“What do you want to be when you grow up?” a mother asks her son.
“I want to be just like you,” he replies, the large black frames of his glasses engulfing his face.
It was that little voice that stayed in Verushka Benkendorff’s mind throughout the nights of study ahead, the juggle of family and shift work as she completed her Juris Doctor from the University for Southern Queensland (USQ).
Her nine-year-old son, Samuel, is going blind. He was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa with severe degenerative myopia five years ago.
“One of my motivations was to show him that no matter what life throws at you, how old you are, or if you have a disability – follow your passion,” she said.
“He inspires me every day with his positivity and enthusiasm in life.
“He tells wonderful stories, researches every animal under the sun and wants to be a barrister.”
This Friday (April 12), when Ms Benkendorff crosses the stage to receive the law degree at the USQ Graduation ceremony her biggest supporters will be in the crowd, including her husband Adrian, sons Nash and Samuel and her parents.
The University has always played a role in Ms Benkendorff’s life as she completed her nursing degree in the 90s.
“For more than 20 years I worked as a nurse,” she said.
“I worked in ICU for so long with death all around me, and it was starting to eat away at my own mental health.
“My passion is to advocate for people, and I could see the strong need for that in my area of work and in mental health.
“I thought the best way to do that was through law. So I applied for my Juris Doctor through USQ and I got in.”
Ms Benkendorff studied online part time, finished in four years and is now working in the field for a law firm in Warwick.
“My whole life I have been learning. My first degree was through USQ and I have had another wonderful experience 20 years later,” she said.
She will join more than 600 graduands celebrate the end of their academic scholarship this Friday at one of two graduation ceremonies for graduands in the field of Business & Commerce; Information Technology; Law & Justice in the morning and Creative Arts & Media; Education; Humanities & Communication in the afternoon.
To learn more about USQ graduations, visit www.usq.edu.au/graduations.
Verushka Benkendorff with her sons Samuel and Nash