Luke’s Story

In 2023, I joined Stars at Tawa College, loving the idea of connecting with my year group, and learning skills as a leader. I had no idea the impact that Stars would have on my life. I was a kid, naive of who I was as a person, and what it meant to just be me – what it meant to just be kind, loving and supportive.

Stars taught me to push out of my comfort zone, to not take things so seriously, and how to be myself. As Queer Youth, finding myself was a complicated journey, full of confusion, sometimes hate, sometimes love, but was never easy. However, I know that Stars is the reason I am who I am today, and more importantly myself. I’m happy, comfortable with who I am, full of laughter and joy, and wisdom that I will carry on throughout my life.

Stars opened the doors to an opportunity that not even my own dreams could imagine. I was lucky enough to join the National Geographic Photo Camp that was offered to me by the Foundation. This photo camp had some of the most incredible photographers in the world offer their learning to Porirua, and Wellington-regional youth.

I was afraid, scared of meeting new people, and being away from home. I never touched a camera in my life, and it all felt so alien. But, l made a promise to myself at a young age to always commit to what is uncomfortable, if I had to jump in a freezing cold ocean to become a better person, I would, if I had the opportunity to attend a camp with people I’ve never met, things I’ve never done, and leave home, I would – and more importantly today, I would do it with no doubts.

During the photo camp, they gave me a camera to just experiment with, play with and do whatever I want with it. At the time, I had no passion for art, beauty, or an eye for photos. Simply put, after this camp, I still today take photos, and I’ve been recognised in National Photography Competitions across New Zealand, found who I am with the art form of photos – and everyone who knows me knows how much photography means to me. I learnt that my photography was a form of self-identity, a way to express who I am, and learn what my emotions are. This changed my life. In 2022, I went through the terrible moment in my mental health, completely destroying my well-being and sense of emotion.

Photography has saved my life. After the incredible experience in Wellington from NGPC, the Founders invited me to go to Christchurch to carry the ‘flame’ that we learnt to the next students. The dream came true, finally going to a place I have wanted to go for so long.

At the camp, I was able to experience an incredibly diverse range of culture and beauty that today I carry within me. After doing NGPC, I wanted to do more, put myself out there more.  So I applied to the UC Science Camp, eager to go back. I was accepted, and I think this is because of NGPC, many of the staff at the Science Camp studied Photography, and are passionate about it – I felt like I belonged again. Better yet, I met a boy ‘Liam’ who I have carried huge feelings for as we shared a powerful connection on the camp, sharing my passion for space, and his passion for plants, and our passion for photography. The UC Science Camp was absolutely life-changing, as I was able to understand what it’s like as a Uni Student, and also be in the Uni that I plan to go to in my future.

But this is not the end of my story, because what came next was even more unimaginable. I was accepted to the Rotary National Science and Technology Forum, easily the most prestigious science camps in New Zealand. I seriously cannot put into words all of the incredible things I did, and how much it all meant for me.

What I can say however, is that I met people I could call family, and even this year we are planning a reunion to meet. I was able to do so much science there, that I have learnt such a rich amount of experiences that have opened so many doors. It has opened doors to scholarship opportunities, career opportunities, and more camps and experiences.  Now, this year I have been invited to attend the RASNZ Conference in Nelson from the SWAPA (Students with a Passion in Astronomy) Scholarship, to speak, and offer my perspective as a student on Astronomy, a passion that I’ve had since I was a little kid.

In Late June, I’ll be boarding Spirit of Adventure to put myself out there. To jump in that cold water, because why the hell not. I hate the ocean, but nothing will stop me from doing what so many could never do. I am defining my promise that I made when I was 7, and making my future self, my past self, and more importantly my present self-prouder than I have ever been in my life. 

I made my hair curly, because I felt comfortable to become more of me. I wore exotic clothing to make me more me, and I am open to my sexuality, because who I am, can offer power to others to become more of them. I became a Prefect at Tawa College because of Stars, and with the duty I now had, I worked hard to have a Pride Week to celebrate diversity amongst Tawa College, and to have the first ever Pride Concert of Celebration in all of Tawa Colleges history. During that Science Forum, I quoted that I was no longer standing on the shoulders of giants, but standing amongst giants. A simple teenager, who now believes he could truly change the world. This changed my life. I am truly happy,

Cathy is a wonderful person who puts her heart and soul into the Stars programme, insuring that all those around her feel safe, welcome and healthy. She has been so passionate and inspiring, that her actions has changed my life – her unyielding ability to be positive has affected all my pairs in having a healthy mindset throughout life, and made all of us understand the world in a perspective that offers so much joy. For me personally, Cathy made me always feel safe, connected, and loved. Cathy you deserve so much love! Thank you so much for working so hard for all of us last year, and even the Year 12s this year who I’ve heard great things about!