High school dropout to law valedictorian: Mark's story
Mark dropped out of high school in year 10. Fast forward a few years: he holds a law degree, is involved in countless legal education and community initiatives, has been NT Young Achiever of the Year and nominated as Indigenous valedictorian of his graduating class at CDU.
His valedictorian speech will inspire the most uninspired. Here's what he had to say.
Before beginning, I would like to pay my respects to the Larrakia people, the traditional owners of the land that this event takes place. I acknowledge the Elders past, present and emerging, and I thank Aunty Bilawarra Lee for her Welcome to Country.
This evening we celebrate a momentous occasion in our lives in the presence of our families, friends, loved ones and peers – we have completed university!
We have worked extremely hard to get here. After the many sleepless nights we've spent studying, the endless juggle of managing study, work, and family commitments, everyone sitting here tonight can proudly say, “We have made it!” That said, tonight is not the end. Rather, it’s the beginning.
It’s what we do next, armed with our new qualifications, that will be our most important journey yet.
I dropped out of high school in Year 10. I never thought it would be possible that I’d be standing here today, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws. In all honesty, as a high school dropout, I didn't think I was eligible to go to university.
Once I learnt that this isn’t the case, the actual prospect of enrolling and attending uni was a very daunting one!
While I was curious about pursuing my education, I was also very hesitant. The ever-patient Aunties at the Office of Indigenous Student Support – Aunty Betty, Aunty Kathy and Aunty Trudie – listened to me say for years that I wanted to come to university, and I'd guess that no one was more shocked than them when I finally decided to enrol.
I want to personally thank the Aunties and their entire team, from the bottom of my heart, for all you have done for me over the years; for the opportunities to share our stories as Indigenous ambassadors, for supporting us throughout our studies, for your assistance with scholarship applications, and for always providing us with a culturally safe space at the Gurinbey Centre.
Gurinbey will always be my second home. I was often there after hours and I’m sure people started to wonder if I lived there. This was especially true one night during an especially busy exam period, when I was woken up by security at 3am, advising me that I needed to leave. Fair enough!
I learned how to, against all the odds, overcome adversity and pick myself up when I was knocked down.
Studying at Charles Darwin University has taught me many things as both a student and a person. Everyone here tonight will know being a student is not always smooth sailing.
During my time at CDU, I was juggling full-time work and full-time study. I was often studying very late at night, or in the early hours of the morning as the day broke. There were unforeseen family issues and more than once I had my heart broken, all of which make studying even harder. It wasn’t easy.
Here’s what I learnt:
- Resilience: The ability to withstand anything that life throws me
- Determination: My passion in wanting to succeed
- Embracing opportunities: Taking things with two hands and running with it; and lastly
- Against all the odds, overcoming adversity and the ability to pick myself up when I get knocked down during the hard times.
As Indigenous students, we are now well prepared to make positive change within our respective communities – and this change will bear the CDU footprint.
Chancellor, Vice Chancellor and all the staff at CDU, I cannot thank you enough for providing me, and the many other Indigenous students the opportunity to study at this university. I will be forever grateful and indebted to this institution for what it has done for me, as I am sure it has done for the many others Indigenous students. Through our studies at CDU, we have acquired a unique set of skills and knowledge; we are now well prepared to go out and make positive change within our respective communities – and this change will bear the CDU footprint.
I congratulate and commend each and every one of my fellow graduands sitting here tonight, those who couldn’t make it, and those who supported us in getting here tonight. I wish you all the best with whatever you do in the future and hope to see you proudly receiving your qualification at graduation tomorrow.
I didn't do this just for me, but also all of you - since day one you’ve all believed in me.
To my dad, mum, brothers and sisters and to my beautiful nephew Memphis; to my housemates who I now consider my family, I thank you all for pushing me, challenging me, inspiring me and picking me up in the most difficult times over the past 4 years.
Standing here tonight, I want you to know that I didn't do this just for me, but also all of you - because since day one you’ve all believed in me and you’ve all had my back. So thank you and I love you all.
Feeling inspired? Find your new world, your way. Explore CDU's law courses or if, like Mark, you didn't finish high school or haven't studied in a while, find out if CDU's enabling program could be your pathway to university.