Joshua was a Resident Member at the Graduate House.
He was selected to represent the Graduate House at the National Student Ladership Forum 2018, in Canberra.
Most people in Australia will remember the 23rd to 26th of August 2018 as the period during which the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull became the fourth Prime Minister since 2010 to be ousted by party room politics rather than the will of the people. However, during this very same period of time, deep within Parliament House — out of sight of the cameras, and unbeknownst to the reporters typing away at stories about the failing leadership in our nation’s capital — a group of around 200 young people from all around Australia were just about to embark on an incredible journey where they would learn unforgettable lessons about leadership, faith and values. These were the delegates of the 2018 National Student Leadership Forum (NSLF) on Faith and Values, and — thanks to the support of Graduate House — I was lucky enough to be one of them.
I first learned about the NSLF through an internal advertisement at Graduate House. I didn’t know much about the Forum at the time — only that it would involve participation of young people from a diversity of intellectual, cultural, and religious backgrounds. As someone who is interested in finding ways that people with fundamentally different values and beliefs can co-exist with one another, the prospect of interacting with, and learning from, such a diverse group of young leaders was enough motivation for me to apply (although if I’m honest, the fact that the Forum involved staying at the Hyatt Hotel over four days did not go unnoticed).
Day 1: People and Parliament
My first impression of the NSLF was a crowded conference room at the Hyatt Hotel. The buzz of excited and nervous energy filled the entire area, as 200 delegates from all over Australia tried to orient themselves to their new surroundings. Most were experiencing the all too relatable feeling of vulnerability and excitement as they introduced themselves to someone who they had never met before, with the hope that it would lead to a new moment of human connection.
The first official item on the schedule was meeting our small groups — the eight extraordinary people with whom I would spend the most time during the Forum. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would eventually come to share my story, insecurities, and vulnerabilities with these people, and they would return that trust in kind by sharing their own stories and vulnerabilities.
After completing brief introductions at the Hyatt, we all headed over to Parliament House, where the first scheduled activity was sitting in during Question Time in the Senate. Due to the leadership spill, the Senate was almost empty, with only eight or so Senators present. Yet, this did not seem to prevent the Senators present from diligently pushing through the day’s order of business. During our sitting, we saw the Senate consider the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill, and also agree to an amendment made by the House of Representatives to a Bill which introduces a civil penalty regime for non-consensual sharing of intimate images online. Each item of business brought before the Senate was subjected to the same formal and monotonous process: “those in favour say Aye”, “those opposed say No”, “I think the Ayes have it”. It was an interesting juxtaposition to the excitement and intrigue that had been associated with the leadership spill, and a subtle reminder that the work of running a country is often less dramatic than the 6pm news might lead you to believe.
Following question time, we moved from the Senate to the Parliamentary Theatrette for our first seminar on Leadership, Faith and Values. The seminar was followed by a period of brief uncertainty, where the organisers frantically tried to ascertain whether the Prime Minister would be available to attend the scheduled question and answer session. Unfortunately, we were eventually informed that the Prime Minister could not be there (we would find out that this was because he had officially announced that he would resign if a majority of his party signed a petition calling for a leadership vote), however, the Leader of the Opposition (who had far greater job security that day) was able to attend. After the Q & A, we split off into our small groups and were invited into the deep recesses of Parliament House for an intimate meeting with a Member of Parliament in his or her natural habitat. My group was lucky enough to meet three members of parliament, the Hon Tony Abbott, Michael Andrews, and Craig Kelly MP. This was the first time in my life I had met so many politicians in a single day (my previous record being zero), and I found the following insights quite interesting: first, all of the politicians I encountered were far more charismatic in person than their television interviews would suggest; second, these same politicians were remarkably attentive listeners; and third, that the Hon Tony Abbott’s unmistakable laugh was indeed genuine, and often used in ordinary conversation.
Day 2: A Day of Remembrance
The second day started with the Lone Piper and Poppy Laying ceremony at the Australian War Memorial. To me, this was one of the most moving experiences of the Forum. The Poppy Laying ceremony was preceded by an address from Dr Brendan Nelson, the Director of the Australian War Memorial. In that address, Dr Nelson mentioned that one of the major inspirations for the War Memorial was a young soldier dying on the battlefield, who had asked one simple question “Will I be remembered?”. Throughout Primary and Secondary school, the ANZACs had always been described to me as extraordinary heroes, larrikins who were fearless in the face of impossible odds. Yet, this story of the young soldier, painted the ANZACs in a different light. As people with the all too relatable desire to be remembered — to have a life that was meaningful. This realisation that the ANZACs were such ordinary individuals, made the stories of their courage and sacrifice all the more extraordinary.
Following the War Memorial, we headed back to Parliament House for a seminar on servant leadership. After the seminar, while we were having lunch on the front lawn of Parliament House, it was announced that the Hon Scott Morrison had become the new Prime Minister of Australia. The news was not taken well by the protesters in front of Parliament House, as many had prepared placards against the Hon Peter Dutton MP.
Day 3: A Day of Service and Extraordinary Stories
The third day began with an inspiring speech by Associate Professor Munjed Al Muderis, an orthopaedic surgeon who came to Australia by boat as a refugee. He spoke of how his refusal to break his Hippocratic oath, when ordered to mutilate political dissidents back in his homeland, had resulted in himself becoming a target of the government, and forced him to flee to Australia as a refugee. His message was a simple but powerful one: when you get the chance to help someone, do it, because you may never get another opportunity.
After breakfast, I heard the extraordinary story of Rev Luther Tarpeh, who was born under a mango tree in Liberia, because both his country and his family were too poor for him to be born in a hospital. He told us about how his mother had made it her entire life’s work to ensure that he received an education, and that with her dying breath, she had said that she had sacrificed everything for him, so that he could do the same for others. And so, despite starting out with nothing but a desire to serve others, Rev Luther began his extraordinary journey. Firstly he became the voice of the Liberian people on a radio show with millions of listeners, and finally to be on the verge of founding Liberia’s first independent university that will be completely free of corruption.
In the afternoon, we were called upon to put the idea of servant leadership into action by going out into the suburbs of Canberra and doing some community service. For my small group, this involved levelling out a front yard, and taming the largest bramble bush I had ever seen. As someone who usually considers himself an ‘indoors man’, this was initially a somewhat daunting prospect. However, I found once I got into the rhythm of things, cutting down brambles proved to be somewhat therapeutic, and also very rewarding once I saw the (only slightly crooked) results of our handiwork.
These are some of the more memorable stories from the NSLF, and there are many more incredible moments and events that I did not have the space to share here. When I first applied to be one of the Graduate House nominees to the NSLF, I did so thinking that it would be an incredible opportunity to hear about the faith and values of others. What I did not expect was how much the Forum would call on me to reflect on my own faith. Throughout the Forum, I heard stories of extraordinary leadership that were made possible by faith. During the seminars we were taught that faith is “confidence about the future in the midst of uncertainty”, and that while values can change, faith remains constant.
Most importantly, when speaking to my peers, I heard about how their own faith has given them strength to overcome obstacles and allowed them to achieve things that they thought were impossible. I don’t mean to pretend that attending the Forum has allowed me to find my faith. But, at the very least, it has made me appreciate the need to start looking.
Other Awardees from Graduate House
You can view the list evry person that has won an award in the form of a scholarship, bursary, National Student Leadership Forum (NSLF) nomination and more at the Graduate House Website.