Cameron Dalkie was kicked out of school because of bad behaviour and poor attitude and was going nowhere.
Life was tough at home too, his mother was waging an ultimately unsuccessful fight against cancer. She died a year ago.
This week the head boy graduated from year 13 in Palmerston North’s Queen Elizabeth College service academy and celebrated turning his life around.
He admits he ‘‘used to be real trouble’’ at his former college.
‘‘I was asked to leave because of continual disobedience. ‘‘I went round asking a couple of schools and no one was really keen to take me until we came here.’’
After starting at QEC in year 10 he had ups and downs, but saw a lifeline and grabbed it.
‘‘I saw a bit of what they did in the service academy and thought that might help me out, so I chose to go down that path in year 11.
‘‘It helped with my attitude and it helped get discipline.’’
At the start of the year, about 250 service academy recruits from throughout the North Island spent 12 days at Waiouru Military Camp on a boot camp. This was a formative experience, he said.
Victoria Cross recipient and former corporal Willie Apiata spent two days mingling with the kids and Cameron was blown away by how humble he was.
Back at school Cameron and a friend took up bodybuilding and he redirected his energy into the gym. He has also managed to fit in a part-time supermarket job.
He has ‘‘busted out’’ as many extra BCITO carpentry units as he could, and is poised to finish his Carpentry Plus certificate once he turns in some last work.
‘‘I’m just hoping to get a builders apprenticeship, it will give me a life time skill.’’
Cameron is grateful to have been given second chances.
‘‘I think it’s pretty brave of them. I wasn’t the greatest student back then.
‘‘It’s been good coming to a small school with more one-onone time with teachers, you know them, and they know [us].’’
Academy director Lance Tahiwi said sometimes it was hard to give a pupil a second chance, but as long as they were into it, he would keep doing that.
10 pupils graduated from the service academy on Thursday, and all had something to go on to next year, he said. ‘‘They all came to me and realised, ‘this is something I can do, and then you see the change in them to be better.’’
’’I’m very proud of them.’’
Cameron Dalkie says his mum would have been proud to see him graduate the service academy.