WA Young Person of the Year Preston Culbong (22) was once told he would never amount to anything in life.
While he was at primary school, teachers dismissed him as an under-achieving student who could not read, write or speak properly.
“I ended up teaching myself how to read and write when I was at high school,” he said.
“When you have teachers saying you can’t read and write you do start to believe it and it does wear you down, but then I got to the point where I wanted to prove them wrong.”
Today, Mr Culbong could not be any further from the person that some teachers pegged him to be.
The Curtin University student and youth mentor for Save the Children is considered an outstanding role model to community members and young recidivist offenders.
He draws on his past experience to help others who may not have got off to the best start in life and shows them that they do not need to be defined by their past.
“I went through a bit of trouble growing up,” he said.
“I grew up all over the place. I went to five different primary schools, but once I got to high school – Willetton Senior High – my mum said I was going to stay there.”
Mr Culbong’s talent began to emerge while he was at high school.
In Year 10, he started a school-based ITE traineeship program and worked at a bank part-time while he continued to study and play state level basketball and football.
But during his last year of high school Mr Culbong broke his leg and was no longer able to play sport.
He became depressed and started drinking heavily.
Members of his family were also affected by mental health issues, illness and homelessness.
“I would talk back to teachers and say ‘you don’t understand’. I finished high school and took a gap year because I had nothing else going for me at the time.
“I carried on drinking, but one day my brother shook me and said ‘you have to snap out of this – it isn’t you’.”
Mr Culbong intends to work with the community for as long as possible and would like to set up training facilities where young people can learn new skills and gain qualifications.
Next year, he will be in a position to buy his own home, which has always been one of his main goals in life.