Two year 12 Kurnai College students graduated from an Indigenous mentoring program at Federation University in Churchill on Thursday, June 14 with new, bright red hoodies and aspirations for where finishing school should take them.
For 17-year-old Tegan Hughes, the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience has encouraged her to pursue her dream of working on a cattle or sheep station for the non-repetitive type of work.
Ms Hughes started working with mentors from year 8 and slowly built her self-confidence.
The program is designed to support students throughout high school to help them enrol in university and close the education gap for Indigenous people, however, the mentors help them achieve whatever it might be they want out of school.
About six group sessions are held each year for Gippsland students at Federation University in Churchill and tutor squads, or homework clubs, are run regularly at their school.
AIME provides support to students at Kurnai College, Traralgon College, Lavalla Catholic College, Lowanna College, Wonthaggi Secondary College, Sale College and ECG College.
AIME Gippsland Program Manager Hollie Johnson said building self-esteem was a major focus of the program and the students often dealt with feelings of shame and being enclosed before starting with AIME.
"[Tegan] is willing to give anything a go now which is amazing to see and ... she speaks really well too so we're really proud of her for that," Ms Johnson said.
"Hayden [the other graduate] – [has] very much a cheeky smile and a cheeky personality, but when he's determined he gets it done most definitely. He has always had dreams of being an AFL player," Ms Johnson said.
The Traralgon-Tyers United Football Netball Club centre and forward changed his loyalty from Collingwood after discovering the skill of retired Essendon star Michael Long.
"He's part of the reason why I got into footy," Mr Edwards said.
Playing in the AFL's Indigenous Round would "mean a lot" to Mr Edwards who said the AIME program helped motivate him when he felt he couldn't be bothered.
Support from the program does not finish here. The mentors will touch base with the graduates in six months' time.
*This story has been edited to include further schools.