One quiet, sunny afternoon at the Woodend Ice-Cream Co, part-time employee and BSSC Year 12 student, Emily Zumstein, was standing in the doorway of the shop, having ‘a little boogie’ to an ABBA tune playing in the background.

An elderly woman using a walking frame came along the street, smiled at Emily and joined in.

“I stepped out onto the footpath and we danced together,” Emily recalls with a smile. “Then another couple joined in… it was such a beautiful moment.”

Once the dancing was done, Emily spoke with the lady and discovered she was 88 years old and had been a dance teacher—something Emily also does.

In fact, there was a time when Emily had her heart set on being a dancer full-time.

Convinced of this, she completed VCE 3/4 Dance in Year 11 at Gisborne Secondary College and then applied to VCASS (Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School) planning to take her dance as far as she could.

She didn’t get in.

Almost on a whim, Emily applied for BSSC and over the next few months came to learn one of life’s great lessons: what we think we want doesn’t always turn out to be what we need.

“I’m so glad I came to BSSC, even though it means a train commute each day,” she says. “I love the culture of the college.”

Emily admits to feeling “pretty scared” the day she arrived on campus.

“It took me a couple of days to realise that nobody was going to be judgy about my clothes or what I thought,” she says. “It made me relax and I quickly found my people.”

The most significant BSSC moment for Emily happened very recently.

“I saw how everyone who travelled on the train came together after we lost our friend,” she says. “I now find myself checking in with students I’d rarely spoken to. We share a smile and are taking care of each other.”

When Emily thinks about BSSC now, the word that comes to mind is ‘freeing’.

“My confidence has grown so much, she says. “Once I would never have felt comfortable to go up and start a conversation with people I don’t know… now I do it all the time.”

Emily is deeply grateful for—and proud of—these changes.

“I look back on the ‘before Emily’ and see someone quite unmotivated, really insecure, and constantly worried about other people’s opinions,” she explains.

“I’m now more motivated to live every moment of life and to meet new people. Everyone has a story, and I’m more appreciative of that now.”

With these changes has also come a greater capacity for Emily to see positives in situations more easily.

“Even just seeing the sun on a grey day reminds me that bad feelings will pass,” she says. “I know lots of people don’t think like this… I wish it was something I could give to others.”

Emily has coped well with lockdowns and feels great compassion for those who find them really challenging.

“I’m one of those people who is very happy on their own and I enjoy working out new ways to do things,” she says. “Still, it’s great that technology lets me see and talk with my friends.”

One new discovery was the benefits of using a ‘study playlist’ and Emily regularly uses some of the LOFI study music available on Spotify.

“I only use that music when I’m studying,” she explains. “When I hear it, I automatically switch into study mode.”

Emily also uses music to unwind when she feels stressed and has discovered her guitar is a great friend on a bad day.

With Dance 3/4 already completed, Emily selected Further Maths, Drama, Sociology and English Literature in 2021. She loves them all, but Drama has turned her world inside out.

“I chose it because it links to dance, but I had no idea how much it would impact me,” she says. “It’s probably the key to my improved self-confidence.

“In drama class I feel I can openly show my true self, without fear, and explore aspects of my personality I’ve tended to hide in the past—like my loud, spontaneous, centre-of-attention-self!”

Given the opportunity to have a conversation with anyone in the world, Emily would choose legendary British actor, Maggie Smith.

“Imagine a cup of tea with her!” Emily smiles. “She’s so talented, seems so approachable and is still working. I’d probably be a bit overwhelmed, but I’d ask her everything I could think of about acting.”

In the meantime, Emily will complete her dance teacher training at the end of this year and hopes to keep up the after-school dance lessons she gives to tiny would-be ballerinas.

“I plan to keep dancing. But I also want to act,” she says.

Emily is aware that actors’ incomes can be irregular, so she’s been thinking about having a ‘day job’.

Inspired by her great-aunt, who, for years, has worked tirelessly with refugees, and sharing her aunt’s concern for social justice, Emily has a dream of setting up a clothing label that employs homeless people to make clothes.

She wonders if the clothes might even be made out of recycled garments, as she has seen in an Italian startup that repurposes clothes.

“My aunt actually rejected an Australia Day award,” Emily says. “She politely wrote to the Governor-General stating that when Australia begins looking after refugees properly she might consider accepting the award.

“People my age are becoming increasingly aware of these kinds of issues and we want to help—but it has to be something truly sustainable.”