2011 VCAL Achievement Awards Student Speech
Ben Hockley spoke at the ceremony about his VCAL journey at MacKillop Catholic Regional College Werribee.
(Reproduced by permission from Ben Hockley.)
Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, teachers and fellow VCAL students. I would like to start off by saying congratulations to everyone who has received an award today and I would like to thank the VCAA for acknowledging our achievements. VCAL provides a platform for students like myself to demonstrate different learning styles, remain in school and can make dreams a reality. Without VCAL we might have been another statistic, lost in the system. This year is the 10th year of VCAL, it seems fitting to wish VCAL a very happy 10th birthday. I wonder if the person or the team who originally introduced the idea of VCAL ever dreamed of the diversity, complexity and standard of programs that would be born through this initiative and the positive effect this program would have on more than 21000 students who are enrolled in this program. I am sure there is a story behind everystudent enrolled in VCAL, today I will share mine.
Three years ago I was confined to a wheelchair for four months due to a chronic bone illness. My hip and scapula were a mess and I couldn’t even get across a room without assistance. I never dreamed that I would be standing here sharing my VCAL journey that included completing a 28 day expedition in Borneo Malaysia where I climbed the 20th tallest mountain in the world among many other things.
I was born with a chronic bone condition called Chronic Recurrent Multifocal Osteomyelitis which caused my body to eat away at my bones and as a result my bones were like chalk. My life became an endless cycle of doctors, specialists, tests, slings, crutches and wheelchairs. I couldn’t participate in sports and missed many opportunities to make friends.
In Year Nine I spent time in a wheelchair due to my body deteriorating on me. This was an extremely hard time for me because no one really understood my condition and I was treated very differently. Every time I arrived at school, or anywhere for that matter, all I saw were people staring at me and sometimes even pointing at the kid in a wheelchair. The beautiful office staff at MacKillop College would wheel me to my classroom and whilst I was grateful for their help, at 16 this was embarrassing and drew much unwanted attention.
Most of the time I didn’t want to leave the house because I was so scared to be judged just for being in a wheelchair and the humiliation I felt wherever I went. I lost my identity. I wasn’t ‘Ben Hockley’ I was known as ‘Bones’, a nickname in reference to my fragile skeletal condition that I despised. Although MacKillop College offered me tremendous support, there was still the thought of being different to others and being made a target just for being in a wheelchair.
My self-esteem hit a real low; we had lost count of all my injuries. The scapula is one of the strongest bones in your body but I have broken mine over seven times. Sometimes as a result of pulling up my bed sheet. I was in incredible pain both physically and emotionally. I had missed a significant amount of school due to my condition, injury, extreme pain, or medical appointments. I quickly lost all interest in school... it was just all too hard. I was exhausted from the emotional burden. It became too much and I refused to go to school anymore.
Eventually, I just stopped going to school and didn’t let anyone know. In Year Ten, I became very creative in wagging school. I would leave for the bus only to return home a short while later. I would go to school but find my way to the sick bay so I didn’t have to go into class. I would hide in the library for hours at a time. At that point in my life, I was having trouble communicating with anyone; never could I have imagined that I would be able to do something so significant in my life that I would be invited to be the keynote speaker at a state award ceremony. It is an honour and privilege to be addressing you today.
Nearing the end of Year 10, Mackillop College’s special needs teacher, Kylie Power came into my life. She joined forces with my mum to convince me to give school another try. I had fallen so far behind but she organised for me to be placed in a maths and English class where I was given so much help to catch up on all I had missed. She checked up on me all the time and never gave up on me. It was Kylie Power who first suggested VCAL as an alternative pathway for me in Year 11.
When I began VCAL I was quite surprised about how different VCAL was. VCAL gave me the chance to catch up on work when I was falling behind, and it was very hands on which helped all of us to learn a lot. After commencing VCAL, my health began to improve and I worked hard at making strong friendships, something that was difficult before. I made new friends and I knew that we would be friends for life. I become known as person and not as person with a chronic illness, I was Ben Hockley again, ‘Bones’ was buried.
I also met my teacher Rod Sheehan who was new to MacKillop. He knew about my illness, but if he knew that I hated school, he never let on. He treated me as though I was an enthusiastic learner, set high standards and expected me to work hard. Despite the hard work, I began to communicate, I began to participate, I began to become responsible for the direction of my life, and I began to enjoy school.
VCAL gave us great opportunities to have fun while we also worked on major assessments. One of the most challenging would have to have been the VCAL dinner. The year 11 VCAL students came together to cook a three course meal for almost 200 people including all VCAL parents, year 12 VCAL students, and special guests. We had to plan our menu, source our ingredients and organise every detail. On the night, it got extremely stressful as things don’t always run smoothly when food rooms are turned into a commercial kitchen and coordinated by Year 11 students. Our parents enjoyed the meal and were so proud of our efforts.
I worked as part of a team to design and build dog kennels with children from the local primary school that we later donated to the Geelong Animal Welfare Society. I did work experience in the animal department at my school and even went back to help out in my holidays. I have never been a good public speaker but I was helped to overcome my fears through the many opportunities I was offered where I could develop my ability to speak to an audience. I spoke at parent information nights, and I was selected to man a stand at a VCAL exhibition where we displayed our work and I interacted with visitors to the exhibition. I even enrolled in an Animal Studies course at TAFE one day a week and I have successfully continued these studies since leaving school.
