evident that the gap in Indigenous education is a significant issue, and I hope to advocate in closing this gap.

Throughout my time on an AIEF Scholarship, I realised that I have the capacity to break the stereotypes and stigma that surrounds my culture, and AIEF have acted as a catalyst for my passion. Ghandi once said “be the change you want to see in the world” and until I worked so closely with AIEF, I didn’t realise that I had the potential to instigate change. I knew I had a passion in advocating for Indigenous education, but I lacked the resources to rise above the stereotypes I had been subjected to. Whilst completing secondary education is not often considered a big feat, as an Indigenous Australian who has graduated, I am already one step closer to defying the stereotypes of Indigenous culture. By attending university, I am even closer to changing the stigma that plagues society.

After my graduation last year, I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by ABC Radio, until this point, I hadn’t fully considered how huge an impact AIEF had had on my life. But through the interview I realised how graduating, something that hadn’t always been certain for me, was able to be made a reality through AIEF. I also realised how important it was to graduate, as I was becoming the change that I wanted to see surrounding the education of Indigenous people, and by becoming role model to other kids. I want people to be able to look at me and think, if she can do it, so can I, and without such consistent support from AIEF, I know that I wouldn’t be as close to achieving my dream as I currently am. AIEF has given me the opportunity to achieve not only my own best, but also to realise my potential in creating change and to help me pursue that.

When AIEF first contacted me about speaking today, it was a pretty scary thought, I mean, public speaking is pretty scary in itself, but I also realised that, by speaking to all of you today, I have the potential to make a difference, to continue creating change, and so, as scary as this is, I realised I could not pass up the opportunity to share my passion with others, in hope that, like me, you will be inspired to make a difference. I hope that you too will consider your own role in breaking the stigma surrounding Indigenous people. I often thought, what can I do? I’m only a teenager, how can I possibly make a difference. But I now realise that I have made a difference, I am part of the movement towards closing the gap, I am already changing attitudes and statistics and hopefully, I’ve inspired others to do the same.

So here I am today, an 18-year-old high school graduate. Before AIEF I had no clear path for my future, and was unsure of what career I wanted. After working with the transition team and my mentor I am now more sure of who I want to become, and where I want to direct my future. I have just finished my first semester of university, doing a degree in occupational therapy. I have maintained contact with AIEF and my mentor Steph, who are a constant support and have given me opportunities, such as speaking today, that will broaden my horizons and open so many doors in the future. The support of AIEF has been phenomenal this year, in making sure that my transition to university has been smooth, they helped me to apply for scholarships, and apply for the course I want, and have shared in my successes with me.

Occupational therapy gives me the opportunity to make a difference by helping people to live a better life, and reach their potential. I hope to work in paediatrics once I graduate, and work with kids on the autism spectrum. In this way, I hope to make a difference in the lives of children by equipping them with the necessary coping strategies they need to fulfil their potential, as I have realised first hand, that with the proper resources, and a little bit of self belief, things you once thought were impossible, become a reality.

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My sons have benefited so much...they have grabbed their opportunity with both hands. The whole experience has been both positive and life changing. Access to a high quality education gives them the tools to succeed in our modern world.

Mother of AIEF Scholarship Students

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The AIEF Scholarship Program and the AIEF Pathways Program are supported by the Australian Government in collaboration with individual, philanthropic and corporate supporters from the private sector.