On 25 July 2019, I walked across the Queensland Performing Arts Centre stage, to receive my degree. As I took those steps, I thought of all my ancestors who fought for me to achieve what I had in that exact moment. As I shook Chancellor Tim Fairfax’s hand, he said, “you should be extremely proud of what you have achieved” and I agreed, because I was.
As a proud Juru, Gangalu, Darumbul and Butchulla woman and the first descendant of Nan Gracie Roma-Beckett and Pa Matthew Hegarty to attend and graduate university, this is a huge stepping stone for my family.
My grandparents were ‘Mission Kids’, they grew up in Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement. My Nan grew up as a ‘Dormitory Girl’, where she was part of the Stolen Generation. She did not have the choice to finish primary school, she was forced to work from a young age, for money she would never see. My Pa was a ‘Camp Kid’, he started working at a young age as an apprentice carpenter, for money he would never see. My Dad was born in Cherbourg, the same year as the 1967 Referendum, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People would be recognised as part of the constitution.
My Nan and Pa went on to have five more kids. They moved around for Pa’s work before settling in Woodridge, where Dad and his siblings would attend school. My Nan and Pa recognised the importance of education and made sure their kids, nieces and nephews had access to the opportunity they didn’t, high school.
My Mum and Dad instilled in me the importance of a good education. So much so that they worked hard and made sacrifices to ensure I was able to attend private schools for most of my life.
On my first day of university I was told only 30% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People are expected to graduate university, compared to our Non-Indigenous counterpart who graduate at a rate of 70%. As young Aboriginal people we are more likely to commit suicide than we are to graduate from university. This is the reality that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face.
So yes, I am extremely proud that against these odds, I was able to finish my degree; however, this does not mean much if my brothers and sisters do not feel as though they can follow in my footsteps. As a young and educated Aboriginal person, I feel as though we have responsibilities and obligations to our people. I believe as black graduates we must:
- Encourage and inspire our brothers and sisters to attend university;
- Advocate for more opportunities for First Nation Australians in the workplace; and
- Support our brothers and sisters succeed and achieve greatness in this world that is not designed for us.
My ancestors, grandparents and parents all made huge sacrifices for me to be in the position that I am today. It is because of their strength and resilience that I was able to be the first, but I will definitely not be the last. If anything, it is my small stepping stone that will lead the next generation of Roma-Becketts and Hegarty’s to milestones.