Lewis Donaldson was meandering through the French countryside on a family holiday earlier this year when his phone pinged.

It was a text message from back home in Australia which said he had been named as Gunnedah’s 2024 Young Citizen of the Year.

“It was pretty awesome,” Lewis said.

“Sitting in the car travelling on back country roads through France, I had this message come through [about the award].

“It was amazing and I’m very humbled.

“Hopefully it can inspire and motivate other students in Gunnedah and St Mary’s College to get involved and do great things.”

It capped off a remarkable year for the former St Mary’s school captain, talented public speaker and junior tennis coach.

Last year Lewis reached district level for the Rotary public speaking competition – the highest of any student at his school in more than decade.

“That was pretty special,” he said of the achievement.

Lewis delivered a prepared speech on the importance of learning a second language and an impromptu speech on the topic of ‘my role model’. Lewis chose Nelson Mandela because like the African leader – Lewis aspired to also make a lasting, positive impact on society.

The public speaking has helped him gain the confidence to front a crowd and speak but it didn’t come naturally, at least not initially.

He recalled one of his first speaking opportunities at the Monday school briefing – which details achievements from the week past and key happenings for the week ahead – held much trepidation for the-then newly elected captain.

“It was before I started public speaking at competitions and I was shaking I was so nervous but I knew it was a job I had to do,” Lewis said.

Fast forward 12 months, Lewis said the experience has changed him for the better in more than ways than one.

“As I became more involved in public speaking, every week it got easier and easier,” he said.

“It is now something I enjoy.

“It is a skill that a lot of people are afraid about but I’m proud to have overcome that fear and do something not a lot of people can or are willing to do.”

He encouraged other senior students in Gunnedah to volunteer for public speaking opportunities.

“Have a go, throw yourself in the deep end because you’re only going to get better if you practise,” he said.

“You’re only going to better yourself by doing it, there is nothing to lose.”

Gunnedah tennis coach Craig Louis chats with junior mentor Lewis Donaldson.

Also high on his list of memorable achievements in recent years was his time a junior tennis coach in Gunnedah.

“It is one of the greatest things I’ve done,” Lewis said.

The young role model said the tennis gig was just as fulfilling for him, as it was the children under his tuition.

“I really looked forward to coaching each afternoon, helping out the kids and seeing them smile, having a great time with tennis,” he said.

“You need to be enthusiastic for a job like that, you need a lot of energy – the kids feed off it.”

Fresh off his year 12 studies, Lewis is due to start a three-year, communications degree at the Charles Sturt University in Bathurst.

He was one of 28 students awarded a Gunnedah Community Scholarship to assist with the start of his tertiary education (see story page 3).

Lewis completed work experience at the Gunnedah Times in 2021 and said the stint at the local paper was part of the reason he is pursuing further education in journalism.

Lewis said it is the chance to “tell people’s stories, their life,” that interests him.

He also has interests in travel and aspired to one day combine that with a job as a foreign correspondent.

But for now, Lewis is content to focus on his immediate university studies ahead.

It is not only the Young Citizen of the Year judges who have recognised the standing of Lewis in the Gunnedah community.

After Lewis won the 2023 Regional Lions Youth of the Year, Gunnedah Lions Club president Nev Steele told the Gunnedah Times the award was well-deserved.

“Lewis is a perfect example of a young man who presents well, has knowledge, ability and integrity and is a fine example of the up-and-coming youth of today,” Mr Steele said.

Lewis was also a recipient of the 2024 Gunnedah Community Scholarship. Read more about this year’s recipients here: Career boost for Gunnedah students – Gunnedah Times

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