FORMER Taree High student, Shane Drumgold is living proof that even if you don't finish school, or your marks aren't what you hope for, you can still go onto big things in your professional career.
Today he is a criminal trial lawyer and an award-winning author.
But back in 1980, he left school before even completing year 10, and at the time never dreamed that he would spend his future as a criminal trial lawyer.
In 1982 he had a second shot at completing year 10 at Chatham High School, but that was equally unsuccessful, and Shane dropped out only a few months after he started.
"There were reasons for dropping out, but they are both insignificant and irrelevant, because despite my notably unsuccessful schooling, I somehow retained a strong confidence in my academic potential," Shane said.
"In the early 1990s I finally got an opportunity to overcome the fact I didn't have a school certificate through a work sponsored management certificate through Charles Sturt University.
"I did quite well and on the strength of this performance I was accepted into the Bachelors degree program, and this started a cycle of academic pursuit that has continued to this day."
Over the past 20 years he has completed a Bachelor of Business (Economics), Bachelor of Laws (honours), Master of International Law and graduate diploma in Legal Practice.
On completion of his law degree, he was appointed as a prosecutor with the Department of Public Prosecutions in Canberra and over the past 12 years has steadily climbed up through the ranks to the senior advocate position, prosecuting the most serious offences in the criminal calendar before juries.
In 2004 he was awarded a Churchill Fellowship, which funded an overseas study program.
He travelled to remote communities in the USA, Canada and New Zealand to research their use of restorative justice to overcome chronic crime problems.
For the past 12 years he has also worked as a part-time academic at the Australian National University, teaching criminal law in the first semester and evidence law in the second semester.
"Life as a criminal lawyer, prosecuting everything from homicide and sex matters through to drug manufacture, is as challenging as it is rewarding.
"Depending on the subject matter of that particular trial, it often involves developing a detailed knowledge of the areas of forensic science, medicine, finance and accounting, chemistry and physics, and after more than 50 trials, you develop a basic understanding of many previously foreign areas of expertise.
"This is the most challenging but often the most enjoyable aspect of the profession."
In 2006-07 Shane took 13 months leave without pay from his prosecutorial appointment to work as a public defender in the Solomon Islands, defending militants from the civil war.
In 2011 he published his book "Palm Tree Justice", detailing his experiences in the Solomon Islands.
"The book was really written to simply share these experiences with my family, so I was both shocked and thrilled when in 2011 the book won a gold medal in the eLit Literary Awards in the United States."
While he said it was an honour but the real recognition came from not what literary reviewers thought, but what his academic peers thought of the book, and the reviews have all been exceptional.
The Pacific Institute of Public Policy labelled the book "compelling reading". The ACT Bar Bulletin called it "brutally, frank and compelling" and Amazon UK labelled the book an "important journey that forces one to confront their ideals of law and justice."
Shane said that reviews such as this are the most rewarding acknowledgment imaginable for any author, let alone one whose literacy level was once classified borderline.
The book is now on the reading list at several universities and has been cited in a number of PhD and Masters theses.
So what message does Shane have for young people who are not happy where they are?
"If you have a dream, and believe in it with enough conviction, you can make it real.
"You only need to understand three things: there are no barriers, only hurdles. There are no failures, only lessons. The only genuine barrier to achieving your goals is your willingness to quit before you reach them."