PROUD of their culture, two West Wallsend High School year 12 graduates will be awarded for their contribution to Aboriginal education at a state level. Ryan Wood, 18, and Ashlee Dawson, 17, will on Monday receive a Department of Education award for Outstanding Student Leadership at the 18th annual Nanga Mai Awards, where they will also deliver a keynote address. The pair were school captains this year and have found ways to implement culture through their schooling years through founding the Junior Aboriginal Education Consultative Group. Mr Wood is a proud Bunjalung man and said he has always embraced his culture and is passionate about advocating for his peers. "Growing up and moving through school I've been a part of a whole bunch of different celebrations and ceremonies in the running and curation of those events," he said. "Ashlee and I formed the Junior AECG as a way to involve other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students. Whether that be cultural events or just things that happen in the classroom," he said. He said they were able to create an environment that supports their culture and he was honoured to be recognised for his dedication. "I think it feels great to be honest," he said. "I've always been a proud leader of my culture but to be recognised for something I've done - that I'm very proud of myself for," he said. Mr Wood will head to UTS next year to study Business and International Studies where he's already started networking with their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander group. Co-winner Ms Dawson is a proud Kamilaroi woman and has been a driving force in West Wallsend High School's culturally inclusive landscape. "It's been really important to me on a personal level as my family is indigenous, and I've seen my mum experience racism in the past," she said. "I wanted to ensure that school can be a safe place for all people like me and to protect these kids because they're so kind and driven." Ms Dawson said she was feeling really honoured to be receiving the award. "I'm really excited. I think it's like a once in a lifetime opportunity. It's made me want to keep striving for the future," she said. She gained an early entry and scholarship to study psychology and business at the University of Newcastle and plans to get involved with culturally inclusive groups. Mr Wood and Ms Dawson will be among 13 academically successful students, confident public speakers, talented performing artists and outstanding sportspeople to be recognised at the International Convention and Exhibition Centre at Darling Harbour. Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Prue Car said NSW public schools worked to enhance and elevate Aboriginal culture and identity through education. "Today is a wonderful day as we celebrate academic excellence in our Aboriginal learners, leaders and educators," Ms Car said. "I want to send a big congratulations to all the hardworking teachers, school leaders and students being honoured at the Nanga Mai Awards."