Meet the winner -Olivia Taylor
When I was sixteen, I took part in a speech competition that in no uncertain terms changed the course of my life. In that speech, I had said the following:
“How I create my luck, or how you create yours, doesn’t matter if we can’t create a world where every child can reap the benefits of what life has to offer. We should teach each other that using our own lives to better others is the luckiest thing we can ever do.”
After the competition had ended, I spoke to a Cambridge alumni who asked me if I was applying to University, in particular if I had considered applying to Oxbridge. In complete irony to the speech I had just given, I had replied to her “people like me don’t go to places like Cambridge”. By “people like me”, I had meant a Free School Meals student whose life was the furthest thing removed from what might have been considered “Oxbridge”. From that moment, she quite determinedly supported me to apply to Cambridge and believed in me in a way I had never been before.
So after I arrived at Cambridge, I threw myself into helping as many people as possible, especially children from disadvantaged backgrounds. I was a tutor for migrant and refugee students; I was Project leader of a club for vulnerable children; I visited elderly people in care homes; and I sat through the early hours of the morning talking to people with suicidal thoughts as a crisis volunteer with Shout UK. I picked the roles that no one else wanted because I have found the thankless, hard tasks are the most impactful. When you get an email from a disadvantaged mentee saying they have received an offer to study at Cambridge; or the smile of the elderly person you are visiting; or a child’s parent tells you how much you have helped their child — there’s really no better reward.
I also took on leadership roles working with Student Community Action (SCA) and Role Models Yorkshire (RMY) who both gave opportunities to lead some incredible projects to help throughout the pandemic including SCA’s “celebration surprises” celebrating birthdays virtually with children at home and RMY’s “Togetherness” campaign that helped combat loneliness throughout lockdown. It goes without saying, it’s these organisations and the people in them that have helped me find so many avenues in which I could help.
I also had the opportunity to engage in the United Nations Academic Impact’s Millennium Fellowship programme were I lead a project called “#storiesnotstatistics” which aimed to share the authentic experience of Cambridge students from all walks of life, prompting a sense that we all have unique stories and that everyone who earns a place here thoroughly deserves it.
As students at Cambridge University, we all hold immense privilege — whatever our background and our story of reaching here. In this way, we have so much to give through offering our time to volunteer as tutors, mentees or any other role that needs to be filled. Cambridge should be an institution that prides itself in social change as highly as it holds striving for academic excellence.
While I am grateful for this award, it will likely not change my work as my motivations– as every other student volunteer I have worked with — has always been for the people I help and my volunteering wasn’t done for recognition. There are hundreds of incredible student volunteers in Cambridge who work to the betterment of society and people’s lives; who really are a credit to their Colleges and the University and should be proud of the impact they have. I want to thank every single one of them as well as the people who have helped me along the way. I hope more students are inspired to volunteer as it’s an enriching and life-changing experience to use your skills altruistically.
In particular, I’d like to take the chance to thank Student Community Action, their trustees; and dedicated manager of over ten years Caroline Ward. This charity changes lives daily, introduces many Cambridge students to volunteering and has promoted social change passionately since the 1970s and I have connected with so many alumni who — like I will — remember SCA to be a cornerstone of their experience here. I’d like to urge students who want to make a difference to contact the charity for volunteering opportunities and for the Colleges and University to donate and help it continue its incredible work in the community.