11 April 2018: When Katie Toleafoa was working as an international flight attendant while studying to be a lawyer, she used every spare moment to keep on top of the workload.
“During long-haul flights, I would study onboard during my breaks and during stopovers overseas,” Ms Toleafoa said. “I would stay engaged with my studies by emailing any academic questions to my lecturers. Our rapport was good like that.”
Ms Toleafoa’s commitment has paid off, graduating from the University of Canberra with a Bachelor of Laws with first class honours on 10 April.
It marks the end of an 11-year journey during which perseverance has been her greatest hallmark.
For many reasons, Ms Toleafoa was not able to reach her full potential during her final years of school and failed her Year 12 certificate.
Undeterred by the setback, she enrolled in the University of Canberra College – a pathway program that makes access to higher education possible to those not eligible for direct entry.
“The University of Canberra made it possible for me to move beyond my poor Year 12 results and set me on the path to a university degree,” she said.
Ms Toleafoa began studying a Bachelor of Psychology before changing to law, all while juggling part-time and full-time work.
In 2015, Ms Toleafoa and her husband welcomed their first child into the world just 10 days after she sat her final psychology exam. “I ignored the Braxton Hicks contractions and focused on the task at hand,” she said.
“I always knew I wanted to obtain a university degree, but due to my Year 12 result, I thought it wasn’t possible. The University of Canberra is flexible and accommodating. It was the perfect fit.
“I connected with other new parents on campus and found the University to be very supportive and inclusive.”
Ms Toleafoa has been active in supporting her fellow law students at the University. She volunteered with the ISAACS student law society and was a founding committee member of the student-led Women Lawyers Mentor Program at the University.
She is also a sessional academic tutor in the Faculty of Business, Government and Law and is undertaking a postgraduate teaching qualification.
She also recently completed her Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice and has her sights set on her next goal.
“I thoroughly enjoy research and am currently working toward my goal of commencing a PhD in law next year,” she said.
“The University has been such a big part of my life for more than a decade now. It’s been a long journey, but I have such a wonderful support network here and that’s why I’ve kept coming back. It’s special to me.”