BIG STEP: Annette Apelu is joined by her family at the USQ Springfield Graduation Ceremony.
BIG STEP: Annette Apelu is joined by her family at the USQ Springfield Graduation Ceremony. Don Hildred

Mother of eight first in her family to go to uni

ANNETTE Apelu is an inspiration to her eight children after being honoured at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Springfield graduation ceremony earlier this month.

Mrs Apelu, who graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws, said receiving her testamur in front of her family was a special moment.

"I am very proud to have completed my studies and it was important for me to have my family there, including my sister (Louisa Wichman) who flew across from New Zealand," she said.

"I wanted to prove to my children that at any age you can study and be successful. All you have to do is believe in yourself."

Born in New Zealand to Samoan parents, Mrs Apelu moved to Australia in 1995 and was the first in her family to pursue a higher education.

She was supported by her husband Jay, who worked full-time, and also her eight children, aged 14-28.

"I had to maintain my duties as a mother at home and also find the time to fit in my studies," Mrs Apelu said.

"It was a challenge, but the one thing that got me through was the constant support of my husband and children."

Mrs Apelu's journey to graduation wasn't without obstacles.

She had to cope with Keratoconus - an eye disease which causes the thinning of the cornea that leads to visual distortion.

"Although I wore glasses, I could only see with one eye and even that was not clear because most times I had to squint to see," she said.

"USQ Student Services was very understanding and made special arrangements to accommodate my disability.

"They showed me how to use the adaptive technology equipment in the library, allowed me to sit my exams in a separate room with adequate lighting, and printed my exam papers in pink paper and in a larger size font so I could read it."

Mrs Apelu is now participating in the Positive Action towards Career Engagement (PACE) mentoring program for people with disabilities through the Australian Network on Disability and studying part-time at The College of Law Queensland.

She has her heart set on a career in migration law or environmental law.

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