Year 12 student, Sasha Hirst, will not easily forget the morning she stood waiting to catch the train to Bendigo to attend BSSC for the first time.

“I was so nervous,” she says. “Then I saw that there were four other girls I knew catching that train—three I’d known since primary school.”

Despite this reassuring start to their day, on arrival at Bendigo station, the girls realised they had no idea how to get from the station to the college—even with Google maps.

As well as being geographically challenged, Sasha was also concerned about what she was wearing and how she ‘looked’. She expected it would be possible to ‘get it wrong’ and that she would be judged on things such as her appearance at her new college.

She could not have been more wrong.

“I’d spent so many years trying to be like everyone else,” she admits, “but here everyone is encouraged to be themselves. If you’re sitting alone reading a book, it’s not judged as being anti-social.”

It’s something Sasha values enormously.

She first heard about BSSC when she was in Year 8 at Salesian College in Sunbury—a school she attended essentially because her older brother was there.

During Year 10 she decided to check out BSSC’s Open Day and loved the experience.

“I really owned the choice to come here,” she reflects. “I’m so glad I did. I love the way I’ve been treated by my teachers. It’s worth the two hours on the train every day.”

Many of her close friends are also train travellers, so the time is socially valuable as well.

Now in Year 12, Sasha’s choice of subjects is diverse and includes Chemistry, Psychology and Photography. It was her Dad who encouraged her to pick subjects she liked so she would stay interested in them. His advice was spot-on.

However, Sasha’s pathway into Photography is a story about the way expectations—and assumptions about what others think—can influence any of us.

Since Year 10, when she first studied painting and drawing, Sasha’s love of art had grown and deepened.

“I had chosen Studio Art Painting & Drawing for Year 11 too, but during Step-Up I felt intimidated by what the other students were doing—like my style was too different to everyone else’s,” she says.

“Now I know it doesn’t matter, but at the time I was really stressed out about it, so I transitioned to Photography.”

As it turns out this story has a very happy ending with Photography becoming Sasha’s favourite subject. She flips through her growing folio and points to a shot she is particularly proud of—a black and white picture that is a study in the way light and shadow create mood.

She likes to shoot on film, developing her pictures in the darkroom.

“I never tire of the magic—seeing an image appear in the chemical bath,” she says. “Now I understand the science of the development process I can see how Chemistry is definitely helping my art.”

Psychology is another favourite subject.

“It’s absolutely fascinating learning about human behavior,” she says, “but it’s also very sad to realise that some of the insights and knowledge we now have were gained through case studies involving the most unethical treatments and experiments.

“It makes me really appreciate the standards that are in place today.”

So what is Sasha’s ‘hot study tip’?

“Oh, no,” she groans, “don’t ask me that. I’m terrible! I’m a last minute crammer… but I’m getting better.”

Like all BSSC students, Sasha now faces the prospect of a long period of learning remotely and relying on her own motivation.

“I do have a plan,” she says. “Last night I wrote down what I had to do for the week. I can safely say I have done none of what I had written down for today. Given my procrastination tendencies, yes, I’m worried by the prospect of having to do weeks of school at home.

“But I’m hoping I’ll manage to curb that procrastination habit by the end of this—or at least get things done only hours after I planned to!”

Sasha proves her sense of humour is clearly surviving the crisis so far when she adding, “Hopefully I will just run out of things to procrastinate over and I’ll have to do my work.”

Asked about other impacts of Covid-19 shutting the college, Sasha is pragmatic about the challenges ahead.

“I reckon face to face with teachers is important to me, but I also think subjects like English and Psychology can be managed fairly easily on-line.

“It will be tricky in Maths and Chemistry where having your teacher there to explain concepts and processes to you is a lot more beneficial than trying to decipher their notes.”

Although she won’t be spending two hours each day on the train, Sasha hopes regular contact with her teachers, and outlets like Edrolo and YouTube, will help her keep momentum.

“At least we possess the technology to communicate with our friends and family and still see them,” she says. “As much as we may be going stir crazy with all this, it’s something that can make these horrendous times easier to get through.”

Sasha is still not settled on her long-term pathway. By choosing a wide breadth of subjects she has effectively covered a lot of possibilities. Lately, she’s been thinking seriously about a career in Naturopathy.

“My parents take a holistic approach to health,” Sasha says. “I’ve experienced Naturopathy both as a client and as a work experience student in Year 10. I enjoyed it so much.”

One thing Sasha does know is that she wants to help people. Despite her fascination with psychology, her initial idea to become a clinical psychologist has changed alongside a growing awareness that her natural empathy makes it hard for her to avoid internalising the problems of others.

Sasha was recently involved with BSSC’s Inclusion Ambassador training program.

“Everyone deserves to feel wanted and included,” she says. “At some stage in everyone’s life, they experience being excluded in some way. I know how dreadful that is.”

Outside of school Sasha had a part-time job in a restaurant. She also used to play netball but has found VCE a challenge that has pushed that interest off her calendar.

Turning her thoughts to global issues, Sasha expresses her frustration and shock about the lack of action on climate change from so many who could really be making a difference—and the ongoing influence of deniers.

She also notes a very interesting silver lining to the terrible Covid-19 pandemic—some environmental problems have eased.

Unsurprisingly she is a great admirer of Greta Thunberg.

“There are lots of important voices of course,” she says, “but Greta is making the message about climate change very clear.”

Reflecting on the last six years of her life, Sasha would love to be able to offer some wisdom to her 12-year-old self.

“Firstly, make your own decisions about the subjects you want to study and the school you want to go to.

“Don’t worry about trying to be like everyone else.

“And most importantly, don’t play trombone—you’re going to hate it!”