DOING things differently seems to be somewhat of a trademark for bright-young-mind Kirsten Gan.
The 18-year-old former MacKillop Senior College star student, quite literally has the world at her feet.
She was recently named the top performing student in our region – boasting an exceptional Australian Tertiary Admission Result of 99.8.
With her results Kirsten has the rare opportunity to practically pursue any university course her heart desires.
She was also named a state All Rounder, and came fifth in NSW for Modern History in the High School Certificate examinations.
But Kirsten says her results came as a bit of a surprise.
“ I fell off my chair when I read the result, and I just started crying.”
“I was hoping for a good rank in the 90s – maybe 95 to get what I needed for my degree. But 99.8 is shocking, and I guess really pleasing.”
And though her impressive results may conjure images of a bedroom-bound, very career driven young woman - Kirsten seems to be quite the opposite.
Doing well, she tells me, simply came down to pursuing what she loves.
As a young girl she was rarely seen without a book in hand and at the age of nine began her love her affair with music.
Robyn Ryan taught her the piano and she would also learn to play the flute.
“Music has been a crucial part of my life since then, especially as a creative outlet but also in impressing a number of values and qualities that have been useful in my academic work - especially perseverance, discipline and contributing to my tendency to be a perfectionist.”
Kirsten was never pushed to excel at school, but the young bookworm seemed to have a natural desire to do well.
“I think - to a large extent - achieving at school is largely self-motivated. This may stem from the fact that I’m hearing impaired.
“I was diagnosed with moderate to severe hearing loss in the left ear and severe to profound hearing loss in my right when I was three-years-old and living in Scotland. So, in some ways, excelling at school is a way of proving myself beyond my disability.”
And if Kirsten’s academic and social contributions are anything to go by - it’s safe to say the determined young lady has demonstrated that nothing will hold her back.
In Year 11 she swapped her calculator for history books and her chemistry coat for the court room.
Finally, studying solely humanities subjects such as ancient and modern history and legal studies.
“That’s the secret,” she says. “People have it in their heads that you have to do all the hard subjects to do well, but really you just have to do what you actually love.
“I do what I want to do, not necessarily what’s going to get me a job.”
At this stage, Kirsten is focusing on figuring out what exactly that dream job would be.
She’s hoping an Arts degree, focusing on International Studies and Law at the University of Sydney will be a good stepping stone.
“I’m still working out what I want to do - it changes every week.”
A recent volunteer trip, she says, has given her a lot to think about when it comes to life and her priorities.
Instead of the normal schoolies celebrations, Kirsten wanted to do something a bit more meaningful.
She found herself deep in the jungle close to the Thai-Burma border working with Karen refugees - a group of displaced people torn from their country by the atrocities of a corrupt and brutal military regime.
Kirsten says she was part of a group of some 180 young people from Australia and New Zealand, who wanted to make a difference.
“I always wanted to do a volunteering thing instead of schoolies.
“We were there to build houses but it was so much more - we were also there to build relationships with the people.”
The great disparity between western society and the world she saw in the jungle became an eye-opening experience.
“Every night we were reflecting on that,” she says. “You read about poverty but seeing it yourself reveals another layer.
“They may have been poor materialistically but their lives were so much richer in other ways.”
Kirsten’s curiosity about current affairs, the world around her, politics and the relationships between people may influence where she goes in the future.
But for now, the gifted and intellectually inspiring young woman is determined to continue enjoying every moment.
“For the next few years at least, I’m lucky to be able to indulge in study for its own sake,” she says.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to discover and pursue new passions and interests, as well as grow and mature as a person.”
Her advice to senior students is simple.
Firstly, work hard in Year 11 and secondly make sure you do what you are passionate about.
“Learn all you can in Year 11, and learn what you love. It is the crucial foundation year where you learn to push yourself and learn how to do well in Year 12.”