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University graduates transform their worlds through first-in-family education


Jessica Nelson
19 June 2019

When Lesa Hennessey was a child her dream was to be a nurse and work remotely somewhere in Australia.

Yet growing up on a dairy farm in the 70s, her family didn’t have the funds she needed to pursue tertiary education.

Fast-forward to now. At age 50 Lesa will become the first in her family to graduate from university, and has started her dream graduate nursing position at Broken Hill in the far west of outback New South Wales close to the South Australia border. Her first rotation is in community health and in August will move to the surgical ward.

“Broken Hill was my first preference, so I travelled through the Australian outback for the interview and was so thrilled when I got the job,” she said.

Lesa’s remarkable achievement was accomplished through both triumph and devastating heartbreak.

“Just prior to commencing my university degree my partner took his own life,” she said.

“Without the support of Southern Cross University, counsellors, teaching staff and the friends I made I would not be here today graduating. Not only was I able to focus on an academic endeavour to pursue my dream career but they also helped me to process the grief and became like family.

“Graduating will be a proud moment for myself and my family - it’s been a long hard road but I made it. I want my story to inspire other people that they can pursue their dreams, even through grief and despite their age. I was 45 when I started my degree.”

Lesa threw herself into studies, and was an active member of Southern Cross University’s SCUConnect team, a pop-up space for people to connect with other students and be referred to services at Coffs Harbour campus. She also became a UniMentor, helping first year students navigate their studies.

On Friday June 21 Lesa will receive her testamur at Southern Cross University Coffs Harbour campus, alongside 150 other graduates, and surrounded by family and friends including her mother and four adult children – her biggest supporters.

Before pursuing nursing, Lesa worked in real estate and aged care reception while raising her kids, and is now excitedly awaiting the arrival of her eleventh grandchild.

“The decider for me was when I applied to Southern Cross University I received entry into the 12-week Preparing for Success Program (PSP) which is perfect for people who are new to studying. That’s where I met great friends and received early entry into the Nursing program,” she said.

“I’ve never left the Macksville area, near Coffs Harbour, so it’s like I’m the one who is finally leaving home, to an even smaller town, so it has been a very big exciting move – I’ve always wanted to nurse remotely. I am continuing my studies to specialise in wound care and will hopefully fly to other remote communities.”

Applications for mid-year entry to start study in July are now open for a range of degrees such as the Bachelor of Nursing, midwifery, business, arts/education, occupational therapy, social welfare, sport and exercise science, psychological science, including double-degrees in law/psychology and exercise science/psychology, and the award-winning Preparing for Success Program (PSP).