"Follow your passions" is the advice shared by the Otago Polytechnic student whose work founding an anti-bullying group saw her receiving a special award from the Queen.
Ashleigh Smith (19) received her Queen's Young leaders Award in Buckingham Palace late last week for her work with the Sticks 'n' Stones group she helped found to empower young people to recognise and stand up to bullying.
In a video posting on the Stick 'n' Stones Facebook page (made just before flying back to New Zealand) she said it was "just so crazy" that the day before she was in Buckingham Palace receiving an award from the Queen.
She said the message she wanted to share with the group's followers was that you never knew where your passions and hard work could end up taking you.
"I'm just a small town country girl. But I'm a small town country girl who had a passion and wanted to do something about it."
"And I believe that every single young person in this country is passionate about something."
"No matter how hard it gets – keep going," she shared. "Follow your passions. Do your best that you can to achieve and you never know you where you will end up."
As a Queen's Young Leader she was one of 60 young people selected for the awards programme from around the Commonwealth. The programme offers a year-long package of training, mentoring and networking offered through Cambridge University including the one week residential programme at Cambridge she completed beforeshe and her fellow young leaders received their awards personally from the Queen at a ceremony on June 29.
Five years ago three of Ashleigh's schoolmates at Maniototo Area School took their own lives within eight months of each other leaving her not knowing what to do with herself. When government funding became available for an anti-bullying campaign Ashleigh and student leaders from five other Central Otago schools grabbed the opportunity and founded 'Sticks n Stones'. Under the scheme student ambassadors are trained and given the skills to help other young people, especially with online issues, or helping them find the right support network.