The pandemic has disrupted plans across the globe, as Year 11 student, Sonnie Hannaford, knows only too well.

After working hard throughout 2019 to secure a place in an international student exchange program in Hamburg, Germany, Sonnie spent only ten weeks there.

Not only was the exchange cut short, but on return there was two weeks of strict self-isolation.

What Sonnie hoped would be a time of marathon Netflix sessions became an increasingly challenging experience as the days dragged on.

“There was a period of three days towards the end of quarantine where I slept almost continuously. I’d realised how quickly and completely life could change, but I had no other plans; no idea about what I wanted to do. It felt like a giant black blanket had descended on me.”

Sonnie emerged from this enforced retreat determined to come up with something worthwhile. An obvious focus was school.

“I had always presumed that I was an average to low achiever. I wondered, if I made a big effort, could I improve?”

Instead of going back to Bendigo South East College, Sonnie arranged to be homeschooled and have tutors help in the most challenging areas.

Gradually what had seemed a disaster and disappointment began to turn into something serendipitous.

“While I’m not sure I could have done it without the support of my family, I had to make the first move.”

A move that became the first in a process of positive change that has followed her to BSSC.

“I’ve had five SACs this week and I already know I’ve done pretty well in all of them. Yet it wasn’t that long ago I didn’t believe I was a capable student.”

Sonnie has found BSSC “a lovely community” and “a little world” of people, subjects, and exposure to experiences that prepares students for the future.

“The program and culture are the best and I’ve met so many interesting people. I love all my classes—the teachers are just so helpful and interested.”

Sonnie had recognised before beginning VCE that organisation was going to be critical and says the teachers have introduced study practices that are bringing benefits.

An initial intention to make pragmatic subject choices was abandoned as Sonnie’s love of Music, History and Language studies inspired a different approach.

Now studying English, General Maths, Music Performance, Legal Studies, Ancient History and German, the future is brimming with possibilities.

Sonnie is keen to do some humanitarian work but insists “I couldn’t live without singing”. As a songwriter and a singer, music is key, but university is on the agenda too.

“I’ve thought about continuing my German Language studies and becoming a teacher. I’d also love to study the technical side of stage production.”

Sonnie also dances and teaches Tap and Creative Dance to primary aged kids. Later this year, Sonnie will take to the stage again, dancing in Tribe Youth Theatre’s production of ‘Cats’.

Sonnie views the Arts as an important way to connect with others and bring deep satisfaction both to artists and the audience, and expects writing songs and singing will always be a part of life… maybe much more.

“Some people might say I’m a dreamer, but so few people love their jobs, and what’s life if you have no dreams?”

At times completely consumed when inspiration comes, Sonnie relishes the feeling of knowing a song or performance is ‘right’. One such piece was the song written after their beloved Nono died.

“I recorded the song and it was played at the funeral. I so wish I could still talk with him. He was so supportive of me and such a great listener.

“After he died, something happened I would have normally discussed with him and I instantly went to dial him.”

Sonnie’s life may sound particularly blessed—and they acknowledge how important family has been—but there have been some rocky times too.

Around the age of 12 Sonnie began the journey to realise, find the language, and accept, being gender-fluid pansexual. But those terms, and truly understanding them, were yet to be discovered.

“I had no language for how I felt and struggled with the sense that something was different. I was mercilessly bullied and that really wreaked some damage.”

Still struggling and feeling very confused, in Year 8 Sonnie began to understand the complexity of sexuality and gender issues, but felt compelled to try to make it easier for other people to accept.

“These days life is wonderful. I’m so proud of my journey and what I have achieved and I like to describe myself as so gay that I don’t care anymore!”

Sonnie’s sense of humour is definitely intact. When asked what advice they would offer to their 12-year-old self the answer is simply: “Get a new haircut!”

“I had the worst fringe—I looked like a soggy Dora the Explorer!”