If rolling out of bed at 8am to get to BSSC classes by 9am can be a challenge, imagine what mornings are like for someone who commutes an hour—or more—by train.

Year 12 student, Riley Howard, catches the 7:47 from Rochester each morning and gets home around 6pm each evening.

“I actually spend almost as much time away from my family each week as I spend at home,” he says. “And some days the distance between school and home feels a very long way.”

Added to this, Riley has discovered studying on a train is something of a challenge, so he uses the time as a kind of circuit-breaker between school and home.

It’s a chance to listen to 80s and 90s metal music—like Metallica and Nirvana—and right now he’s also deep into the fifth Harry Potter book.

Riley was not unhappy at Rochester Secondary College and it took some courage to step beyond familiar territory.

“It felt like quite an adult decision,” he says, “but the change has definitely been worth it. I’d recommend to anyone who can’t get the subjects they need at a local college to come here.”

Despite recalling how “very scary” it was to arrive alone at BSSC from a college of around 300 students, he now relishes the buzz of being in the thick of a large student population where something new is always happening.

“I remember being in the stairwell in E-Block on my way to the science floor,” he says. “I realised there were probably more kids in that stairwell than attend Rochester College.”

He also acknowledges that some would find the travel intolerable, yet he feels he’s being well-prepared for the adult world ahead of him.

“I’m also a lot more independent now,” he reflects, but still feels he’s missed a few opportunities.

“I’d love to tell the Year 11 me to go and join the Student Leadership Team,” he says.

BSSC teachers have impressed Riley and he appreciates the way they balance support with fostering independence.

“They are with you all the way, but they won’t hold your hand,” he says. “That’s been an important thing I’ve learnt; to take responsibility for what I want and work out how to use my time to achieve my goals.

“I realised soon after arriving, the teachers are specialists in their areas with a huge knowledge of their subjects. Like my VET Cisco teacher, Warren Sutton. He’s really opened up a world of opportunities. In the end the move to BSSC was about looking after my future.”

Riley has been settled on a career in the Australian Defence Force since he was in Year 10—a decision echoing a family tradition, with both Riley’s uncle and step-dad having ADF careers.

BSSC offered the perfect VET courses to set Riley up for his plans.

“I need a specific ATAR to move straight into the Network Technician’s role I’m interested in,” he explains. “But I’ve also done about 75% of what’s required to be accepted into an ADF gap year for 2022.”

Riley has also discovered there is a much wider selection of ADF jobs he thinks he could enjoy.

With two hours cut out of each day due to travel, time-rationing between homework and personal interests is a big issue.

Asked for a hot study tip, he laughs.

“I’m probably not the best one to ask about that. I could use a few myself!

“Getting distracted is a big challenge for me, so try and avoid that,” he says.

Riley also admits his handling of the first lockdown last year was a “shermozzle”.

As the second, more restrictive, lockdown loomed, he had a long talk with his mum to work out how he could discipline himself more effectively and factor in breaks to dissipate stress.

Study breaks now see Riley riding his bike, working on cars and motorbikes, or playing his guitar.

For all the well-publicised benefits of sport, Riley discovered a few years ago that there is such a thing as too much. When his education began to be impacted he made some hard choices and limited himself to just one—basketball.

When asked who he would most like to have a conversation with, Riley nominates race-car driver, Scott McLaughlin.

“He was a kid from New Zealand who used his talent and determination to work his way through the highly competitive ranks of international car racing,” Riley explains. “He’s now racing Indy cars in the United States.”

Riley says McLaughlin’s ability is almost “mesmerizing” and he’d love to ask what was needed to get to be top of this incredibly competitive field.

“What did he sacrifice? How did he do it?”

However, the people who have earned Riley’s greatest gratitude are his family.

“They have been so supportive of everything I’ve ever done, including coming to Bendigo for VCE and wanting to go into the ADF.

“So while I’ve had to make those decisions, I’ve never felt Iike I had to do it alone.”

If Riley could go back and give his 12 year-old self some advice he would say “Get out there! Don’t be scared to go for what you want. It’s better to fail than not try… at least you learn something about yourself or the world.”