Approaching the end of high school and deciding what to do next can feel like a major and quite daunting crossroad in your life – where do you want to go, how do you get there, and what if you take the wrong turn?
In reality, Year 12 is less crucial than it might seem – there are many different pathways to a satisfying and enjoyable job or career, as the experiences of the people we spoke to highlight.
In sharing their experiences of this exciting though at times stressful stage of their lives, people described what it was like either knowing or being unsure of what they wanted to do – this is the focus of the first video below. As shown in the second video, people also talked about some of the challenges they faced as they reached the end of high school and how they overcame them. These included not getting the result they hoped for in Year 12, confronting negative stereotypes about Pacific Islanders, and being the first in their families to go on to further study.
Then, upon completion of high school, I realised that I wanted to do law, economics, particularly economics. That was my favourite subject. So I started off doing a Bachelor of Commerce, major in economics, and a Bachelor of Laws at the same time, in [state].
So with economics at high school, I was able to benefit off somebody who didn’t really cast people into categories and spent time with each person, despite the fact that they were Islander or not. So I do know some teachers were definitely gravitating towards certain kids, but this person wasn’t. He just happened to be somebody who was, I guess, more genuine and spoke the language, generally, for multicultural peoples. So that person really opened the door for me truly engaging with economics.
And I was able to get a good, decent mark and that was my strongest subject for economics. And I’d happened to get a good mark in that, to the point where I was encouraged by my parents to do more, obviously. So I did law, as well as economics, commerce majoring in economics. And when I was in my last year of high school…I think, in my last year of high school, my English picked up. I was doing extension English at the highest levels. And I went from extension maths to basic advanced math. So I went down a level. I think that came around because my group of friends were starting to gravitate more towards English. They were stronger in English. Despite the fact that I was strong in maths, I moved away from it a bit.
And then I worked after high school in 2008. I worked at a company doing…like I was a night fill for a material company. And I would go to uni to hang out with my cousin and stuff, and I would talk to my cousins and their friends, and they would give me advice like, “You should do this, you should do that.”
And I started hearing about different degrees that uni had to offer, because I didn’t know what degrees were out there. I didn’t know what was available because I never looked into it, because I was never interested. And I think in 2009 I just wanted to fit in with everyone, because all my friends went to uni, so I applied at a uni. And I was doing…my Mum really wanted me to study nursing, so I went on and did nursing for a year. I had to do a foundation course in the first six months because I didn’t have any qualifications, I didn’t have any credits to get into uni, so I had to do a foundation course to help me get into nursing.
And I did that for six months and then I started doing nursing for a year. And because I actually don’t like the sight of blood, like I feel nauseous when I see it, so I told my Mum, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” And she was like, “Okay, you gave it a go. Do what you want.” And that’s the thing, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But that’s when my boyfriend at the time, who’s now my husband, he enrolled me into a uni to do business, a business degree.
So I went and did business for a year and I was like, “I hate it.” It wasn’t for me, the business degree. And I think in my first year, the first six months I took five papers and I failed one, so I had to do it again. And the next six months of the business degree I passed my papers, but I knew it was something that I didn’t want to do. I was like, “I don’t like business. I’m not good with numbers and that.” But my parents were quite upset.
And they didn’t want me to give up, so I had to go like, “You need to stay in uni. Even if you find another course or something, like another degree that you’ll be interested in. Just please don’t leave.” So I did some research and then I went into a Bachelor of Arts, and I majored in English and in media studies, and my minor was event management. And I really enjoyed that degree because it was about creativity and your ideas.
I graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts.
Leaving high school, I went straight to uni. I remember looking and trying to figure out what subjects to take. And just guessing my way through it. I knew I wanted to take music. I didn’t think I was good enough.
And even nowadays, there’s lots of moments where I don’t think I’m good enough for spaces and I can’t seem to shake that weed that has grown in my brain for some reason. But I remember choosing music and then almost having a panic attack every time I had to play in front of people. So I became what I call a closet musician.
I was amazing when it was just me. And then when anyone else listened, I freaked out. So my career as a musician was definitely put on hold at that moment in time. I remember having a talk with my Mum and her suggesting and hinting that music and the arts isn’t going to get me very far in life. And am I just going to spend my time in the backyard playing the kikala, the guitar, or maybe I should do something else?
And so I went and I dropped out of […] and enrolled at […] and took business management and accounting, which, if we rewind back into school, I was voted the one person who was going to fail accounting from all the teachers. And I also had to re-sit a couple of tests because the teachers believed that I had cheated through them in accounting and in mathematics, even though I was actually quite good at it.
I went to[…] and that was extremely lonely for me. I had no high school friends there. Everyone was either trying to make their way through uni, or another polytech or just trying to navigate life out of high school. I think that’s a really, really challenging transition. And we had all gone from this really safe space where we knew who we were within our groups into this big wide world.
And being a very small fish in a big pond can feel really overwhelming. I remember my first couple of weeks, not knowing anyone. And I convinced myself if I just walked and looked like I was going somewhere, then I wouldn’t be sitting by myself looking like I had no friends. So I spent a lot of time walking before I connected with people and finally made friends. But […] was also a challenging time learning about business management, not necessarily being too interested in business management. I didn’t know what I wanted to be. And I think through a lot of my life, I really didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I think it’s a really hard question to ask someone when they’re 16 when they’re 18, even when they’re 30. I want to be whatever I want to be at the time I want to be it. That is my answer.
