Standing up for Canberra

School Legends

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”. (Martin Luther King Jr)

I’m living proof of the transformative powers of education, so I spend a lot of time learning about the great work being done in our schools. Early in my first term, I noticed there were plenty of awards for straight-A students or sports stars, but few for those students I call the quiet achievers. The students who stare down personal and physical challenges with a courage and resilience beyond their years to achieve their goals.

So in 2011 I established the School Legends Awards, in part to pay tribute to a young man I knew at school. Peter was a big of a larrikin, but whip smart and very funny. Unfortunately, he struggled at school, dropped out early, turned to drugs and alcohol and died far too young. I often think that if he had been encouraged a little more at school, if his unique strengths had been acknowledged, things could have been very different.

I’ve met some extraordinarily brave and inspiring young Canberrans through the awards. Students who have seamlessly embraced school after significant and life threatening operations, students who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances and others with disabled or sick siblings who provide support and strength to their parents.

The beauty about the awards is that they are nominated by the school, so they send a very strong message to the student that their community knows what they are going through, is watching out for them and is, most importantly, acknowledging their strengths and achievements. But for me, the best part is how this acknowledgement transforms the students. Parents and teachers tell me the award has boosted their self confidence and self esteem, that they now feel empowered to explore endless possibilities.

Over the next month I will be presenting School Legends Awards at a number of schools across Canberra, from Kindergarten to Year 12. I look forward to seeing you at one of these presentations and encourage every Canberra school to take part in the awards.


Published in the Canberra Chronicle, November 2013