Canberra woman who never finished Year 12, graduates from university 21 years later.

Clemente Graduation


Canberra woman who never finished Year 12, graduates from university 21 years later.

Twenty-one years ago, Canberra woman Nicole made a decision that, she thought, would ultimately exclude her from ever going to university. But through resilience and determination, she can now call herself a university graduate.

On 13 April 2023, Nicole finally walked across the stage and received her university certificate, 21 years after she finished Year 11.

“I was raised in Sydney and completed Year 11 but didn't feel confident studying further, so I decided to focus on work instead. I moved to Canberra in 2004,” Nicole said.

Over the years, Nicole battled multiple health issues that impacted her education and work life.

“In 2018, I had a hysterectomy to manage adenomyosis and a bladder attached to my uterus. However, my osteoarthritis had spread to my lower and upper spine and knees, leading me to shut down my business and focus on rehabilitation and family,” she said.

During these challenging times, Nicole wanted to build her confidence to study and find a new career path.

“I found out about the Clemente program through a Facebook ad and was attracted to the program because the fees were covered, I could study at my own pace, and I needed to up-skill as I could no longer physically work caring for children.”

Clemente Australia is a fully supported university-level course in the humanities and in Canberra is offered in partnership with the St Vincent De Paul Society and Australian Catholic University (ACU). The course is available at no cost for people who would otherwise be excluded from tertiary education opportunities.

“This program helped me build my confidence, connect with my community, and kept me sane during a very hard time in my life. With the help of amazing volunteer mentors, who challenged me and listened to me when I needed to talk, and finally I completed my Liberal Arts certificate. Additionally, I developed the confidence to keep studying and participated in an Auslan workshop at ACU,” said Nicole.

Marie Fisher, from ACU’s Centre for Education and Innovation who volunteers as a Clemente lecturer said, “The Clemente Program was both rewarding and truly humbling.”

“I have been reminded of why I became a teacher – to help our most vulnerable members of society achieve a good education, engagement experience and feel they are part of a caring community,” she said.

Clemente Coordinator Amanda Ross, who is from the St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn, says for people on the margins of society, Clemente can be a lifeline.

“The achievement of studying at a university level for someone living on the edge of society can be truly transformative.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve finished high school, or had your studies impacted by COVID – Clemente is open to all adults regardless of education level, who are looking for a pathway to further education,” she said.

Enrolments for Clemente Semester 2 will be opening soon, so to change someone’s life for the better, refer a potential student by contacting Vinnies.

Email clemente.cg@vinnies.org.au or visit the official Vinnies Clemente website.

Graduation photos of Nicole:

Media contacts:

St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn:
Nikita Nair 0410 359 420 or nikita.nair@vinnies.org.au

Australian Catholic University
Emilie Ng 0475 963 606 or emilie.ng@acu.edu.au