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2012 VCAL Achievement Awards Student Speech

Shaun Rush spoke at the ceremony about his VCAL journey at Carrum Downs Secondary College.
(Reproduced by permission from Shaun Rush.)

Shaun Rush

Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, teachers and fellow VCAL students. I would like to begin by thanking the VCAA for the recognition given to the VCAL program through the VCAL Achievement Awards. It is a great way to showcase the achievements of VCAL students throughout the state. I would like to also congratulate my fellow award winners both individuals and teams. I am sure the stories of your journeys would be worthy of being told today.

My journey as a VCAL student is about the many opportunities I have experienced; it is about going the extra mile, pushing the boundaries and exceeding my teachers’ and peers’ expectations.

As I commenced secondary school, my career thoughts were wavering between engineering and teaching, even to the point of putting a plan in place to attend the University of Queensland and live with my best friend and his family on the Gold Coast. However, for Year 10 work experience I took the opportunity to work at the Langham Hotel as a hospitality trainee. This is where my desire to join the VCAL program was ignited as I realised it would assist me in pursuing a career in the hospitality industry.

While my elder brother and I have always been encouraged to help in the kitchen at home, the experience at the Langham Hotel really opened my eyes to the opportunities available to me. I had decided I was going to be a world class chef. Nothing raises the self-esteem and dreams of the ‘work experience kid’ more than the head chef telling him he has better knife skills than the third-year apprentice! After the week, I headed back to school with a new passion and started to plan for the future.

When it came to choosing my pathway for Years 11 and 12, I had a think about where I wanted to go when I left school. After some thought, I knew that VCE wasn’t right for me as I needed to be challenged on a different level.

My participation in VCAL led to a number of high profile experiences in the hospitality and food industries.

I contacted the Press Club Group owned by George Calombaris. After a few emails and many phone calls, I had an interview with the HR Manager, Helen, and gained the opportunity of a week’s work experience during the end-of-year school holidays. Helen suggested I work in the new French restaurant that was opening in January 2011. It was here at PM24 that I was able to learn from Executive Chef Phillippe Mouchel and Head Chef Tania. I was also working alongside Callum Hann – the runner-up in the first series of Master Chef.

Next I organised my ongoing VCAL work placement at Simplot Australia in Mentone. Simplot is the home of many Australian-loved brands like I&J, Birds Eye, Edgell, John West, Chiko and many more. At work I undertook many different tasks, from undertaking sensory examinations and tastings, recipe testing and developing new products to participating in marketing meetings. Many opportunities arose from working at Simplot. I was given the chance to work at the Melbourne Fine Food Festival at the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre. At the show, I was on stage cooking samples and promoting our products. It was an amazing experience. A highlight from the show was meeting Adriano Zumbo before the doors opened for patrons.

I was also given the opportunity to work in a photography studio, working on two cookbooks for Leggo’s – another of the Simplot brands. This opened my eyes to the many other career options in the food industry. I also met many different people from the media industry. One day I was even asked to go home that night and wash and dry the tee shirt I was wearing and bring it in so it could be used as a background in one of the photos.

From the outset of my senior years at high school, I knew that I was going to do VCAL. I didn’t choose VCAL because I couldn’t do VCE; I chose VCAL because I knew that I could get out as much success as the effort I put in! VCAL brought me more confidence and drive to strive for what I love.

More success came in Year 12, when, along with Jacqui Pownceby, I was approached by a few of my teachers. They pulled us aside and asked if we would be interested in piloting an Individual Learning Program that would involve the establishment and management of a café. This café was located within the school. Instead of attending the normal numeracy and literacy classes, both Jacqui and I were sending letters for sponsorship, preparing business plans and developing profit and loss statements. The café was available for students and teachers to purchase food and beverages that were a little different to the usual canteen food. It provided them with a shared space to interact with each other in a bit more of a casual way.

In the beginning, all we had was a coffee machine and a few take-away cups, with goals and ambitions. By the end of first term we had a pretty good café setup and some new equipment. This was achieved through sponsorship and taking out a loan from the school. Towards the end of the year the café hosted the lunch for the Victorian Applied Learning Association’s Professional Development Safari. Our safari-themed event gave us the opportunity to showcase what we had achieved in the year and how much effort had gone to into our last year of high school. In a letter of recommendation, the VALA CEO stated it was the professional development event of the year.

Today the café still lives on, and is now open to the public. The experience enabled me to learn from others and support my team members. The success of the café project demonstrates how VCAL can provide flexibility within our education system. Many kids that wouldn’t usually finish school can do so in an environment like the café, where they learn these very valuable life and work skills.

It’s also a fun way to learn and very engaging. Teachers are not just setting homework; they engage you in the work, helping to pull it all together and get a job done. A testament to the success of the project is that now every Year 12 VCAL student at Carrum Downs Secondary College is responsible for implementing an individual, self-directed project.

All this would not have been possible without the vision of our principal Ms Marie Walker and the support, guidance and assistance of my teachers – especially, Katrina King, Lisa Floyd and Rebecca Wilmot. To my Mum and Dad for the support at home and for allowing me to be part of the Salubrious Café project, as well as David and Pete from Simplot Australia for allowing me to take part in many different projects and to experience so many opportunities – I thank you. To those that gave support in the form of sponsorship for our café, from Bendigo Bank Carrum Downs and the Duck Over Cafe Seaford, thank you for supporting our vision.

VCAL has allowed me to gain many successes. With the confidence I gained, I was able to do anything I wanted – nothing could stop me. Ringing CEOs or managers of big companies didn’t really faze me anymore. Developing all these skills opened many opportunities and I hope these skills lead to many more.

I received many awards through my high school years, From merit awards to the 2011 Community Spirit and Leadership Award, which was awarded by Mark Dreyfus, QC MP for Isaacs. I also received the 2011 and 2012 VET Hospitality awards.

I am now studying Food Science and Technology at William Angliss Institute and I hope to pursue a career in either product development or nutrition.

Lastly thank you to the VCAA for all the recognition given to VCAL. It’s a great pathway and, as you can see from today, a lot of success comes from it.

Congratulations to my fellow VCAL students.

Thank You.