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Past Captain of St James Brisbane is an inspiration to other Refugees

Posted on 5 March 2019
Past Captain of St James Brisbane is an inspiration to other Refugees

Above: Soumi was school captain at St James College and won a swag of academic awards. 

'She won't have to wait tables'

After sharing her fears about her future with the ABC in November, Ms Gopalakrishnan was inundated with offers of support from across the country.

Her case caught the eye of ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt, who urged her to apply for the university's humanitarian scholarship designed for students from a refugee background.

"She had topped her class, had come in through an exceptionally challenging background and that's exactly the type of person we're looking at, and looking for, here at ANU," Professor Schmidt said.

"[The scholarship] offers her the ability to live on campus in one of our residence halls, so she gets the full campus experience in a way where she can focus on her studies she won't have to go out and wait tables."

Professor Schmidt said the university was trying to raise more money to fund similar scholarships.

"We want to be able to make sure that the people who do come to ANU are representative of our nation, and we want to make sure it's not just the people who can afford to come," he said.

"[Universities] have to do the right thing but we have finite resources."

'Hope for the future'

Ms Gopalakrishnan attended high school at St James College in inner-Brisbane, which waives school fees for asylum seeker families.

Principal [and CaSPA Director]Ann Rebgetz said the teenager was a role model for dozens of other students at the school who faced an uncertain fate after graduation.

"Her success has been inspiring to other students it's energised all the staff and community because they can see there's hope in the future," Ms Rebgetz said.

Principal Ann Rebgetz smiles as she stands in the grounds of of St James College in inner-Brisbane.

Principal Ann Rebgetz [above] smiles as she stands in the grounds of of St James College in inner-Brisbane. 
"She's come to Australia as an asylum seeker escaping trauma in her country, and in addition to the normal studies that a student undertakes, she had to deal with that situation of leaving family, friends, country."

Ms Rebgetz said generous university scholarships were only part of the solution.

"That does give hope to our other students here, and that's terribly important, but we need more to be happening to acknowledge the reality of the situation for these students in our country," Ms Rebgetz said.

Soumi's younger brother Pirashanth Gopalakrishnan is bracing for similar hurdles when he finishes Year 12 at the end of the year.

Pirashanth wants to study international business at university, but like his sister, would have to hold out for a scholarship.

"It's always been a barrier that after school you can't go anywhere, you have to work, there's no uni because we're refugees, and there's no hope," he said.

"I was really happy that [Soumi] got into uni I saw her doing some really hard work and it really gave me hope that I can get into uni too if I follow her footsteps."

Asylum seeker and year 12 student Pirashanth Gopalakrishnan in his school uniform and blazer. 

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