Headmasters Blog

Unlimited paths for today's youth

A reflection for WA Youth Week

The 9–16 April marks WA Youth Week. The theme of 'Our Path' made me reflect on how the paths open to our youth are both exciting and challenging. In many ways, they have a series of unlimited paths. Today's youth have already experienced a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, which hopefully has provided insights that many of us not-so-youthful folks were not privy to as young people navigating our own way through this respective period of life's journey.

In my current role, I am incredibly fortunate to witness the capacity and potential of so many young people. In his book Australia Reimagined, Hugh Mackay alludes to the danger of talking about the good old days, in that it does not help with forming new paths. If I were to fall into this trap, then I can categorically state that compared to what I experienced as a young person, our current generation have so much at their fingertips. Coupled with their ability to consume and utilise the data that now drives our society, the world truly is their oyster.

For an example of just how incredible the young people that make up our current multicultural, academic and social community are, look no further than the two WA youth ambassadors for this week of celebration: Zahra Al Hilaly and Haseeb Riaz.1

Twenty-year-old Zahra is a first-generation Australian, advocating for equitable representation within decision making for marginalised constituencies, including women of colour and migrant and refugee women.

Zahra works within policy and advocacy at a local, national and international level. She currently represents Australia on the UN Women's Generation Equality Task Force, is a part of the World YWCA Women's Leadership Cohort and sits on multiple advisory boards and round tables, including the YWCA Australia Young Women's Council and the WA Ministerial Youth Advisory Council.

Zahra believes that storytelling will change the world and that it is the stories of underrepresented constituencies that will shift the narrative in creating intergenerational reform.

Haseeb is 21 and started his Doctor of Medicine at the University of Western Australia this year. He is a Fogarty Foundation Scholar at UWA and has previously volunteered and worked with organisations such as Dr YES, running high school peer-to-peer health education sessions, where he was project coordinator in 2019, and United Nations Youth Australia, where he was the WA vice-president.

He co-founded Man Up in 2020, a project which delivers workshops in schools to engage high school–aged boys and empower them with the tools to develop and redefine their version of positive masculinity. He is also a member of the Ministerial Youth Advisory Council and is the treasurer of the Western Australian Medical Students' Society. Haseeb is an advocate for youth equality, health and access issues and is passionate about young people having a voice in making the decisions of today.

Of course, the real strength of young people comes from the collective, not just a couple of outstanding representatives such as the WA ambassadors. In fact, for someone reading the biographies above, it may appear a bit daunting to be young in today's world. Ambassadors are exactly this; they are representatives of their peers. Their role is to promote mutual understanding, increase leadership skills, and prepare youth to make a difference in their communities. All young people can be ambassadors in their own right through some simple strategies such as:

  • Effectively communicating and presenting their ideas, views and opinions to others.
  • Interacting with other young people in an inspiring and engaging way.
  • Developing their passion, enthusiasm and commitment to supporting all young people in their journey.

Each and every day in my own role, I witness that our world is in good hands with the youth of today. They exhibit and embrace empathy and demonstrate a genuine desire to make our globe a better place.

For those of us whose youth has seen better days, let us not fall into the age-old trap of assuming our youthful days represented the halcyon days of a bygone era that could not possibly be repeated nor enhanced! Leave this sort of thinking to the creators of Disney fantasies.

Dr Alec O'Connell

1 Zahra Al Hilaly and Haseeb Riaz's biographies have been drawn from the WA Department of Communities website.

Dr Alec O'Connell FACE, FAIM, FNAAUC

As Scotch College's 7th Headmaster, I focus on preparing boys for life through focusing on values and cultural alignment.

I am a passionate educator focussed on student and community engagement. My goal as a Headmaster is to graduate future thought leaders who are prepared for life after school.

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