33. Jessica McKenzie

4 Dec


Jessica McKenzie has experienced the devastation of the Black Saturday bushfires first hand and has had a long battle with depression. However, she has never lost her passion for learning and was recently the recipient of a Victorian Learn Local Award in recognition of her determination and dedication to learning despite incredible adversity.

What was it like growing up in such a large family?

It was chaos. If you walked into our kitchen after dinner you’d think we hadn’t done our dishes for a month, but really we’d just done them after lunch, our names were always being confused and quite often our needs weren’t heard. At the same time though, the lack of time for each child gave us the opportunities to get up to much mischief (not that I advise kids to get up to no good!), but I have some great memories. We were also a close family and having so many of us gave us a sense of protection; we all looked after each other.

What is a typical week for you?

There is no such thing, my routine changes on a daily basis, one day I may do three weeks worth of uni work within a matter of hours and then volunteer every day for the rest of the week, whilst the next week I could be a no show at uni or show up with unfinished work. My life very much revolves around my mental health, which is highly unpredictable.

How did your school education lose its way?

How exactly it lost its way is quite a hard question. The only thing I know for certain is that mainstream education is not for me. There were a few factors involved in my leaving school at 14, my depression had hit, the eating disorder had begun and I also was just coming out as being gay; my life was an absolute mess.

Why were you so keen to continue your education after being expelled?

I’ve always had a passion for learning and I like to be opinionated. I believe that to have a valid opinion, you must be well educated on every aspect of the topic at hand, including the opposing arguments. The normal things such as wanting a good job and being qualified to do the jobs I’d like to do were a consideration, but mostly, I just love learning, particularly about culture.

Why did you choose your course? What are you hoping to do when you’re finished?

I was only 14 when I did my course in Children’s Services. I thought it would be an easy and enjoyable job, in fact, its really quite demanding and incredibly under paid, hats off to all the childcare workers out there.

For my next qualification, I wanted to get into Social Work, really for the same reasons as Child Care and came to the exact same conclusion, so once again, hats off to social workers.

Third, I applied to study Business during a period of time where I was quite depressed and had little passion for anything, I chose Business because it has so many options; it just seemed rational at the time. Now I’m determined to finish the course but will also be putting some extra time into getting qualified to teach within my field. This will hopefully be within the alternative education sector, either within VCAL or mature age education.

How did you get through your eating disorder?

I actually came out quite naturally, there was never much put in place besides being harassed to eat more. As my moods picked up a little, I just started eating properly again, and once I got into my sports, I became quite obsessive about eating properly for the sake of fitness.

How did your experience of Black Saturday affect you?

The fires for me were far too traumatic, I still don’t talk much about what I saw that day and pray every day the images will just disappear.

What is something some people don’t understand about you?

I have a wicked sense of humour and no sense of good or bad timing, it’s just me.

What are your hobbies?                                                                

AFL,  BMX,  basketball, ice-hockey, soccer, boxing, (most sports really!), art, reading and learning anything new.

What do you think are two traits people need to succeed?

Determination and motivation.

Expand on “just do something”

The longer a person remains unengaged in any form of demanding activity, the harder it becomes to ever take it on. If you constantly remain engaged, even without reason, it will be easier to take on something of interest at a later date.

Do you feel you have something to prove?

I believe feeling like you need to prove yourself to someone can be a dangerous feeling, it’s so easy to go off track that way, for example: the child of doctors should feel ok about a career as a social worker if that’s what they wish. You should always do what’s right for you, not what someone else expects of you.

What was it like winning your award?

The feeling is really indescribable, with my mental health I have never thought of myself as being anything but a waste of air, so to have something that tells a much different story enables me to feel ok about taking each breath that I take.

Tell us about being a youth educator at DVLC

I love helping out with the youth at DVLC, just seeing young adults like myself getting the education they deserve and getting excited over learning new things gives such a warm feeling. There’s nothing better in this world than being able to help someone who was previously never given a chance.

How can people help with the DLVC (Diamond Valley Learning Centre) VCAL camp XMAS tree fundraiser?

Buy one and tell your friends, sales start Dec 7.

What advice would you give to people like me?

Stay strong, stay engaged, use your resources, the help is out there.

What does the future hold for you?

Only the future can tell you that, I guess it’s a surprise.

Words: Nicole Smith

Picture: Mel Price


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