Their inclusive natures set Stephen Stelmach and Victoria Criniti apart. The 2015 recipients of Archbishop’s Awards for Student Excellence were honored for qualities including determination and empathy.
Stephen, a student at LaSalle Catholic College Bankstown has diplegic cerebral palsy, which affects his legs. The condition has become a motivating force for Stephen, an Extension English student with a passion for writing. He plans to study journalism and law next year.
“I just wanted that to not confine me and to achieve my goals, particularly because it’s a physical thing, and to show other people they can have an impact on society and use it as a positive thing rather than an inhibitor,” he said. “I enjoy writing, it’s a passion of mine. I had a blog when I had a massive operation in 2012 I used that to write about my experiences, and how I felt for people that I knew to understand, but also for other people who have cerebral palsy. It’s good motivation and a reminder of what I had to go through to get where I am now.”
Principal Michael Egan said corrective surgery had left Stephen in extreme pain at times but he always put forward a brave persona. Stephen has dedicated his time to groups including Faith in Action and Peer Support, and represented the College as a LaSallian Youth Leader at the LaSallian International Youth Gathering in Brisbane in 2014. His resilience inspires and is admired, by staff, fellow students and others within the community.
“Stephen has been quite active in social media, blogging about his experiences,” Mr Egan said. “I am constantly impressed by Stephen’s bravery and determination to live life to the full, putting aside the many obstacles in his way.”
Good Samaritan Catholic College Hinchinbrook student Victoria was recognised for her and kindness to her school peers. This included forming an impromptu group of Year 12 buddies to help shy Year 7 students, who would congregate in the library in their first weeks of high school, to join in lunchtime activities like soccer games. Principal Jane Donovan said Victoria, a College Captain and gifted performing arts student, was admired for her empathetic nature, and generous spirit.
“A major reason why we nominated Victoria for the Archbishop’s Award is that she possesses that very special quality where she is extremely sensitive to the needs of the younger students,” Ms Donovan said. “Victoria has sought out the students who need looking after throughout her six years at Good Samaritan. She is also willing to share her experiences to support the younger students at year group assemblies.”
Victoria said her mother was a strong influence, as was a mission trip to Peru in 2013 after World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.
“I’ve always wanted to help people, so I thought it was amazing to see how we could really make a difference,” she said. “When I was in Year 8 this boy came to the school and he got picked on because he looked a bit different. I thought it was not fair that this person wasn’t having any fun at school, because I loved school, so I asked him to sit with me at lunch. Now it doesn’t happen.”
Victoria said she was surprised to receive the award. “I’m so honoured. When they said my name I went “Are you serious, me?’ There are so many good students in our grade. There were at least 10 other people who could have got the award.”
Initiative takes flight
Marist Sisters’ College Woolwich school captian Daniella Foley set up a school mentoring program with her leadership peers to promote positive body image among younger students.
The WINGS (Wellbeing, Individual, Natural, Gifted and Service) program reflects Marist values of authenticity and kindness, and aims to inspire girls to be independent and individual – based on the belief that everyone is gifted in their own way.
Daniella said they were inspired to create WINGS after attending a Marist Youth Leader Camp in Lismore that focused on developing ways to engage younger students. “We really wanted to focus on girls in the younger years because …there is more help for the older years,” she said. “We really wanted to reach out to Years 7, 8 and 9 who are really struggling with their body image and coming into a new school. We have vertical home rooms [with students from each grade], so we could see what the younger girls think of us and how they look up to us.”
Daniella said funny skits were staged at assembly to engage the girls and students raised $1,200 for the Butterfly Foundation which supports people with eating disorders.
The leadership team also invited shy girls from each year group to perform something they were good at for the school, and walked around the school at lunch times, talking to the younger
girls and making sure they were not alone.