Meet Kelsey Commons - NSW Training Awards Ambassador

Interview with Kelsey Commons, NSW Training Awards Ambassador and 2019 VET in Schools Student of the Year, on her journey to find her pathway, and how university is not always the right answer.

05 June 2020
Image: Kelsey working at a mixing desk

How Kelsey Commons went from truant to top student

So much has been written about ‘the future of work’ over the past few years that it’s almost become an industry in its own right. But if you wade through the bold predictions and the passionately argued theories you’ll find that a clear consensus has emerged. Today, academics, educators and policymakers all agree that the traditional high school–university–career pathway isn’t for everyone, and that we should invest more in Vocational Education and Training (VET).

Kelsey Commons, a recent graduate from Sydney, is a very grateful beneficiary of that relatively recent paradigm shift.

“I was on the verge of dropping out of high school,” says the 2019 NSW VET in Schools Student of the Year matter-of-factly when we catch up over the phone.

The student from Menai in Sydney’s south didn’t take to her traditional girls high school, and by Year 8 was skipping school and thinking that Year 10 couldn’t come quick enough.

“It wasn’t the school for me,” says Kelsey, “but it’s not just me. That traditional style of education isn’t right for a lot of people.”

Fortunately for Kelsey, a VET course in Hospitality opened her eyes to another pathway and served to rekindle her passion for learning. Not long after that, a conversation with a friend led Kelsey to discover a very different kind of high school—one that focused on vocational education. The die was cast. All Kelsey had to do now was convince her mum and dad, two firm believers in the value of a university education, that a vocational high school was right for her.

University is not always the right answer

“At first, my mum wasn’t into the idea,” says Kelsey, recalling that nervous first conversation. “But she agreed to go on a tour of the school.”

In the end, Kelsey’s mum and dad didn’t take much convincing, and their trust was repaid tenfold over the next three years. Kelsey went on to become a star pupil, earning Certificate IIIs in Entertainment and Screen and Media, and a Certificate II in Hospitality. She also contributed significantly to the school’s culture.

“I was given a lot of opportunities at school,” says Kelsey. “I got to run our internal events as well as the external plays and productions that we hosted at school.”

Those experiences, in addition to the 10 work placements Kelsey did over her schooling, were instrumental in helping her map out a career path that both excites and motivates her. Today, the keen photographer is about to embark on a Bachelor of Film at SAE Institute in Sydney, something Kelsey freely admits would never have happened had she stayed at her traditional high school.

“I’m very lucky because I have supportive parents and I had those VET experiences in school,” says Kelsey before offering a few words of encouragement to students who may be experiencing what she was a few years ago.

“I would say that the ATAR isn’t everything. Uni is a great pathway, but it’s not the only career pathway out there.”

  • Student engagement and participation
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