Sometimes, life’s unplanned difficulties can become a catalyst for positive change.
When Bethany Holt was suddenly left the sole responsibility of a two-year old and the pressure to keep her small bookkeeping business afloat, she needed to make some serious decisions about her future.
While she could’ve bunkered down and lived off Centrelink, Bethany instead enrolled in a TAFE course and began an academic journey that, six years later, ended with a key address to the 2017 Bachelor of Commerce graduates.
‘Out of 400 students, I was chosen as the student representative of my graduating class and I had the privilege of sharing my story. It was such an amazing moment,’ she recalls.
‘Deakin gave me much more than a degree – it returned my self-worth and dignity. I was so determined that my situation would change and I wouldn't be struggling to provide for myself and my daughter.’
Bethany came to Deakin via a pathway from Geelong’s Gordon TAFE where she had completed an Advanced Diploma in Accounting.
With recognised prior learning, it meant she was able to receive credit for almost half her commerce degree units.
‘This gave me such an advantage. There were many other choices beyond accounting and I settled on finance and financial planning as my majors. I chose this because I wanted to learn financial skills and take control of my financial wellbeing. Women tend to be are underrepresented in the finance profession and I wanted to change this,’ she explains.
With the responsibility of a young child, Bethany was also grateful for the option of studying some of her units via Deakin’s Cloud Campus.
‘My lecturers were available any time, I could email them or post a question in the discussion forum and they would get back to me straight away. I could even video chat with them if I needed to. All the seminars and classes were recorded so I didn't miss a thing and I could watch them at a time that suited me,’ she says.
Like many students who juggle studies around work and family responsibilities, Bethany agrees it can sometimes be a tough journey.
‘There were days when I just couldn't see how I was going to deal with all the issues on my plate. But with the support of my family, friends and Deakin I made it. I relied heavily on my lecturers and the resources provided to me by Deakin. They allowed me to bring my daughter to class when I needed to and were supportive when I was unable to attend class … I couldn't have finished without this help.’
Last year, Bethany was awarded the Nielson Foundation Scholarship for Financial Planning which meant that instead of working an extra part-time job – on top of her bookkeeping business – she could concentrate more on her studies.
‘It was quite an honour to be awarded out of the entire third year level. Having the extra financial support meant I could utilise after-school care when I had uni deadlines or grab takeaway when I couldn't face cooking. All those little things that make life so much easier,’ she says.
As well as being one of 12 students chosen to take part in the EPAS accreditation process at Deakin, Bethany graduated with a high distinction average in the top 15% of her class and received the Outstanding Achievement Award in the Bachelor of Commerce.
‘There were some days, however, that literally getting my daughter to school with both her bag and her lunch were also big achievements!’ she adds.
With her degree now completed, Bethany says she’s acquired a ‘wonderful skillset’ that includes marketing, accounting, management and academic writing skills.
She now plans to build her bookkeeping business around providing financial business advice to women so they may create their own independent income streams.
‘I want to help women find ways to manage and invest their money, earn a decent living around their children, provide for their retirement and break the poverty cycle. I’d like to help restore their financial dignity. To this end, I aim to partner with businesses and not-for-profit organisations delivering training programs to the women who most need them. I'm excited about building a new business and most importantly about making a difference to women in financial distress.’
Grateful for the opportunity of re-building a new future with her daughter, Bethany says that completing a university degree has been one of her most rewarding – and challenging – achievements.
‘It has really changed my life in so many ways. I tell my daughter that your circumstances in life don't dictate your outcome and you have the power to change this. Deakin has made that a reality for me. In so many ways, university life pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it’s there that the magic happens – and we grow stronger and wiser because of it.’