While his mates attend schoolies celebrations at the end of the year, James Pelosi will travel to the poorest parts of the Philippines to do volunteer work with Marist charities.
The Marist Catholic College Penshurst Year 12 student’s visit follows a school immersion trip to the south-east Asian nation where he visited orphanages and schools.
He is the first from the school to receive an Archbishop of Sydney Award for Student Excellence, after it began to change from a boy’s College for Years 7 to 10 to a co-educational school for Years 7 to 12 in 2015.
The awards, held at St Mary’s Cathedral College on September 8, acknowledge Year 12 students’ achievements and contribution to school life in areas including leadership, academic and sporting life, social justice, parish life and faith, and community service.
“I’m happy to have received the award,’ he said. “I try to appreciate and give forward everything I’m given. It’s just the way I was brought up, and being part of all these initiatives is something I’ve enjoyed, so this is just like the cherry on top.”
Though a bout of conjunctivitis left him and other students quarantined in a hotel for two days during the Philippines immersion, James said it had been a good experience and he was happy to return.
“I’m not a big drinker and I don’t think any aspect of the conventional schoolies attracts me personally,” he said. “After having been to the Philippines, the culture’s so good I can see that personal fulfilment is part of it too. It means something when you get to meet new people and experience a different culture.”
“We planted coffee trees with the Aeta who are indigenous people of the Philippines. We sat in on some lessons at the schools and played a lot of basketball.”
“A lot of it was trying to get a connection with people. In the prison we’d sit down with the kids and talk about career aspirations and what we wanted to do with our lives. It was good because a lot of us had the same hopes and dreams and liked the same music – there was a shared humanity.”
James is also a liturgy leader at the College and has offered advice and feedback as its new chapel was built this year. He has represented the College at events including social justice forums, and through the St Vincent de Paul Society’s night patrol. His fundraising efforts for Marist charity Solidarity have helped developing countries and schools to purchase textbooks and have access to fresh water.
Principal Raymond Martin said James had displayed outstanding attributes and his award was the start of a great tradition of the school.
“The Archbishop’s Award in previous schools I have worked has been really cherished as one of the highest awards each school gives, and it will be one of the highest awards we give here at Penshurst,” he said.
Assistant Principal Carmelina Eussen said James’ intelligence and humility made him a great candidate.
“James is an intelligent young man who is able to clearly articulate his view of the world,” she said. “He is always about helping others. Whenever there was work to be done, he has always been one to put his words into action and I think that is what makes him such a wonderful candidate. He’s a very humble young man.”