Story: Graduating With Distinction
Remember our profile on the Vocational and Educational Guidance for Aboriginals Scheme (VEGAS) a few months back?
Administered by the Department of Education, Science & Training (DEST) through its National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy, VEGAS funds organisations that help Indigenous young people get a full education, such as ASSPA committees. Such an organisation might teach students how to set and achieve goals, discuss career options with them, or put them in touch with Indigenous role models and mentors.
New South Wales’ Illawarra district has a thriving VEGAS program, the highlights of which are undoubtedly the annual Year 12 graduation ceremonies held in Wollongong, Nowra, Batemans Bay and Canberra. These special events aren’t just an opportunity for students to clap each other on the back, but also to acknowledge their parents, teachers and friends, meet further education providers and network with prospective employers.
The first-ever VEGAS graduation ceremony took place in Wollongong in 1999 and has since become the gala event on the Indigenous education calendar in the area! On 29 November 2001, Wollongong’s Novotel North Beach Hotel played host to the graduation of 20 Indigenous students, attended by parents, teachers and local business representatives. A welcome to country was provided by Illawarra Elder Aunty Mary Davis.
Senior education officer John Allison believes the ceremonies are invaluable in giving students direct access to local employers as well as further education and training providers.
“VEGAS consistently creates many opportunities for Indigenous students such as cadetships and apprenticeships,” he says. “It also funds organisations committed to helping young Aboriginal people make choices about their future, like the Illawarra Community Development Employment Project, Wollongong Police Citizens Youth Club, and the Illawarra Area Consultative Committee.”
Meanwhile, down the Princes Highway, Worrigee House Reception Centre was the venue for Nowra’s graduation event, held on 14 November and overseen by senior education officer Violent Green. Federal Member for Gilmore the Hon Joanna Gash MP, chairperson of Nowra Lands Council Mr Sunny Simms and others were on hand to witness 16 Year 12 students receive their HSCs.
Throughout the year, Indigenous students from the area attended Koori TAFE Week, Linking Opportunities Through Indigenous Education (LOTIE), and Careers Expo, all of which are VEGAS funded. A cadetship program through Shoalhaven City Council has also landed an Indigenous graduate from 2000, Simone Collier, who is studying IT/Law at Wollongong University.
On 12 December 2001, 100 guests and VIPs such as the Brumbies’ Andrew Walker assembled at the Canberra Southern Cross Club to congratulate 16 graduating students from the nation’s capital. Of these, six were presented with Charles Perkins Memorial Scholarships by the ACT Government.
For senior education officer Karen Carney, the annual ceremony is about more than simply rewarding students for all their hard work. “It’s seen as a huge boost to the community and it sends a message to the younger kids that they can achieve, too,” she says.
VEGAS funds a number of projects in the ACT including the Leadership Program for Indigenous Students. “This program arms young people with the information and confidence necessary to nominate themselves for their Student Representative Council, to represent their school in sporting activities, or to simply stand up and be counted.”
Last but not least, Batemans Bay hosted its VEGAS Year 12 graduation spectacular at Turros Heads Golf Club in November, which was sponsored by Warregal Management & Consultancy Group based in Moruya. Attended by around 100 guests including headmasters and Elders, the ceremony was overseen by senior education officer Michael Cutmore, who reports that it was a great success.