Published on 2 October 2013
The University of the Sunshine Coast’s Graduation ceremony tomorrow will be a huge occasion for legally blind student Nicole Damarra, who has successfully completed a Bachelor of Social Science.
It will also be a big day for her former Guide Dog, Nev, who helped Nicole navigate around the USC campus throughout her three-year degree before he retired recently.
As Nev attended every lecture and tutorial with Nicole, it seems only fitting that the clever canine will “graduate” too by crossing the stage dressed in a gown and cap.
It looks set to be a highlight of the 5pm Graduation ceremony at the USC Sports Stadium, where almost 300 graduates will receive degrees in front of a crowd of about 1,100 people.
Nicole, 31, of Sippy Downs said she was pleased to share her Graduation glory with her faithful Guide Dog.
“Nev has been a very patient study companion throughout the degree,” she said. “However, in some lectures he wasn’t able to help himself from letting everyone know how bored he was by making the odd whine or sigh.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him and I think he’s very happy to settle into retirement before I start my Honours 2014.”
Nicole, an Indigenous student, said she was initially daunted about starting at university. But, with the help of Nev, supportive USC staff and screen reader technology, she soon found study to be an enjoyable experience.
“USC appealed to me due to the size of the classes, the approachability of the staff, the easy-to-navigate layout of the campus and the level of support available through Disability Support Services,” she said.
“The only obstacle to undertaking any challenge rests with yourself. So I have learnt to have a good foundation of preparation, planning and self-advocacy before I start anything.
“I started slowly by undertaking the Tertiary Preparatory Pathway (TPP) program before discovering my passion for social sciences.
“Since then I haven’t looked back and would encourage anyone who thinks university might be outside their capabilities to think again, anything is possible, especially when you have the right support by your side.”
USC’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Hill congratulated Nicole on completing her degree and wished her the best for the future.
“I have enjoyed regular chats with Nicole during her studies and look forward to continuing these as she transitions into postgraduate study with her new Guide Dog Hughie,” he said.
“For Nev, as a retiree, I’m sure he’ll be pleased to avoid further mobbings by the noisy miners on campus. I’ll also remember him for his amazing capacity to ‘shed’ – but he is a lab of course.”
Nev’s graduation gown and cap were made by Audrey Dickson of USC’s Student Life and Learning.
— Jessica Halls