Just a few years ago, Israel Folau was just like many of the students at Airds High School. He was just a young kid, looking to make a better life for himself.
Growing up in Minto, just down the road from Airds, life can sometimes be tough. Money is short, unemployment is high and the temptation of crime, drugs and alcohol are always there.
But as he told the assembled students at Airds High School today, he had a dream. At the age of 15, he wrote his goals of wanting to play first grade rugby league by the time he was 17 on a piece of paper.
“My brothers laughed at me, they didn’t think I could do it,” he said. “But I told myself I could, and I worked hard to achieve that. You’ve got to have goals and you’ve got to have the self-belief that you can do it”
Indeed, Israel became the youngest player to don a first grade jersey when he ran on the field for the Melbourne Storm in 2007. He then went onto to great success with the Queensland State of Origin side and Australian teams, and a stint with the Brisbane Broncos before switching codes to the AFL. He was the star recruit for the new Greater Western Sydney Giants, due to make their debut in the AFL next year.
Israel’s message of self belief, determination and courage – despite where you come from – was well received by everyone (and especially the students) who attended the Airds High School Flag Day celebrations today.
The annual event recognises the many different cultures and nationalities of students and staff at Airds High School. Each nationality presents a flag in the formal presentation, which was well attended by local politicians, police and Aussie staff including CEO Stephen Porges, General Manager of People Lynda Harris and General Manager of Marketing and Product Stuart Tucker.
Many different musical performances including from a young student playing piano, traditional Aboriginal dancers, a young student singing Hallelujah (who they had discovered only last Friday and had a croaky voice from rehearsing too much) and a wonderful family group from the Cook Islands featuring lively drummers and dancers.
Mr Porges said: “The event was a wonderful celebration of the many nationalities represented at Airds High School.”
“The performances were enjoyable and Israel’s message of self-determination was very positive for the staff and students.”