Year 11 Student, School for Isolated and Distance Education, WA

Being selected to attend the Every Voice Counts forum in Canberra has been one of the highlights of my life and something I never believed possible due to my demographic location. I am currently studying with S.I.D.E. School for Isolated and Distance Education and am temporarily living in the countryside of Taiwan. I am particularly lucky to have an outstanding Principal and devoted History teacher who saw something in my ability and life experiences to nominate me.

When I finally alighted from my Sydney-to-Canberra flight, having flown over 7300 kilometres I was more than a little exhausted. I had travelled from the blistering heat of Taiwan to the freezing cold of Canberra. This, coupled with the lack of sleep, meant that I was more than a tad drowsy!

Despite the heavy eyelids, I was truly refreshed by the cold air that seeped through the open cabin door. The anticipation had been terrible and I was itching to take a glimpse at the city, which was afforded to me due to arriving more than four hours ahead of everybody else. I was met by an extremely hospitable teacher and had my first look at ANU, admired the seamless traffic integration and paid careful attention to the fascinating dictation provided on my 'sneak preview!'

When we returned to the airport, I was met by an extremely devoted coordinator and, while the students trickled in, the calibre of the discussions was immense. As I engaged in conversations with other students, it finally dawned on me that collectively we truly represented all of Australia. Arriving from across the continent (and beyond, in my case) many of us differed in time-zones, climates and schools, yet we all had something in common, if the friendly welcoming and delightful debates was anything to go by! The coordinating group also arrived with the students and, as they introduced themselves, their devoted spirit and fascinating personalities became apparent.

We were delivered to our residence before moving on to an introductory dinner in a room decorated with official portraits of Vice-Chancellors. Being a first meeting between 31 students, one might expect a great deal of polite and uncomfortable silences, yet laughter, debate and friendliness were abundant. This stimulating and sociable environment provided a fantastic 'home away from home' which ultimately contributed to the success of the conference.

As the agenda continued, highlights became numerous and I am at a loss as to when the word 'bored' would have applied. Visits to Parliament, constructive discussions and intensive debates with great peers all constituted part of our official and unofficial agendas. A more stimulating environment would be difficult to find. Support from the coordinators and my History teacher, without whose dedication and support I would not have had this experience, proved invaluable.

With the realisation that the conference was almost over, the closing ceremony was a very poignant occasion. Farewells to new friends and acquaintances and organisers alike were difficult, illustrating just how strong the ties made over the course of the conference had become. I left the conference centre to be billeted with an extremely hospitable family while I awaited my flight back to Taiwan the following day. 

When the time to leave was upon me I departed Canberra with a feeling of success. The conference's concluding day had involved the consolidation of many of the ideas we had brought together and varied opinions on how youth participation in democracy might be furthered. As the report was passed, many faces lit up with success and pride. Collectively, we had achieved a well-balanced report that proposed achievable targets for furthering youth participation. Success was apparent!