Xavier High Alumni Inspires the Next Generation
Carla Hensel, former pupil of Albury’s Xavier High School and sister of the late Braedon Hensel, addressed the current crop of students at Xavier this week, and delivered a stirring address.
Carla’s brother Braedon passed away in 2014, Carla’s HSC year, after a three year battle against cancer; a time that Braedon found admiration from across the wider Border community.
Carla’s address this week has been described as one of the finest delivered to the Xavier High student body.
With Carla’s permission, we’re happy to provide a transcript of her speech for you to enjoy, below.
Good morning everyone,
My name is Carla Hensel, I graduated from Xavier in 2014, and I’m currently about to embark on my fourth year of university studying Medicine at the University of New South Wales. I am very honoured to have been asked to speak to you all today and I hope you can all take away something from hearing my story.
Having had two older brothers already at Xavier, I was overwhelmingly excited to start my high school days, where I was finally able to do all the exciting things that my brothers had described. From my first day of Xavier, I was surrounded by wonderful mentors and support from staff and students alike.
Besides being teased and called a “nerd” by my loving brothers, who lived for PE and days off for representative sport, I genuinely enjoyed going to school and learning all I could. I carried this passion with me through all my years at Xavier, despite some obstacles that got in my way.
My desire to study Medicine started quite early, although at the start it was quite a vague and far-fetched dream. Future encounters with the medical field would help my passion grow. In 2011, when I was in year 9, my family’s lives were turned upside down when my oldest brother, Braedon, was diagnosed with cancer at just 19. This saw our family separated as Braedon and Mum were forced to live in Melbourne for treatment, leaving Dad, Rhys and I at home.
Although we were lucky. We received an astounding amount of support from the Albury community, including huge support from Xavier. As I had my visions set high, I continued to work hard at school, and learnt from a young age to manage my time and studies between weekends in Melbourne visiting Mum and Braedon, and other sporting and work commitments. I just as easily could’ve followed the path my other brother, Rhys, took, who was in year 12 at the time, which was to see that there were more important things in life than your school work, and partied with friends instead.
Whilst I’m not here to condemn the path Rhys took, as he is now one of the hardest workers I know, but rather to show to you, that when faced with challenges in life, you have a CHOICE. To drop everything and surrender, or to stand up and fight harder. It would have been just as easy for me to use excuses and allow my marks to drop, but instead I drew inspiration from the horrible battle Braedon was fighting and used this to drive my commitment to studies.
As Braedon’s health began to increasingly decline, it became harder and harder to study. It was for this reason that I needed to use my time at school so wisely. In Year 12 I started to come in to school early, often arriving before 7:30am, getting in nearly a solid hour of work before other students dwindled in. I used every study session wisely, and made sure to finish class work during class. This enabled me to best use the limited time I had at home to study, saving more time for family moments.
There I was, in the last week of term 2, 2014, my HSC year, when Braedon began to hit the final stages of his life. Mum rang me on the Monday after school to say things weren’t looking good, I still went and did a shift at my casual job that afternoon. I went to school again on Tuesday, but Mum called after lunch and said you best come home. I was due to have an important Maths test on Wednesday afternoon, I’d studied really hard and I was ready for it. Braedon improved a little, and he told me that I had to go and sit that test if I thought I was ready. With the help of some teachers, they arranged for me to sit the test early on Wednesday morning so I could go back home and be with Braed.
Braedon passed away the next morning, Thursday the 26th of June, 2014… And I’m pretty sure I still did alright on that maths test.
Braedon always has and always will be my inspiration to get through all of life’s hurdles. His plans for life were stripped away from him at age 19, but he still managed to find joy through his family and friends, and his huge love of sport. He never gave in, he never said “why me”. He was wise beyond his years, and left a legacy like no other, at the age of just 22.
I’m eternally grateful for the support I received from Mackillop house and the Xavier community during this time, and still to this day. Without their help, I have no doubt that I wouldn’t have got where I am today.
I’ve learnt many things in my life, but one of the most significant things is the importance of community; and Xavier has given me one of the best examples of this.
Upon moving by myself to Sydney for Uni, I was somewhat lost. I felt way out of my depth, and didn’t know who to turn to. I’m sure the year 7s have heard how they have gone from being the big fish in a little pond, to a little fish in a big pond. Well going to one of Australia’s biggest universities is like becoming a spec of sand in the entire ocean. Be grateful for the help your teachers offer you, take up their offers for extra support and guidance, and don’t take it for granted.
I didn’t get the ATAR I anticipated, but I had always believed in myself and knew that my dreams would one day be achieved, even if it took me more years than planned. I didn’t get the marks I thought I’d deserved, but you don’t end up dwelling on the fact you missed out on that Band 6. Life does go on. Still to this day, I don’t quite understand how I managed to get into Medicine straight away. Whilst I felt I deserved it for all my hard work, the competition was simply elite. I think I was lucky I could talk my way into getting a position through the university’s interview process.
So, I was now sitting in an auditorium with students from the best performing schools in the state, kids with ATARs I couldn’t even dream of. One of the first questions people would ask was “What school did you go to?”, because that’s a pretty quick way to work someone out. I soon learnt that very few people had even heard of Albury, let alone Xavier High. As I was a “rural” student, I frequently got asked questions about how much land I lived on, did I have sheep or cows. They were bitterly disappointed when they learnt I grew up on a suburban street.
Despite knowing, that I most definitely had the lowest ATAR in the entire cohort, I wasn’t the worst performing student, and I consistently saw good grades. After 2yrs in Sydney, I was able to move back home to Albury last year, to continue to study from the UNSW Rural Clinical School, located behind the Base Hospital. Whilst I definitely enjoyed my time in Sydney, and made some wonderful and enduring friendships, I am so grateful to be able to come home; mainly because of that sense of community. I enjoy running into people I know, including teachers, who are always up for a chat. I enjoy being closer to my family and friends, and getting to play netball again. And I enjoy the community spirit that is so evident around Albury. This inspires me to pursue a career in rural medicine, as I believe personal relationships to be an integral part of people’s experiences when faced with ill health. And I would love for the opportunity to give back to our community, which has already given me so much.
Another important concept I’ve learnt through life is that of perspective. We all have the ability to view things from different perspectives. We can choose to see setbacks as a new opportunity, a new challenge or we can simply give up. Whichever path you choose to take, its ultimately up to you. It’s very easy to sit back and think it’s all too hard, but that won’t get you very far. Even if you think you’ve tried hard, always question yourself, can I try even harder?
I hope you can all take something away from what I’ve said today. That life can be short, so give every day your best. That some things may seem unreachable, but there is absolutely no harm in trying. To be grateful for the wonderful support this school offers, and to always strive to achieve your best.