An extraordinary achievement

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20 December 2018

Salesian College, Sunbury, Year 12 student Nathan Luke.Scoring an ATAR of 89 is no mean feat. Determination, planning, focus and hours of study have paid off for extraordinary Salesian College, Sunbury, Year 12 student Nathan Luke.

At the age of seven Nathan suffered a stroke, which affected the movement in the left side of his body and impaired his speech. In his six years at Salesian College, he underwent a series of treatments and surgeries to increase function in the areas where the stroke had left deficits. Along with his hemiplegia, Nathan was diagnosed legally blind and genetic testing in 2017 revealed that his health concerns were due to a very rare condition – mitochondrial disease with myopic atrophy – a condition which is shared by only nine individuals worldwide, including Nathan and his brother.

And yet, genetics have always been upstaged by Nathan’s spirited attitude to life. Over the years he has represented the Victorian team in Blind Cricket, as well as Goalball at a national level. In 2016 he was chosen to be part of a group of students from Catholic schools with vision impairment to attend Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. This culminated in Nathan receiving the highest of accolades, the Max Carpenter/Kathy Johnson Award for the student who personifies the spirit of Space Camp and who ‘overcomes their personal obstacles to perform their duties and team assignments, while maintaining the respect of their teammates and crew trainers’.

Nathan has been an exemplary student – participating fully in the life of the college and, at this year’s graduation ceremony, he was awarded the Rector’s Award for Mahoney House.

Nathan’s goal to study Sciences at tertiary level was pivotal to the manner with which he approached his VCE: vigorously and without reserve. Odette Budge, Catholic Education Melbourne Learning Consultant, who had been working with Nathan for many years, remained unrelenting in her quest to ensure he accessed the curriculum equitably and with dignity. Speech-to-text software technology to assist with vision combined with a plethora of adjustments and his teachers ‘thinking outside the box’ became the modus operandi.

In June of Year 12 however, Nathan’s condition further deteriorated. Speech worsening to a slur meant the speech-to-text software could no longer effectively recognise his voice; his ‘good hand’ was unable to touch type; his sight was at times affected by double-vision; and the all-consuming emotional and physical fatigue was on the increase. Nathan’s Learning Strategies Assistant (LSA) of two years, the unwavering Julie Graham, his subject teachers and all who networked and supported him behind the scenes would not be deterred – Nathan would complete his VCE, come hail, rain or shine.

With VCAA’s approval, provisions allowed Nathan to sit his exams utilising assistive technologies, as well as appointing Julie as his reader, scribe and clarifier. Unprecedented, yes. Remarkable, of course.

And Nathan’s dream became reality. A cliché, but essentially a phrase which epitomises an extraordinary accomplishment – one which would not have been possible without the strength, unfaltering advocacy and love of his parents, Carolyn and Iain. They were behind the scenes at every point of Nathan’s school life, they became his compass – never allowing him to surrender and were relentless in their quest for Nathan to reach his destination.