AS Candace Cord battled through her diploma, there were times reaching the finish line seemed impossible.
But the proud Wiradjuri woman’s determination reaped more than a certificate at graduation.
It put her in the running to receive top honours at the region’s NSW Training Awards. But it was a distinction Ms Cord never thought she would receive.
“I just thought there were so many amazing people doing things for their community throughout the Riverina,” Ms Cord said.
“I thought I was just happy to be a finalist, but I didn’t think I would win the award.”
So it was a shock for the Wagga woman, when her name was read at a ceremony on Friday night and she was named the state’s Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander of the Year.
It followed her win at this year’s TAFE NSW Riverina Excellence Awards.
Swept up in a wave of congratulations from family, friends and strangers, Ms Cord said she was overwhelmed with gratitude.
“It feels really good to make the elders proud too,” she said. “They know you’re doing what you can for your community in a positive way.”
For two years, Ms Cord juggled family and study commitments and navigated “major obstacles”, before graduating with a diploma in Aboriginal studies last year.
“I was pregnant at the time and I had a difficult pregnancy and then a new baby came into our care,” she said.
“We were quite busy and had quite a hectic year.”
The 35-year-old said it was the support of her teachers and loved ones that spurred her toward the goal.
Above all else, Ms Cord said her study had been a personal journey.
“I always wanted to know as much about my culture as possible,” she said. “When I found out about the course, I just thought I had to do it.”
Ms Cord was among six winners at the prestigious regional awards, held at the Rules Club in Wagga.
Training Services NSW chief David Collins on Friday night congratulated all the nominees and winners, whose quality he said showcased the world-class vocation education and training (VET) across the region.
Michael Edwards and Caleb Weir took out the ceremony’s top honours, with Mr Edwards named Apprentice of the Year, while Mr Weir claimed the Trainee of the Year award.
Mr Edwards, a former dual-trade apprentice at TAFE NSW Riverina, was praised for his excellence as a mechanic in the Cloud Seeding unit at Snowy Hydro.
He was later offered the opportunity to complete an apprenticeship in Electrotechnology, which he completed a year early, before he was officially appointed as an electrical tradesman.
Among the region’s winners were Joshua Bartlett, who was named School Based Apprentice-Trainee of the Year; Lachlan Carney who was awarded as the VET in-schools Trainee of the Year; and Roslyn Twycross who claimed the title of Vocational Student of the Year.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Skills John Barilaro said regional winners would be considered for selection to compete at the NSW Training Awards in September.
“The training awards pay tribute to our apprentices, students, trainees, educators and training providers from all over the state,” Mr Barilaro said.
“(It also shows) young people that VET is a great pathway for a rewarding career.”