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Against all odds, Diana scores success


28 April 2006
When she stopped her formal education at 12, Goonellabah mother Diana Kearney never thought her life would amount to much.

But tomorrow she will become the proud recipient of her Master of Indigenous Studies (Wellbeing) degree at a Southern Cross University graduation ceremony.

Diana, 52, a Department of Community Services family worker at the Malanee Bugilmah intensive family support service and currently acting regional learning and development co-ordinator, will also be honoured with the prestigious Bundjalung Prize for her significant contribution to Indigenous communities.

"I'm finding it hard to believe that I have actually achieved my degree, or that I have scored straight Distinctions and High Distinctions," she said.

"But it just shows you that when you are determined to do something and are prepared to work hard, you can do it."

Diana spent her early years in Cowper orphanage at Grafton and was later made a Ward of the State and placed into foster care – both experiences resulted in trauma and abuse, she said.

She went looking for her birth father at 16, thinking it would solve all her problems, hoping to find the love, support and encouragement she had missed out on throughout her childhood.

Sadly, Diana did not stay with her dad for very long as the years of separation from family made it difficult to resume a relationship.

Later, Diana worked in a series of basic jobs ranging from cleaning to seasonal work before deciding she wanted to go into welfare work, starting the journey with a TAFE Associate Diploma in Community Welfare.

That led to a career with DOCS providing intensive support for troubled families and working in the child protection area while studying for a Bachelor of Social Science degree.

"It takes a long time to get over being told you are dumb and stupid and that you'll never amount to anything," she said.

"At the university's Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples I got such a tremendous amount of encouragement and support that I became confident enough to take on the role of helping and mentoring other students.

"It was also a very healing time for me as it gave me the opportunity to examine and reflect on my own life wounds and hurts and to begin my own deep personal healing journey."

Tomorrow, 522 graduands will receive their awards at SCU's Lismore campus, in disciplines including business, commerce and management, tourism and hospitality, social sciences, arts, multimedia and information technology, Indigenous studies, environmental science and management, exercise science and sport management and health and applied science.

SCU Chancellor John Dowd will officiate at the ceremonies, with Mr Don Page, Member for Ballina, delivering the first Occasional Address and Vice-Chancellor Prof Paul Clark delivering the second.

Media contact Zoe Satherley 6620 3144 or 0439 132 095