Whatever career pathway Leah Thorpe takes, the Year 11 student wants to help others and make the world a better place. Her personal mantra is: ‘do no harm’.
While Dietetics appeals, Leah is also considering other career options… “but not medicine,” she says with a grimace, “I’m too squeamish”.
As well as enjoying her subjects, Leah’s life is rich with varied interests and pursuits.
Visual Arts is a passion not just confined to the BSSC art room. At home she’s building her skills with watercolours, graphite realism and charcoal too.
On the day we speak, Leah has made home-baked chocolate biscuits to share with her Maths Methods class.
Whether she’s getting creative with visual arts, playing cello, baking, kicking around a soccer ball, or hanging out with her cat—life is very satisfying.
Yet, as Leah tells it, self-confidence has been elusive. The transition from a small primary school of just 80 students into the metropolis of BSE was a tremendous adjustment for the shy and nervous girl she was at that time.
Unable to give presentations in class, she increasingly avoided anything she feared would trigger anxiety.
“When something went wrong, or I made mistakes, I’d heap all this negativity onto myself,” Leah says.
Around the end of Year 10, she began to reflect on how her life was shaping up and realised she needed and wanted to change.
‘Act confident and no-one will question you’ was a quote that inspired her to change her outlook.
“There was a moment when I just thought ‘stop being shy, just go for it’,” Leah says.
As a consequence, her transition to BSSC was relatively smooth.
“At BSSC I’ve discovered there’s room to be yourself and do what you really want to,” she says. “This place gives you the freedom and encouragement to grow.”
Leah is a self-motivated student and the Covid lockdowns, for all their challenges, taught her an even greater capacity for keeping on top of her workload.
Her confidence continues to grow as she embraces new situations and interacts with a broad range of people. This includes completing BSSC Inclusion Ambassador training—a natural next step given Leah was a Wellbeing Leader in Year 10 at BSE.
Most importantly she’s learnt to re-interpret her so-called ‘mistakes’ as learning experiences.
“When I started doing this I found it created such positivity and helped me be much more compassionate towards myself,” Leah says. “Approaching all situations with kindness and empathy to others—and yourself—can really make a difference and even if it all goes wrong, you can still learn from it.”
She’s also noticed that kindness can have a snowball effect and wonders if a lot of the world’s problems could be improved by people simply being more empathetic to each other.
“Empathy is not just about trying to imagine how life might feel in another person’s skin,” Leah says, “it’s also about resisting the urge to be judgemental and accepting you might not be seeing the full picture.”
Leah has also noticed people don’t always ask ‘why’ when someone else’s behaviour seems strange or unacceptable.
These words and thoughts are not vague philosophising by someone untouched by life’s struggles. Leah lives with Tourette Syndrome (TS).
“It’s one of those conditions you can’t really hide,” she says. “The outbursts can be really shocking for the people around you.”
Leah tells a story about being out with a group of friends and suddenly yelling out something most people would never chose to say aloud in a public place. Some people were clearly shocked and obviously glancing around to see who might have yelled.
“I just don’t look like someone they’d expect to hear that sort of language from,” she says. “But I can actually laugh about it when I’m with good friends.”
However, the condition continues to be ‘a hard gig’ for Leah.
Walking along a corridor at BSSC earlier this year she suddenly shouted, to the surprise of students around her. Immediately she call out, “It’s okay, I’ve got Tourette’s”.
Of course, this is only helpful if the people around you understand something about TS.
It comes as no surprise that Leah is keen to see wider education about well-recognised conditions that remain misunderstood by many people in the general community.
If she could step back in time and offer some advice to her 12-year-old self she would tell her that it’s okay to be a sensitive person, but she needs to learn to stick up for herself more.
“Family and friends cannot be there all the time,” I’d say. “You’re the person you’re stuck with for the rest of your life—for better or worse—and your relationship with yourself has to be the best it can be.”
For more information about Tourette Syndrome check out the TS Association of Australia website: tourette.org.au