Leann headshot

Leann Duff – Pinnacle alumnus

Tell us a little about your journey and how you became involved with The Pinnacle Foundation.

I studied a Bachelor of Economics and a Bachelor of Advanced Studies at the University of Sydney, and I majored in econometrics and economics, and I finished my degree at the end of 2023. I am originally from the Blue Mountains, which is a little west of Sydney in New South Wales and I have since moved to Canberra to start a graduate job within the public service. I remember feeling so overwhelmingly happy and grateful when I received news that I had been awarded my Pinnacle scholarship and I still feel this way today. When I received the phone call telling me that I was accepted into The Pinnacle Foundation scholarship program I was so surprised and felt accepted for being myself which is something that I had not felt before, I felt validated and deserving of this opportunity. A year prior to submitting my application, a friend of mine had recommended that I apply for a Pinnacle scholarship, and it took me a long time to finally feel like I could apply and overcome the mindset that I was not worthy, not deserving or in as much need as others who might be more worthy of this opportunity. The recurring thoughts of. “Do not play the victim, do not complain, other people have it worse, people have struggled in the past and have sacrificed so much more” prevented me from applying and it took hard work and determination to overcome that mindset and finally apply. There is a difference between feeling guilty and feeling grateful and being awarded a Pinnacle scholarship was the first step in me learning how to be grateful without feeling guilt and shame. So many people feel imposter syndrome and that is easy to feel when you are young and unsure of where you fit in the world. Having the experience of being in the closet, being bullied, feeling shame, and being stuck in the cycle of imposter syndrome and self-limitation was cut short through becoming a Pinnacle scholar. Being celebrated for being myself was one of the main benefits I gained from being a Pinnacle scholar. Having people around me who were encouraging, supportive, and who believed in me changed my life in so many ways. There is something powerful about physically being in front of someone that you look up to and whose opinion you respect, and they tell you that they believe that you can achieve what you say you want to achieve, that you are good enough and deserve to take up space and belong. I had so many moments where I had to confront my thoughts of respecting their opinion on so many matters and now respecting their opinion on me and my worth was life transforming.

What did you gain from being part of the Pinnacle scholarship program?

Being a Pinnacle Foundation scholar gave me space to be able reflect on my journey and to better understand myself and my achievements and what that meant for my future. Through the support of The Pinnacle Foundation, I have been to make lasting changes in my life and my mindset. I have been able to view my strengths and be able to recognise similarities with other people within the Pinnacle family to understand that I am capable and able to achieve my goals, and that I am cut out for the opportunities that have presented themselves. Having the space to hear other people’s stories and hear similarities between their stories and my own, I was able to take a second and reflect on how I was reacting to other people’s stories and how differently I was treating myself and talking to myself during the times when I was facing similar circumstances. Becoming involved with the LGBTQIA+ community locally and in my age-group gave me the perspective that I was missing. Despite feeling more accepted now within the wider community, there is still the disadvantage of being part of a minority group. Even being in environments where there is some acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people, does not mitigate all of the challenges that can come with being part of a minority group and not being able to find community around you, and feeling isolated, and feeling like you have to hide a certain part of yourself, or try as hard as you can to take up as little space as possible. The broader opportunities that came along with a Pinnacle scholarship, like receiving invitations to events with other LGBTQIA+ people from all walks of life and backgrounds, was so eye-opening to what being part of our rainbow community really is and how amazing it is to be connected to so many people who have shared experiences and journeys. I understood and saw with my own eyes that membership to our community was not only available to people who grew up in metropolitan areas, already had communities of LGBTQIA+ friends, were members of university queer societies, were outgoing members of our community, and it is not only for a certain demographic. The LGBTQIA+ community in Australia is just as diverse as the wider population of people and Pinnacle was one of the first places I was able to see that in practice. I was able to make connections with people that I would not have otherwise been able to meet and it was so valuable to be able to feel a part of something especially living in a new city which was very different to where I grew up. One of the best aspects of my Pinnacle scholarship was to be a welcomed into the broader community of the Pinnacle family.

What was your experience with your mentor like?

My relationship with my mentor was excellent and it is still ongoing. My mentor was probably the first economist I ever spoke to and the first lesbian woman that was older than me. Until I left home and started university, I did not have any out LGBTQIA+ people around me. Being paired with my mentor, having that representation of what success looks like in the LGBTQIA+ community and what it is to have a wider community of people that are like you is wonderful. My parents did not work in office jobs, most adults I knew were nurses or tradespeople, I did not know anyone working in the field that I was interested in. In high school, economics was not even a subject that was offered, and it was not until I started university that I found out what economics was. It was amazing to not only have a chat with an economist, but the chief economist of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), essentially Australia’s chief economist at the time. We were able to talk about things in a way that felt like I did not have to explain myself, I knew that my mentor understood where I was coming from and I felt nothing but support, curiosity and interest coming from her. It was so wonderful to get along and be comfortable with her from the outset of our connection, and I felt so accepted from the beginning. I feel immensely lucky to have had such a wonderful mentor experience.

What advice would you give to a young person who is thinking about applying for The Pinnacle Foundation scholarship program?

Do not do what I did – I waited an extra year for no reason. There is no harm in trying something, even if you are not successful the first time you apply, you can always re-apply next year (if you are still eligible). It can be daunting being vulnerable about your experiences, but it is so worth it, and the payoff is life changing. I urge you to try as hard as you can to ignore the part of you that is saying, “You do not deserve this. You are not good enough,” it is not worth missing out on opportunities because you are scared. I am so glad that even though I was scared and missed out one year, I tried again the following year and was successful. If there is anything to be said about Pinnacle scholars. It is that we have such an ability to try again and the resilience within us is formidable. Rely on your resilience instead of self-doubt and you will be more than fine.

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