Year 12 student, Lauren Vodden, is one of those rare people who recognised early that being true to yourself is of untold value.

“Even as a young girl I was pretty comfortable with myself,” she says. “I’d love to go back and say to my 12-year-old self, ‘Keep on doing this… it’s going to turn out okay’.”

Despite her self-belief, and having a very supportive family, there were other pressures that pushed Lauren to conform to expectations she did not truly value.

“I feel proud that I never really tried to become anything I’m not,” she says. “But it wasn’t until I moved to Bendigo that I felt I belonged and was at a school that made me feel affirmed for the aspirations I hold.”

Lauren’s previous experiences of secondary education were at a private school in Melbourne, where students were encouraged to aspire to a narrow range of professions. In that environment, her dreams of being an artist and having a career in Outdoor Education were treated as odd.

“There just seemed to be this overwhelming stress in the air to choose one of those ‘acceptable’ careers,” she says.

Ironically, it was on one of the ‘amazing’ camps offered by the school that Lauren first got a glimpse of her chosen career path.

“I hadn’t settled on a career before then,” she explains. “I just love the Australian landscape, and the idea that I could take people on adventures into remote areas and get paid for it, well that sounded so wonderful.”

Lauren has come to love the adrenaline rush of white-water rafting. She has spent days paddling down the mighty Murray and knows what she’s getting herself into, having studied Outdoor Ed at BSSC and volunteered at The Portsea Camp.

The Portsea Camp began in 1946 as the Lord Mayor’s Camp for Country Children and is now one of Victoria’s longest-standing and favourite charities. It offers an adventurous week for deserving kids, along with volunteering opportunities for young adults such as Lauren.

Lauren says the experience has confirmed how much she enjoys the company of young people, even though the camp is also hard work.

“Every morning I cooked hundreds of pieces of toast at breakfast!” she says with a laugh.

For a young woman who has spent the last few years always planning the next trip or adventure, lockdown has been a challenging time, though Lauren acknowledges how important it is to contain the coronavirus.

Her study plans beyond Year 12 could prove to be an exciting adventure in themselves, as Lauren’s weighs up her options for transitioning to university.

One is to do an Outdoor Education Traineeship or study either Conservation and Land Management or Tourism at Bendigo TAFE during 2021, before heading off to university in 2022.

Her hope is too eventually study a Bachelor of Sustainability and Outdoor Education in Christchurch, New Zealand.

In the meantime, Lauren has thrived at BSSC. She moved to the college in the middle of Year 11 and found it a welcome relief to be in an environment where she didn’t have to justify her aspirations.

“People here have helped me work out not only how I can further my skills, but what the various pathways are to my goals,” she says.

She quickly noticed other differences too.

“People at BSSC—and Bendigo more generally—are much less rushed than Melbourne people,” Lauren says. “There seems to be less jumping from one thing to another. It’s a more relaxed pace.”

She also loves being able to walk to the college.

While Year 12 comes with its pressures wherever you are, Lauren says she “found her people” here and experienced a heightened level of personal affirmation since making the move. She also joined the Student Leadership Team.

Despite this, she still remembers her first day as a “big deal”.

“I felt so lost when I first arrived,” she remembers. “Then my teachers, who were so friendly, actually came and found me and took me to my classes.”

This year she is studying English, Outdoor and Enviro Studies and Studio Art Painting & Drawing.

Her Hot Study Tip is not surprising… she says it’s essential to do what you love, though it can still be overwhelming at times. When this happens, Lauren knows it’s time to write a list and deal with all the small things you’ve been procrastinating over.

“Then you can clear the way for the really important stuff.”

Although Lauren is enjoying English and her marks are good, her heart is utterly invested in her other two subjects.

“I’ve always been a creative person,” she says. “I used to annoy teachers in other classes by constantly doodling.

“But art just feels natural. I miss the pre-COVID days, working in the art room alongside other students. It just didn’t feel like work.”

This semester she is preparing a major piece on the theme of ‘Transitions’.

The topic is deeply personal because she has lived it through her willingness to get involved in new things and to make major relocations.

“Every move opens your eyes to something new and you get to meet all kinds of people,” she reflects. “Even when I’m hiking, I always stop to chat to people I meet. I love making those connections.

“It’s probably one of the hardest thing about COVID—that I can’t meet new people anymore. I’m really close to my friends, and we keep in touch, but BSSC is so big that every day I could talk to someone I’d never met before. I loved that and I miss it.”

Even in her Year 11 art piece, Transitions could easily have been the title as Lauren explored how our diet impacts on the climate, linking dinner plates to coral bleaching.

“This year I decided to focus on people and because I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, who are always reminiscing over a cup of tea about past experiences, I chose them as a subject.

“I saw not only the way their stories spoke of their particular transitions, but also how sharing a cup of tea is a way for humans to connect and reflect on their transitions.”

The piece is also a way for Lauren to show appreciation for her grandparents—especially during the pandemic: phone calls just aren’t the same.

Through her sculpture, Lauren has brought her grandparents into her lounge room using an array of recycled or recyclable materials—recreating them as wise storytellers who have seen so much over so many years and who recognise the power of reminiscing over a cup of tea.

As expressed through her art and career aspirations, Lauren is deeply concerned for the environment.

While she admires Greta Thunberg’s leadership of young people and Craig Reucassel’s attempts to highlight the state of the planet in shows such as ‘Fight for Planet A’, Lauren believes it’s the little things everyone does every day that make the difference.

“I am a vegetarian, I walk most places, I’m conscious of the waste I generate and, with my artwork, I try to use recycled materials or sustainable products,” she says. “But we need to get policies happening at the top too. We need to listen to Indigenous communities whose interactions with the land are sustainable and caring.

“The pandemic has provided some benefits to the environment. Of course, economic concerns are valid, but we will all have to make adjustments in the future—both big and small—because of climate change.”