Avondale saved my life

Luke Webster opens up about his life-saving Avondale experience.

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(Credit: Avondale College of Higher Education)

If I had not attended Avondale College—as I did from 2004 to 2006—it is almost certain that, at some point during or shortly after that period, I would have killed myself.

I did not, in large part due to the kind, nurturing, Christian environment of Avondale College and the personal support of Christ-like individuals, staff and teachers, who genuinely cared about my wellbeing.

But let me go back a little.

In 2002 I graduated from Avondale High School—pathetically unprepared for both adult life and tertiary study. Not, I must hasten to add, through any fault of that institution, but due entirely to the depression and anxiety that had been slowly growing within me since childhood. I was immediately overwhelmed by the removal of the familiar school structure and the sudden arrival of adult freedoms.

Avondale College was an obvious choice for tertiary education, but I’d heard lots of criticism within the church community and so I baulked at the idea. I thought myself very clever for choosing a nearby university of large size and impressive curriculum.

As I was young, ignorant and already damaged, it was a disastrous choice. In my first semester I failed three out of four subjects. In my second semester I failed two out of two (I just need to focus! was my self-deluded justification), all through non-attendance and failure to complete assignments.

I made no friends, formed no new relationships. None of this seemed to bother anyone at the uni, and they were very happy to welcome me and my study debt back for a second year.

Depression tends to damage the memory, but I do know there were frequent, lengthy and unfathomably deep periods of despair that always made a mockery of my feeble attempts at routine, discipline and productivity.

I remember social anxiety that made it impossible to talk to teachers or classmates. I remember my self-esteem, which had been stripped away early in my teenage years and never recovered, somehow managed to sink even lower. I felt invisible, but preferred it, because the idea of being noticed was terrifying. Only one outcome loomed before me as an increasingly welcome release.

Enrolling in Outdoor Recreation at Avondale College was a decision born out of desperation. It was also the decision that saved my life. The outdoor exercise was of course beneficial. The smaller and more intimate environment was less intimidating, the culture comfortingly familiar, the teachers kinder. If I was missing from class, someone would come to check up on me. If I was close to missing a deadline, someone was there to remind me to make sure it was done. When I had questions, the right person to ask was never difficult to find. Regular worship in a non-judgemental church community helped me keep my faith at a time when many of my peers were leaving the Church disillusioned.

"Enrolling in Outdoor Recreation at Avondale College was a decision born out of desperation. It was also the decision that saved my life."

Avondale College was not perfect and I was not suddenly rid of my burdens overnight. I was an average-to-poor student, socially awkward, suffering periods of depression, struggling with self-esteem—but at the end of the year I graduated with a Certificate 3 in Outdoor Recreation. That achievement, though it may seem unimpressive on the surface, was a turning point in my life. Now, 15 years later, as I finally learn the wisdom to understand it, I can only express my constant and eternal gratitude.

Lately I see misinformation of the same sort that contributed to my foolish choices is again turning those who should be Avondale’s greatest supporters into damaging critics.

In truth, I am terrified to publish this article. I have no desire to expose myself to the hand grenades of abuse so casually tossed about the internet in this post-truth world; I am still too fragile for that. But I will defend Avondale College here and in any other forum and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a fantastic place to undertake tertiary education because, as I may have already mentioned, Avondale saved my life.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline (13 11 44) or local support services.


Luke Webster is country director for ADRA China (Hong Kong).