Ebony Fulford: Your Score Won't Define You


Ebony Fulford

Works as an Education Support (Special Needs) Teacher Aide

Grew up on a small property at Staghorn Flat, near Wodonga in North East Victoria, but has recently moved to Melbourne.

Ebony Fulford did not achieve the ATAR score she had hoped for and even now, as a 21-year-old, she doesn’t rejoice at recalling it. In fact, there’s a great deal about Ebony’s final years of high school that she loathes to recollect and, in the scheme of things, her dissatisfying ATAR is only a small portion of the Vexation Pie.

What really smeared Ebony’s memory of her VCE was the devastating shoulder injury she suffered during Year 11, for which she underwent a shoulder reconstruction at the start of Year 12. It’s safe to say, for anyone, this would be a less than ideal beginning to the “most important year of school”. But, for a promising young softballer – on the verge of elite success – it was overwhelming; a crushing blow for a young woman whose dream was to play pro softball.

What ensued was a period of great unhappiness in Ebony’s young life; trying to focus and florish in her Year 12 studies, while also realising her post-school dream may have just been shattered. And so, when her final exams drew to a close and she received her “dissatisfying ATAR” it was quite symbolic of Ebony’s turbulent year. At the time, she was overcome with sadness and shame because the rhetoric about the defining importance of a “top score” had settled deep in her heart and mind.

But the doom and gloom weren’t to last because Ebony soon entered “the real world” and steadily realised “the little number that had haunted her”, meant very little for her ambitions. Since then, Ebony has faced many challenges with her shoulder in order to return to the playing field. So, when she made it back to state level in July last year, representing Victoria in the Under 23 Championships, it was another symbolic achievement … but this time for all the right reasons.

Which is where we pick up our chat with Ebony Fulford, our Victorian Rural Inspire Mentor for March, 2019.

 So, Ebony, what was that moment like? How did you feel getting back to playing State?

Gosh, it was very emotional and rewarding because I had worked very hard just to be able to move my shoulder again, let alone play baseball. I’d say I lived with constant pain for about two years and then I slowly started to progress, from which my confidence grew and then eventually, finally, I made my way back into the team.

Looking back, and considering everything you had going on at the time, what are your memories of Year 12? Or, more to the point, what are your memories of receiving your ATAR and the way that made you feel?

My ATAR certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. I worked my tail off for that result and, in the end, I was left disappointed. I now realise that an ATAR is just a number but, at the time, I was devastated; I felt like I would be defined by my number for the rest of my life. As I recall it, everyone made it seem that way, they made it seem like your score was critical to achieving a successful life. However, now, at almost 22-years-old I know it means very little.

I now know I could apply to just about any university course, as a mature age student, and that little number that haunted me would have no bearing on whether or not I was admitted to study. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying students today shouldn’t work hard for a good score because it is important, especially if you want to study medicine or something like that. But what I am saying is it’s okay to try really hard and still not do overly well, like me. It’s not the end of the world.

So, have you gone on to study at a tertiary level?

Well, sort of. I began an Occupational Therapy Degree in 2016, straight out of high school. I chose this course purely because it was available at Charles Sturt Uni in Thurgoona, because I didn’t wish to move away from home. Looking back now, I realise that wasn’t the smartest decision because, six months in, I was really hating uni and ended-up dropping out to begin full-time work as a Teacher’s Aide at Belvoir Special School in Wodonga.

And how is that going? Are you enjoying work as a Teacher’s Aide?

I have just relocated to Melbourne after working at Belvoir Special School for three years. I am currently working, casually, at a few different schools in my area and adjusting to life in the city. I am planning on re-entering my university studies in 2020 but who knows what life has in store for me. If I’m truly honest I still don’t know what I “want to be when I grow up”. I thought I had to have everything figured out as soon as I left high school. All the pressure from teachers to choose the right path and have it all figured out certainly got to me, on top of everything I was going through with my shoulder. As I mentioned before, I ended up choosing a course under pressure and based purely on its proximity to my home.

What would you say to anyone who is in a similar situation?

My advice to anyone who is willing to listen would be to not make decisions based on what you think is expected of you because everyone is different. I may go back to university next year, or I may never go back and, guess what, that’s fine!

Everyone has different paths in life; sometimes you have to forge new ones and, sometimes, you even have to go back down ones you’ve tread before. Long story short, I still, truly, have no idea what I want to do with my life in the long term but does that matter? I am happy, and that’s what really matters, I think. And I also think this puts into perspective the ridiculous pressure we put on students at Year 12 to know what they want to do “with the rest of their lives”. It is absurd, expecting a person to have their whole life figured out at the ripe old age of 18 or even 17!