Meet UniSC’s Great Gradma: the remarkable story of 73-year-old student Sharon Sutton | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Meet UniSC’s Great Gradma: the remarkable story of 73-year-old student Sharon Sutton

One of UniSC’s newest graduates, is also one of its most unlikely.

But 73-year-old great grandmother Sharon Sutton has never been one to let circumstance stop her.

“If I can do it with a gap of 55 years since school and no formal secondary education, then anyone can,” Sharon said.

“It’s never too late.”

More than 60 years ago, a 12-year-old Sharon sat a scholarship exam to get into high school scoring 99 percent on social studies. She was sure high school and a career as a history teacher was soon to follow.

“But Mum said ‘We don’t have the money to send you to high school.’ We were poor. We couldn’t even afford the shoes,” Sharon said.

“So, two weeks before I turned 13, I went to work in a clothing factory which would now be called a sweatshop, for the princely sum of $9.75 a week.”

This is how Sharon spent most of her teenage years, before falling in love with a young man named George Sutton to whom she got married. Children followed, and so did a career change that would span the next five decades.

The young family moved to the outback and started worked on cattle stations in remote corners of the country from Western Queensland to the South Australian desert, up to the gulf and into the red centre - the heart of Australia.

“Before I had my third child we moved up to the Northern Territory – 380 miles out of Alice Springs. That place was a bit rough, we lived in a tin shed with no electricity at one point,” Sharon said.

“It was a good life, and a fantastic way for our children to grow up… but I was always thought I had more to offer.

“I promised myself that when I retired, I was going to go to university.”

Seven years ago, Sharon and George left their life of bulls, barb wire and buffelgrass behind, and retired to a little block outside Kilcoy where Sharon came across UniSC’s website.

“I was playing around on the computer and happened to bring up the UniSC website. I found the Tertiary Preparation Pathway and realised ‘I could do this’,” Sharon said.

Sharon completed the TPP entry requirements, and 55 years after her last piece of formal education was offered a place at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

But there was one more delay before she’d finally return to the classroom.

“I actually deferred for six months because my first great granddaughter had just been born in South Australia and I desperately wanted to go down and spend time with her,” Sharon said.

Since then, Sharon has added to more great grandchildren to her collection, along with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and minoring in history and Indigenous studies.

Something that must have seemed impossible to that 12-year-old working on the factory floor all those years ago.

“I loved going to uni. Every minute of it… I already miss it.”

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