Alumnus Nigel Abello shares his amazing journey through COVID-19, inspiring our 2020 science graduates

Nigel Abello is passionate about science, entrepreneurship, mental health, exercise and adventure. He is a First-Class Honours Graduate for the inaugural cohort for the Bachelor of Science Advanced Global Challenges in 2017.

He has worked across a range of industries from corporate financial services, start-ups, retail, hospitality, scientific research institutions, to government. These opportunities have taken him from Melbourne and Sydney, to working in Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific Islands.

Currently he is a freelance marketing consultant for a Melbourne based start-up, and works as a Team Lead for the Department of Health in the COVID-19 Response.

He is also a passionate advocate for promoting young adult mental health. As a Youth Ambassador for Reach out Australia, he plays a major role in raising awareness in communities, breaking down stigma around mental health and helping young people across Australia to deal with issues related to mental health.

“Tonight, is an opportunity to celebrate your achievement with family, friends and peers. Whether it has been a long time coming, I think we are all glad to know we can be here together to celebrate in these unprecedented times.

Throughout my career so far, there have been key moments that have influenced my outlook on life. In particular, I would like to share a few key insights into my experience working as part of the COVID-19 response:

Since August last year I have been working for the Department of Health. If you asked me at the time I graduated where I thought I would end up, I guarantee that working for the government in the middle of a global pandemic is not what I would have responded with.

I have seen the news about COVID and at times have noticed the headlines highlighting “case numbers”. For myself and my colleagues, over the past six months we have not been focussing on the numbers - but instead we have been hearing the stories.

These have been stories of Victorians - some who have done it tough. From those who lost loved ones, positive cases, individuals who were unable to visit their family, people needing medical treatment, to those struggling to put food on their table.

At the same time, I also spoke with people who wanted to hold a children’s birthday party in the local park, business owners, educators, students, Victoria Police, Victorian’s wanting to pick up a new pet, get a haircut from their local hairdresser, and people wanting exercise with their partner.

What has amazed me about all the conversations I have had - is that I have learnt so much about people’s capacity to respond to change in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Yes, I have had my fair share of Victorian’s rage at me. I know it’s their opinion and when you deal with public health, everyone is involved. Despite that, the stories of resilience, doing their part for the community, and helping those doing it tough - has continued to give me hope. In saying that the first insight I want to share with you is that: The things that happen to you don’t define you. How you respond does.

As I look back and think about what has been achieved in the past year from getting through stage 4 lockdown… twice, to the South Australia outbreak in December, then the NSW/QLD, followed by WA, and most recently the NZ outbreak - what I will always be most proud of are the people I work with.

Just over a year ago there was no COVID hotline, from a team of 8 advisers answering inbound calls to over 400 people assisting the community in peak times. Coming from all facets of life from a science graduate like myself, to other Monash graduate, firefighters, flight attendants, doctors, students, to salespeople. The team I have been working with has made this experience truly once in a lifetime.

When people ask exactly what the work I have been doing I at times become blasé to the reality of the impact. Over all the jobs I have worked, when people’s lives are literally on the line, working for long days on stretch, the people you surround yourself with play a significant role in bringing out the best in you.

For my colleagues and I - we know we won’t be here forever in a Covid role and it is extremely motivating to see the people I have worked alongside with - go out and pursue what they are truly passionate about.

Whether continue in a public health role, start their masters, become paramedics, or launch their own company, what I have learnt from my peers is to surround yourself with people who empower you to become a better version of yourself.

Without the alumni community I would not be where I am today. I have seen the value in staying in contact with faculty staff and students. For one, the job I have today is because a fellow Monash graduate referred me for the role.

So now as you embark on this next chapter of your life, you are now part of a truly global alumni community of more than 420,000 Monash graduates living in 160 different countries. Stay in touch online, utilise the resources available, reach out to potential mentors, and see how much value can be gained by utilising the community.

So, in a world where everything is possible, a world where our voices have impact, and circumstances can rapidly change - remember that how you respond defines you, and you are empowered by who you surround yourself with.

Congratulations again and have a wonderful evening everyone.”