“Children are the future, and my future is for the children. That’s my motto,” says 21-year-old education student Reece Griffiths.
And if anyone should know about the transformative power of education, it’s Griffiths. His formative years, spent growing up in the regional NSW town of Gunnedah, were marred by self-destructive habits and the presence of drugs.
Without finishing high school and at risk of living on the streets, university wasn’t something the young man ever considered.
“I was a bit lost because of the poor choices I made,” admits Griffiths. “I went off the tracks.”
But that all changed when a local businessman gave Griffiths a second chance. “John Hickey gave me a handful of shifts a week at his store. He was the only guy who gave me a crack.
“I worked immensely hard at this opportunity as it was my only hope of making something of myself. I owe so much to this man.”
Hickey also gave Griffiths a 12-month gym membership. And, says Griffiths, “Sports and fitness changed my life. Staying physically healthy is the best thing a person can do, I still work out daily. That’s all thanks to John.”
The Kamilaroi man, inspired by his love of fitness, sought out UTS’s UNISTART program which provides Indigenous youth with pathways into university.
Griffith’s original goal was to enter a Bachelor of Sports and Exercise Management. And in 2015, Griffiths started the 12-month program that equipped him with the academic skills he needed to bridge his way into his second-year of study.
But, during the program, a different calling found Griffiths. “University opened my mind to a world that previously didn’t exist,” he says.
“Coming into uni, all I knew was sports and fitness. UNISTART gave me the chance to reflect and think about my future. Education just stood out like a yellow suit at a black and white party, I realised that my future is with the youth of Australia.
“During my time at uni I have learned a lot about respect and caring for others. When I finish my studies I want to start a business that helps all children to find and achieve their dreams. Whether it be fashion, art, music, sports or education, I want to inspire ambition in all students, especially the Indigenous youth of Australia.”
Today Griffiths is halfway through his second year of a Bachelor of Education. And when he’s not studying, he spends time working out and enjoying Sydney’s cafe scene.
“Spending time in cafes is my meditation. For some reason I feel relaxed every time I walk into a café – nothing beats a cuppa and a read of the paper.”
Though Griffiths has travelled far from his troubled adolescence, he still finds time to visit his hometown. “I visit Gunnedah about four or fives times a year. Every time I go home it makes me want to work harder.
“I lost my uncle, when we were both aged 16, and we always talked about becoming successful. My family has gone through hard times, but that motivates me greatly. Everything I have become is thanks to my beautiful family.”
Today, Griffiths says, “I’ve developed into a responsible, hard-working man with big dreams. I haven’t looked back.”
And if Griffiths gets his way, you can be sure that even more Indigenous children will, one day, be able to say the same.