On 19th March graduating students from the Nowra campus of Illawarra Institute TAFE NSW gathered to officially receive their certificates and diplomas. I was asked to give the student address. What follows is my beautifully written speech. I don’t think I was terribly faithful to my prose. Although people told me it went really well, it felt like a strange out-of-body experience. And yet it was characterised by so many bodily sensations — dry mouth, shaking (I hope it wasn’t too visible from the audience) and a general uncertainty about where to direct my gaze.
No amount of conscious rationalisation could fend off the odd primal ‘fight or flight’ urge. But we got through it, and it was fine in the end.
I was watching ‘Deal Or No Deal’ and these two guys arranged to split their winnings between them. One guy wanted to go on holiday and the other guy wanted to go to a prestigious Texas university. And after a while they had lost a lot of money off the board and Andrew O’Keefe — in the kind of cheesy way probably only Andrew O’Keefe could muster — says, “Have you considered going to Pennsylvania State instead? It’s more like TAFE…”
I always find it funny when people describe TAFE as the poor cousin of University, or ‘University lite’, because — although one can often be a pathway to the other — to me, they do very different things. And I say that as someone who has a university degree. After I graduated I realised I couldn’t afford to continue to live in Sydney, so I returned to the Shoalhaven and took the first job I was offered. It was a part time job that morphed into a full time one, and it was in hospitality. Now there is nothing wrong with working in hospitality but over time I came to realise it wasn’t for me. After four or five years, I left that position but I really had no idea of what I wanted to do next.
Eventually I ended up at TAFE. I decided to take a couple of Certificate II courses, in business and in information technology. Just to try it out. And it turned out to be great fun. I learnt a lot. I was able to show off my talents and creativity. Something quite unexpected came out of the IT course. My teacher, Linda Johnston, saw me explaining computer related things to my fellow students. She said to me, “You’re really good at that — you have a lot of patience. Have you thought about teaching? You should do the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.”
I don’t think it was anything I had ever thought about, truth be told, but the next thing I knew the planets aligned and there was an opportunity for me to do that course. Only… I had already decided I wanted to do the Certificate IV in Digital Media Technologies and the Certificate II in Visual Arts. I checked the schedules for the three courses, gritted my teeth, and decided I could make it work. So there I was doing three courses simultaneously, often being on campus from 9 am to 9 pm… And if there’s one part of my TAFE experience I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, it would be this. I don’t regret it, it served a purpose at the time, but man, was it exhausting… To this day I am not entirely sure how I pulled it off.
Right now I am working towards a Diploma in Website Development, I want to build upon the skills I have already picked up at TAFE. Ultimately I want to combine my interests of creativity, technology and education in some ‘still to be determined’ professional capacity.
I would encourage every one here tonight to take a moment to pat themselves on the back. Because I am sure we all know people who didn’t make it this far, who, for one reason or another, weren’t able to complete their course. It is a testament to the dedication of every student who is here tonight, so congratulations and I wish you all the very best in whatever is coming up next for you.
Finally I would just like to make quick mention that one of the graduating Certificate II Visual Arts students, Margo Daly, is having an exhibition at the Shoalhaven City Arts Centre of work created from recycled and non-traditional millinery materials from June 21st. I would invite you to all go and support her and check it out!