Year 12 student, Ahas Kannangara, arrived in Australia from Sri Lanka when he was in Grade 2.
His dad had a job in Melbourne and although it was hard for Ahas and his parents to leave family and friends in Sri Lanka, he says his grandparents insisted he would have more opportunities if he was educated in Australia.
His memories of the changes that followed are of a very nerve-wracking period—partly due to his natural shyness, but also because he attended a couple of different schools during those early years.
“I already spoke English because I had been to an international school in Sri Lanka,” Ahas says, “but I think it took me about three years before I knew I belonged.”
The extensive Sri Lankan community around his family certainly helped, but being involved with school-based performing arts programs was profoundly important for Ahas.
He had been born into music with both parents musicians. Jam sessions with friends and family were the backdrop of life.
But involvement in school productions brought Ahas the unforgettable experience in Year 5 of realising he belonged and was doing well.
“We were doing a play about Charlie Chaplin,” he explains. “There was this moment when the person directing the choreography pointed to me at the back and moved me to the very front of the stage. I’ve never forgotten that moment and how it made me feel.”
Ahas and his family returned to Sri Lanka in 2015. Although he was technically ‘home’, he could not attend a Sri Lankan government school because, although he spoke the language fluently, he could not read or write his mother tongue, Sinhalese.
He found a place in an international school where he was teased because his accent now had an Aussie inflection. Despite this he liked his teachers and made some great friends.
It also meant he could also spend time with his cousins and wider family.
In reality there was little time available for catching up. School ran from 7am to 1pm during the week and he had tutors in every subject, every day of the week.
Returning to Australia in late 2017 Ahas enrolled at Bendigo South East.
Interestingly, he had been exploring his education options in preparation for coming to Bendigo and initially didn’t realise BSSC was only a senior campus. The college appealed for a number of reasons, including there being no uniform.
Towards the end of Year 9, Ahas started at BSE and was disappointed to discover he’d arrived too late to participate in their annual school production.
However, it wasn’t long before he met his ‘tribe’—the group of friends who have remained, to this day, his good mates and people he loves to hang out with.
Ahas also returned from Sri Lanka with a new attitude to his academic achievements.
He still has hopes of getting involved in musical theatre one day—his dream role is to play Aladdin—but he doesn’t plan to have a life in the arts.
“I knew when I came back I would have more time to myself, but I also knew that I wanted a professional career in the law, accounting or the business world.”
By the time Ahas was at BSSC he was consistently getting good grades.
Now, with his final year half completed, Ahas is very happy with all his subjects and teachers. He is particularly loving Maths and Legal Studies.
At present Ahas has his sights on studying law, with a particular interest in criminal law.
With the Black Lives Matter campaign still front and centre on the world stage, Ahas wonders if he might play some role in the future towards challenging the practices that sees so many people with dark skin treated so harshly.
“The lack of privilege extended to people of many cultural backgrounds is genuine discrimination,” he points out.
While Kim Kardashian may not be the first person who comes to mind as a human rights activist, she recently publicised the case of an Afro-American man in prison on death row whose conviction deserved to be challenged. This man will now have his case re-heard with a completely new trial.
“People like that inspire me to become involved with the law,” Ahas says.
He also admires Michelle Obama and the indomitable Greta Thunberg.
Meanwhile, in his efforts to reach his goals, Ahas is studying Accounting, English, Business Management and Industry/Enterprise.
He found the remote learning period “hard but okay”, but really missed the face-to-face learning with his teachers.
“It was difficult to stay focused when I was stuck in the same study space for both school and homework.”
In the end he managed the challenges without dropping behind, but says he’s very glad to be back.
So what’s Ahas’s ‘hot study tip’?
“Keep a life-study balance,” he says thoughtfully. “I think I worked too hard in some of the earlier years when I should have made more of other opportunities.
“You need to make sure you are ready to make Years 11 and 12 a priority and be totally focused on your studies—and keep it in mind where you want to be in the future.”
Ahas is taking his own advice with his number one priority this year his schoolwork. However he is also keeping that important balance and, being a keen runner, is spending up to an hour pounding the footpath or working out each day.
Ahas also says he’s found writing notes in every class has been really helpful for him.
So what if he could go back and give some advice to his 12 year-old self?
“I would tell myself ‘there’s going to be lots more ups and downs in your life but always keep your priorities clear in your mind’ and ‘focus on your own life and make sure you enjoy every moment’.”