Former Parkes High School student Brenton Hawken says he is the proud product of the public education system and would not be where he is today without it.
The 25-year-old is now a hospitality and food technology teacher at Temora High School and on April 30 he was awarded the 7News Young Achiever Aboriginal Education Award at the NSW and ACT gala presentation at Doltone House, Darling Island.
His mum Karen and a few colleagues made the trip to Sydney with him for the announcement.
It's an award Mr Hawken said he was overwhelmed to receive but one that brought him and his family great pride and joy.
"I didn't know what to expect... When my name was announced as the overall winner of my category, I was a speechless," he said.
"It was a very surreal moment as my face was plastered on the electronic boards and the song 'Cant Stop That Feeling' blasted throughout the awards ceremony.
"Professionally, it is validation that I am on the right path and that I continue to make a big difference in the lives of my students, school community and wider community in an area that I am passionate about."
Mr Hawken has always been very passionate about public education - he was Parkes High's school captain in 2013 and in 2017 he participated in the National Indigenous Youth Parliament as a NSW representative, meeting parliamentary members, conducting media interviews and debating social justice issues in relation to Indigenous Australians.
Mr Hawken received a temporary engagement contract at Temora High in 2019 before being awarded a permanent position with the Department of Education. He is the Student Representative Council coordinator, Aboriginal education coordinator and member of various committees.
He has worked with the deputy principal to make Aboriginal education a high priority in the school.
"Education is life-changing - I have a strong sense of responsibility to give back what I can to a system that gave so much to me," Mr Hawken said.
"The opportunities which were presented to me as a student in the public education system were endless.
"Public education welcomes students and teachers from all walks of life, it celebrates diversity and recognises the role that each individual plays in the success of the community and wider nation.
"Aboriginal education is everyone's business and those who play a role in listening to and sharing Aboriginal culture are richer for it."
Mr Hawken draws on his own experience of growing up and being an Aboriginal student in the public education system each day in his position as a teacher.
"I see students and young people today who have lost their cultural identity at no fault of their own, but that of past policies and decision making," he said.
"I am on a journey of finding out more about my own culture and sharing what I know with others through my position as a teacher and Wiradjuri man.
"We should be proud that as a nation, we have the oldest, continuing culture on the planet, 65,000-plus years of history.
"That's not just my culture, that is everyone's culture, regardless of whether you are Indigenous or non-Indigenous.
"Through Aboriginal education in schools, the true healing and truth telling of our past is happening and will continue to do so.
"Schools are leading the way in reconciliation, not government, and it's exciting. Watch this space, powerful things are happening."
Mr Hawken said he truly believes he has the best job in the world.
"I have been inspired by the many wonderful teachers who stood at the front of my classrooms when I was at school, including the late Melanie Olney who I considered to be a mentor and close friend, and who's advise and counsel still remains with me," he said.
"And Sue Pearce whose passion and kindness pushed me in the direction of TAS teaching.
"The lessons and kindness both of these and many other wonderful educators taught me, continue to shape who I am and have a profound impact on my own teaching.
"I love what I do and it is a privilege to get up and go to school each morning to work with my colleagues and students to make our community a better place.
"This award acknowledges all the people who have played a role in my success today.
"Without my family, especially my beautiful mother Karen, sisters Tara and Tina and brother Mitch, along with my friends, teachers, colleagues of both the past and present and my students, none of this would have been possible.
"I acknowledge my elders who have walked before me and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging."
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