Cleo didn’t grow up dreaming of university. Neither her parents nor anyone in her extended family had been; she couldn’t imagine herself there despite being an intelligent and engaged student.
As she approached graduation her high school careers advisor – knowing about her turbulent home life – convinced her to apply for early entry to the University of Notre Dame to alleviate the pressure of HSC exams.
Life after high school
She enjoyed her high school drama and business studies classes so the advisor recommended a Bachelor of Communications and Media. “When you look at all the job outcomes – working with people, PR, journalism – all of those things I felt would be well suited to me,” she says. “I thought ‘This is so exciting, I really want to give it a go’.”
Like many of our scholarship students, Cleo had found herself living on her own at a young age. “I was living on my own, doing the grocery shopping, cleaning the house… Through that whole experience I realised I’m capable of doing things,” she explains. “After going through something like that everything else is just positive and an opportunity to do better. When you’re put at the bottom you just want to move upwards and that’s what I decided to do.”
After high school she worked full time for a year, saving up to attend university. But as she began her degree the next year she was still working full-time hours at a local pharmacy.
Applying for the scholarship
“The first few months of uni I was working really, really hard,” says Cleo. “I was thinking, ‘I just wish I could apply for a scholarship’, because it would really help me.”
She chose to apply for our scholarship because of her out-of-home care background and because the history of the Foundation felt aligned with her beliefs.
“I was so delighted when I got an email saying, ‘We’d love to go to the next step and meet you’,” she recalls. “At the end of the interview they told me they’d like to give me the scholarship. Honestly I was shocked, I was so happy, I can’t even explain the feeling I had in that moment.
“I felt so lucky and felt it was meant to be, I was meant to come to uni, I can do this and I have support along the way.”
Focusing on her education
Since receiving the scholarship Cleo has been able to cut her hours at the pharmacy from 40 to 20 per week, which has made a massive difference to her study and enjoyment of the course.
“Without this help and the opportunity, I don’t think I would have been so persistent with uni,” she says. “I don’t think I’d have even been able to pass because of all the work I was doing… I want to be able to devote as much time as I can to creating my future and doing uni.”
There was another immediate benefit. During the last lockdown she wasn’t able to access the university’s technology to record and edit video content for her digital media production and drama subjects – but the scholarship allowed her to upgrade her phone.
Graduation is still a couple of years away but Cleo is already working toward her dream job as a television news presenter. She has plans to do work experience for one of the big tv networks, apply for internships, and create content for a Walkley Award submission. “Kyle Stefanovic started off doing coffee runs,” she laughs. “It’s all about building your way up and learning the ropes.”
Cleo says she feels blessed to be able to attend university. “I’m so incredibly and eternally grateful to the Sisters of Charity Foundation supporters for everything,” she says. “Having this opportunity has been unreal. I feel so privileged and so lucky.”
About the Tertiary Scholarship Program
Young adults who were unable to grown up safely at home with their birth parents face compromised educational outcomes. An estimated 1% of those from out-of-home care backgrounds go on to any form of higher education, compared to around 40% of young adults in the general population.
The Sisters of Charity Foundation Tertiary Scholarship Program provides financial support so recipients can afford study expenses such as course fees and textbooks, as well as the cost of living on their own with no parental support. The scholarship gives them a greater chance of focusing on their studies, rather than having to hold down multiple jobs to survive.
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