Although my VCAL experience had been an amazing journey to date, the best was yet to come. One day Mr Sheehan came into the class and pitched the idea of going overseas as part of our VCAL program. It was to be a 28-day expedition that would involve us, as students, planning, organising and running the trip in conjunction with World Challenge, raising our own funds, working with disadvantaged communities, jungle trekking and mountain climbing. After reassurance, encouragement and a great presentation, I was on board. I don’t think anyone, except Mr Sheehan and my mother, believed that I could do this, and I was so determined to prove everyone else wrong.
When I started Senior VCAL, the Borneo expedition was introduced into the WRS and PDS curriculum. We spent a lot of time planning our itinerary, setting up our training camp, doing country research and also working to raise funds. Our learning was focussed on Borneo. We studied the geography, the history and the culture in preparation for our expedition.
The expedition started on the 19th of August 2011 and went for 28 days. The participants of the trip had come from a range of friendship groups and didn’t really know each other very well at all. Some of us had only spoken to each other as we prepared for the trip.
Before we left Australia we were each given a special role for when we reached Borneo. The roles were leadership, food, transport, navigation, accommodation & OH&S. We swapped these roles every few days so we could see everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. Whilst we were in Borneo, we hiked in Bako National Park, completed an environmental sustainability project in Bario, trekked 22km through the jungle along the Head Hunters Trail, visited an orang-utan rehabilitation centre, went white water rafting, snorkelled off Sapi island, and took on Mt Kinabalu the world’s 20th tallest mountain.
I can honestly say that a few years ago when I was sitting in my wheelchair being pushed through the school yard, I could never have imagined standing on the world’s 20th tallest mountain, I was truly on top of the world and will never forget the triumph I felt that day.
Looking back, for a while there, I wasn’t the greatest kid. I was actually going down a path that I didn’t want to go down. I was easily influenced by others and going to Borneo helped steer me clear from making poor decisions. I often fought at home with my family and at times with my friends. Spending a month in Borneo made me realise how much I have taken life, and everything I have, for granted. My attitude completely changed, my perspective on life changed. I went over there with a pocketful of skills I had learned through VCAL but came back with skills that have set me up for life and that will help me cope with anything that comes my way.
I learned to make decisions not just for myself but for a team; and I learned to be adventurous with food. Mum tells the story of how I once asked her not to buy a certain brand of frozen chips as I thought they had too much potato in them. In Borneo I ate, and thoroughly enjoyed, deer, wild boar, and monkey. I organised transport and accommodation and pushed myself physically beyond what I ever thought I could do.
Before Borneo, I wouldn’t even pick up the telephone to make an appointment. I always looked for reassurance that I was doing things the right way. Coming home from Borneo without even needing a band aid was such a boost to my confidence. If I could achieve that, then I realised that I could make my own decisions and be more independent in the way I lived my life. An example of this is when I completed Year 12, I did what many Year 12 students do...I went to schoolies. While I was there I ended up breaking my shoulder blade, nothing out of the ordinary, but for the first time, I didn’t look for someone else to sort everything out for me. I was able to call up an ambulance and get myself to the hospital, explain my medical history and get back to schoolies without ringing mum for help. I have definitely come a long way and I like the new ‘me’.
VCAL helped me re-engage with school, attend regularly, and allowed me to keep up with my work. School became an enjoyable place, where I could now dream about my future and make real steps towards achieving my dreams. Through my VCAL experience I have grown to become friends with my teachers and learnt through many different learning styles. People sometimes question whether VCAL was the tool that brought about these changes in me or whether they would have happened anyway as I got older. I know it was VCAL because without this pathway, no one could have kept me at school beyond Year Ten. VCAL has given me a future that looks promising and exciting. There is no way I would be standing here before you today without VCAL and the amazing teachers who implement the program at MacKillop College.
I’d like to thank MacKillop College and every other school that supports the VCAL program. I’d also like to thank VCAL teachers in all schools for their commitment to their students. These teachers change lives and create such wonderful opportunities for us to grow as people. I also thank my peers for the amazing journey we shared, especially The Borneo Crew: Travis, Kate, Lucy, Brooke and Karl, I will never forget it, thanks for the memories.
A very special thanks to Rod Sheehan. Without his dedication and commitment, I wouldn’t be standing here today and none of this would be possible. Thank you so much.
And lastly, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank my mum, Kate Hockley. She is an amazing woman and role model who always has my best interests at heart. She has devoted more time and energy to me than most parents could imagine, and always supported me despite the challenges I have thrown at her. My mum never wanted me to miss out on anything due to my condition, she gave me the freedom to find my own boundaries, to push my limits and encouraged me to become the man I am today. Thanks Mum!!!
Once again, congratulations to all nominees, all award winners, and all who have a VCAL story to share. Thanks for the opportunity to tell my story it has been an honour and privilege; Happy 10th birthday VCAL, and thank you!!!