A scholarship has helped me to be an advocate for Aboriginal school students

A scholarship has helped me to be an advocate for Aboriginal school students

Justin Wilkley with his younger brother

I was the first person in my family to finish high school and I am dedicated to encouraging other Aboriginal students to embrace education and pursue their passions.

My name is Justin Wilkey and I am a Ngarrindjeri man from Adelaide. It is my honour to write to you today.

I’ll be honest with you, I hope that by sharing my story you will be inspired to support students through scholarships and give them the chance to realise their academic potential. I was very fortunate to receive a scholarship at a crucial time in my life, from people just like you, which helped me to focus on my education degree. You can choose to believe in a student in the same way others believed in me.

Today I work as a mentor and advocate for Aboriginal students and earlier in my education career I worked with students who have special needs. But I haven’t always appreciated just how precious education is.

I grew up in Adelaide’s north eastern suburbs and was determined to become a professional athlete. I didn’t really consider pursuing higher education past high school. In 2003 I was accepted into the Adelaide 36ers professional basketball squad, but frustratingly, not long after joining I sustained injuries and my career suddenly stopped. I worked at the clinics, and I found that I really liked coaching the young and upcoming athletes, so I enrolled in a Bachelor of Education.

Even though studying education was fantastic it was also pretty challenging. The ‘on the job’ experience in classrooms is absolutely necessary, but it can also be hard juggling this practical work with our existing study, continuing to work part-time, and also fitting in home life somewhere too.

I’m so thankful that during this time I received one of the Irene and David Davy Scholarships, which was incredibly valuable. This helped me in so many ways and allowed me to focus on my studies without having to worry about how I was going to support myself financially. I felt like it allowed me to breathe.

After finishing the bachelor degree, I completed a masters in special education – a decision inspired by my younger brother. My brother has Down Syndrome and to be honest with you it really bothers me how he is treated differently to other people just because he has a disability.

After working at a few schools in their special needs classes, an opportunity came up that I couldn’t ignore. I starting working as the ‘Indigenous Secondary Student Mentor for the Independent Schools Association,’ which is essentially a position where I meet with Aboriginal students and act as a mentor and an advocate for them.

In the three years that I have been there, I have seen some students thrive with the extra support. I’m so proud of the students I work with and have seen some massive changes in some of them.

Working in education as teachers, we meet a wide range of students from all walks of life and do all that we can to guide them on a path and help to set themselves up for a successful future. We see Australia’s brightest young minds and watch them grow and uncover their unique talents. Sadly, we also see those who are struggling – often because of reasons out of their control – and those who come from disadvantaged circumstances who may need extra support to be able to achieve their potential.

You may not know this, but in South Australia, UniSA has the highest rate of students from a disadvantaged background who successfully complete their degrees. In fact, nearly 30% of commencing students to UniSA come from an economically disadvantaged background.

So today, I strongly encourage you to make a donation to UniSA’s Scholarship Fund and give a helping hand to another student, one just like me. The more money raised, the more students who can receive a scholarship and receive the extra support needed to flourish in their studies. This is why I am supporting UniSA’s Scholarship Fund

Today’s students are the next generation of bright minds and innovative leaders. When they succeed, we all succeed.

Education and receiving a scholarship has helped me but more importantly, it has allowed me to support students with special needs and mentor Aboriginal students and encourage them to see school as a positive tool to help them to achieve their best in life.

I hope by sharing my story with you today, that you will be inspired to support more students through the UniSA Scholarship Fund.

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