I’m heading towards the back-end of high school, I’m gearing towards trying to get into medicine. So, my subjects that I pick in high school are geared towards that pathway, and I didn’t really give much thought to any other subjects.
Sporting wise, I did my best. Like even though I had some skill playing rugby, I played state, we were getting to nationals and things like that, for some of my friends growing up from the western suburbs in Melbourne, some of the Island guys, they would’ve really focused on the sport because it’s kind of the way out. For me, I always saw education was my way out. I always knew that I was going to go to university.
I decided in Year 11 that I’m going to go really hard at it for medicine. Now, by this time I had picked biology, chemistry, specialist maths, maths methods. I did history revolutions. I really enjoy history. I read a lot of books still, and I’m not like a history buff, but I just have genuine interest in history and English. And at the end of my Year 12 my score was 97.4, and to get into medicine it was like 99 point something, 99.5, so I missed out and I was bummed out. I think I just wanted to get into like a prestigious course, so med, I think I had dentistry, and then I had physio as number three. But I didn’t tell my parents my score for the longest time, I was ashamed, and I tried really hard, and just wasn’t good enough.
So, I did actually decided to, so I went to […] studied biomedical science because okay, in my mind I was like, okay, let me just try and get in through the back door of doing one year, gun the first year degree and then head into medicine. And I didn’t quite get there because I think I was getting distracted at university just enjoying myself, but then I got into physiotherapy. It actually worked out well for me because of my perspective on being sporty, still in the health world, but still very personable and chatty, as you can see I don’t mind having a chat, and that can be a superpower because when people are looking to you for help they just want to speak to someone personable and someone they can relate to. And not to bag doctors or anything because sometimes they can be a bit textbook. They kind of look at you as numbers and diagrams sometimes.
So I wouldn’t say I was that student that just got straight As or anything. My grades were okay. One thing I did dominate in school was sport and art and music. And that’s what a lot of us Islanders are looked at, that we’re really good in that area, being good at sport, art and music. But I wanted to be looked at as a different type of Islander who was also good at math, who was also good at English, science, even though I really disliked those subjects, but I knew that those subjects were going to help me with my future career with whatever I wanted later on in life.
There were some teachers that supported me, but there were some teachers that would doubt me at times. And then a lot of kids would say, “You’re only good at this. And when you finish school, you’re not going to make it to university.”
And that actually didn’t make me feel sad or anything, that just motivated me to keep going. Because my Dad was the first Pacific Islander to graduate from university here in Shepparton. So he inspired me, and all those negative people that were just making me feel like or trying to make me feel like I was not going to get anywhere motivated me to try harder.
And all those challenges just motivated me to keep going because I really dislike it when our Pacific Islander community people are stereotyped as not being able to do anything, or we’re just good at rugby, or we’re just only good at singing, that’s a good thing, or we’re all going to end up working in a factory or fruit picking. So I just wanted to completely change that. So throughout my school life, yeah, a lot of people would say, “So what are you going to do after school? Going to go work at a factory?” And I just took that as a motivation for me to work harder and to prove those people wrong that us as Islanders, we are more capable and we have so much potential to do better in life and not just be factory workers or work at Maccas, nothing wrong with that. But that we can be doctors, we can be lawyers, we can be police officers, we can do whatever we want. We just got to have faith in ourselves and not let any of those people put us down.
Fast forward to year 11 and 12, and I started to think a bit more seriously about what I wanted to do at uni. I didn’t really know what was out there for me. I really actually had no idea. I was in Year 11, but I still had no idea what happens after Year 12. I didn’t know that people went to uni after Year 12. Then when I started to realise, ‘Oh, all these kids actually know what they’re talking about and they know about all these different forms you have to fill out and who to go talk to and who to ask questions, what questions to ask the teachers’, and I felt like, ‘Whoa, how do you guys know all that stuff? Did I miss a class or something? What’s going on?’
Then I was like, ‘Oh, I think they have aunties or parents that they get this advice from.’ But we still didn’t know anyone in town really. I had no family in Mildura. My family were just my friends really and the different Island communities there, the Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, the seasonal workers that would come picking, they’re the people that we felt closest to. But none of them had gone to the university or had work that I wanted. We had already been picking fruit on the farms since we were in grade six, so I knew that I didn’t want that job.
I think when I was in Year 11, I was like, ‘Just go and ask the teachers, just ask them. That’s what they’re there for. Just ask them what do I need to do if I want this job? Or how do I know how to find different types of jobs? And what subjects do I have to pick to get there?’ I just asked a lot of questions to a lot of the school counsellors and just teachers that showed me kindness and that didn’t judge me and say racist comments to me in class. I just ignore them and did my best to ask teachers like, “How do I go to uni? What do I do?” But it was really good though because this, year 11 and 12 school that I did my VCE at, they were very good at preparing students for university. I had to ask questions, but at the same time they really made an effort to ensure that we all were supported in Year 12, especially.