As the world watches the Taliban re-establish its influence in Afghanistan, one BSSC student is observing from a very unusual point of view.

Year 12 Student, AJ Rich-Jones is researching ‘Afghanistan and the Taliban’ for a 4000-word thesis required in the subject Extended Investigation.

Her opinions about the war in Afghanistan have evolved from a conviction we should never have gone there in the first place, to an awareness that some good came out of the occupation—especially for women.

“Of course, I can’t fully grasp the complexity of the situation, but I learn something new every day,” AJ says.

“When I saw those people hanging onto the US plane the day after Kabul fell, it really hit me how bad they believe things will be. I’m especially sympathetic to the women—so many have been going to school or university; playing sport; not wearing the burka. All that’s going to change now.”

Afghanistan holds a personal connection for AJ as well. Her dad served there with the Australian Defence Forces.

His insights have been invaluable as she’s researched her project. As has an interview AJ had with Professor of Anthropology at Boston University, Thomas Barfield, author of ‘Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History’.

“It was incredible to speak with him,” AJ says. “He’s convinced the withdrawal of troops is a mistake and believes even a small force could have kept the Taliban at bay. He pretty much predicted exactly what’s unfolding.”

The contrast between the lives of female students in Afghanistan and AJ’s experience of BSSC could not be starker.

She relishes the personal freedoms, the individuality of student programs and the support and respect for everything students want to pursue.

“The word ‘network’ comes to mind when I think about BSSC because everyone is welcome and the college works well on so many different and interconnecting levels,” AJ says.

“Because Dad was in the army, I’ve been to heaps of different schools, but BSSC has been the best. I remember one primary school where my teacher didn’t know how to extend me, so she sat me in the corner with a book written for kids older than me.”

By Year 7 such experiences brought AJ to the conclusion she didn’t want to be the smart kid anymore. She stopped trying to have conversations about world issues that caught her attention.

“Then people assumed I would be lacking confidence and maybe feeling a bit confused because I was an adolescent,” AJ recalls. “I wasn’t—until I started second-guessing myself because of such assumptions.

“If I could go back to that time, I’d tell myself it’s okay to be different. Be comfortable with yourself. Keep expressing opinions and thoughts. Raise issues you’re concerned about.”

AJ knows she’s become a much more resilient person as a result and is grateful for the experiences that got her to where she is. At the top of her gratitude list are her parents.

“I wouldn’t be where I am now without them,” she says. “I’m thriving academically, having such a good time and feel like I can do anything.”

Clearly a highly-motivated student, AJ was shocked to find she quickly got behind during last year’s lockdown.

“It was so challenging to catch up, but I’ve also learnt a lot,” she says. “Like how my study environment affects me—sometimes, just moving to a new spot clears a mental block for me.

“When we’re not in lockdown, I now arrive at BSSC thinking, ‘I must make the most of being here’ and I so appreciate seeing my friends every day.”

With a future plan to become an economist (AJ wants to study Law and Economics in a double degree) BSSC offers her exactly what she needs. She’s already wrestling with the commonly-held assumption that economics is solely about money.

“I don’t believe economics is just about finances,” AJ says. “You should not have to fight to hold a moral position as an economist.”

AJ talks about the ‘donut theory’ of economics—a sustainable way of thinking about how to use resources with environmental and social implications as a consideration.

Meanwhile, AJ is working part-time at Coles and is an avid reader of “almost anything, as long as it’s interesting”.

She is also a member of the City of Greater Bendigo’s Youth Council, which gives young people an inside view on how local government works and what’s going on in Bendigo.

The Youth Council has its own projects such as promoting the L2P learner-driver program for students who don’t have someone to teach them to drive.

She’d like to see a youth award to champion young people who are doing amazing things and a larger venue specifically set aside for young people.

“I also participated in the Victorian Youth Parliament which meant I helped design legislation, debate it and pitch it to state politicians,” AJ explains. “Over the years, 36 of these student-generated ideas have passed into legislation. Pretty amazing!”

Given this background, nobody will be surprised to read that AJ is also part of BSSC’s Student Leadership Team.

With such wide interests and inspirations, it’s a tough choice for AJ when we ask her the one person in the world she would speak to if she could choose absolutely anyone.

“There are just so many,” she says, before settling on Grace Tame.

“I heard Grace speak on a college excursion to the Communities in Control Conference. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.”