Jess and Laura Brown flew to Armidale from their home in Santa Cruz, California, to attend the graduation from the University of New England today of Zimbabwean student Thelma Chibweza.
Their relationship with Thelma began 13 years ago when Mr Brown went to Zimbabwe as a volunteer with the Citizens’ Network for Foreign Affairs. He stayed with Thelma’s family in their village while working with a local cooperative farm on the development of a business plan, and the relationship continued with his return to Zimbabwe in two subsequent years.
Deciding to help with the education of the family’s children, Mr and Mrs Brown sponsored Thelma through boarding school and then – when she had an opportunity to enrol at UNE – her three-year Bachelor of Social Science degree program. They are also currently sponsoring Thelma’s two young brothers at boarding school.
Thelma said her three years at UNE had been “fantastic”. “It’s been my home away from home,” she said. “I’ve had so much support at UNE, where you get to know lecturers on a one-to-one basis. You don’t get that at many universities.”
And she’s made Armidale her home, settling here with her partner James White. Her aim now is to apply her qualification in social science to “giving back to the Armidale community” whatever she can in return for all that the community has given her.
Thelma said the act of kindness by Mr and Mrs Brown had “blessed” her. “It’s turned my life around,” she explained, adding that she would like to help people in disadvantaged communities in Australia come to “believe in themselves” in a similar way. “No matter who you are, if you believe in yourself you can achieve great things,” she said.
Today’s ceremony, the last of UNE’s four Autumn Graduation ceremonies for 2011, was for people graduating in Arts and Humanities, including the Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences. During the ceremony, the Chancellor, Dr Richard Torbay, presented Mrs Jennifer Crew OAM with the award of Distinguished Fellow of the University after the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jim Barber, had outlined her 30 years of service to UNE.
“Jennifer Crew joined the University History department as a tutor in 1960, and retired as a Senior Lecturer in 1991,” Professor Barber said. “She was elected Dean of the Faculty of Arts from 1987 to 1990, and Assistant Dean from 1990 to 1991. She has also served Mary White College with distinction.”
“Jennifer was elected to the University Council by Convocation from 1994 to 2006, and served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor for six months during that time,” he said. “From 2001 she has been the Secretary of the UNE Alumni Association (Armidale).”
Professor Barber went on to speak about Mrs Crew’s outstanding service to the wider community, including her award of an Order of Australia Medal in 1998 “for service to the Armidale Community, particularly through the North and North-West Legal Service, Guyra Local Aboriginal Land Council, and other community organisations.”
Dr Torbay presented testamurs to more than 243 people at today’s ceremony. Altogether, more than 2,200 people have graduated from UNE this autumn (including those who were unable to attend the ceremonies).
THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed above shows Thelma Chibweza (centre) with Laura and Jess Brown.