The Public Education Foundation celebrates the excellence, commitment and achievement of students, teachers and principals in our public schools. Each year we gather to celebrate the enduring values of our public education system. One of these values is excellence, which are highlighted in the performances, in the speeches, in the personal stories. Even more importantly, the celebration showcases the fundamental public school values of character and resilience. Many of the winners have displayed remarkable strength of character in reaching the achievements they have to do.

The event is also an opportunity to show the Foundation’s gratitude to the many wonderful supporters of public education – the individuals, foundations and companies who give generously to make these scholarships possible.

Student Speech: Emilie Martin, one of the 13 inaugural Acacia Program Scholarships recipients

Good evening Minister, Deputy Lord Mayor, distinguished guests, fellow scholarship recipients and ladies and gentlemen. I would first of all like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet tonight. I would also like to acknowledge elders past, present, and emerging, and extend that respect to all aboriginals here this evening. Good Evening, my name is Emilie Martin and I’m completing year 10 at Mudgee High School. I am the recipient of one of the 13 Acacia Scholarships awarded this year. I’d like to thank the Public Education Foundation, and those inspirational individuals who by sponsoring the scholarships we will be recognising tonight, give students in public schools the opportunity to strive for success within their education.
Quite early on in my schooling career I decided I wanted to push myself to my limits academically, and achieve as highly as I can. I try to make the most of every situation I find myself in. Something I found challenging when I first moved from the hills district in Sydney, to Mudgee, a small country town in Central West NSW. It was definitely a significant change, but in the end it was one I am grateful to have experienced. While attending Mudgee High School, I’ve gotten involved in debating, music, acting, musical theatre, and have always strived to do my best in all that I attempt. I’ve made friendships that I hope will last a lifetime, and have been privileged to be taught by some of the inspiring teachers within the public school system. However, attending a public school in a regional area presents a few challenges, excursions tend to be more expensive when you live far away from the destinations. Struggling with bad internet connections is fairly constant, and was a prevalent concern during the quarantine period last year.
Although my experience is limited, I honestly think that taking responsibility for my own success leads to great things, and hard work and determination are the keys to realising any dream. The trouble for those who share this view is that it can be easy to lose sight of what’s actually possible. It can feel like my situation is constantly limiting my ability to dream bigger. I wanted to achieve as highly as I could within my schooling, and the people around me could see that. I had support certainly, but what I didn’t have was role models. People who had been in the same boat I’m in and had been able to succeed despite not having as many resources to work with. That’s what’s really inspiring about my scholarship, the mentoring. Even more than the financial assistance. The Acacia Program connects students in public education to people they would never get the chance to meet. It allows them to seek guidance from someone that has already trod the path they wish to go down. Which is such an eye opening experience. Since talking to Tom Tilley who sponsored my scholarship, I’ve found looking towards the future a little easier. We talked about his journey to get to where he is today, and how I could overcome other challenges I experience. He gave me some great advice and I feel really privileged to be able to talk to him.
I feel that public education has allowed me the freedom to explore my limits and realise my dreams for the future. It has presented me with challenges that I have since overcome, and presented me with opportunities like no other schooling experience. This scholarship will allow me to plan better for my future, and with the assistance of the mentors, I hope all my fellow acacia scholars will be able to realise their full potential and find fulfilment in their success.
Finally I would like to conclude by congratulating all the other recipients and by thanking a few people for helping me to receive such a wonderful opportunity. I would like to thank my Principal and teachers at Mudgee High for nominating me for this scholarship, and always encouraging me to do my best. All those at the Public Education Foundation who do an amazing job of organising the scholarships and events like this. Thanks to Tom Tilley, for sponsoring my scholarship specifically. My tutor Teresa, for being a source of inspiration and wisdom when I needed it most, and My Mum and Dad, for being unwaveringly supportive from the very beginning.
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