Otago Polytechnic graduate Rebecca Rees (23) and her
1-year-old son Oliver Harper. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Rebecca Rees knew she was taking on far more than the
usual challenges of tertiary study when she began her journey
towards an Otago Polytechnic degree more than five years ago.
Ms Rees (23), of Dunedin, was aged 18 and profoundly deaf
when she began studying for a bachelor of occupational
therapy degree at the polytechnic in February 2008.
She needed the support of a reader and writer, provided
through the polytechnic, during classes.
But about six months later, a cochlear implant had a
''dramatic'' effect on her life.
She had been going deaf since the age of 6, and, when her
implant was first switched on, the result was ''very
overwhelming - everything makes a noise''.
''It took me a long time to train my brain to block out
Initially, she ''struggled to focus on the lecturers' voices
over the hundreds of other sounds within the class - from the
clock ticking, birds, cars ... wind outside, someone's
jacket, books, paper, rustling''.
That first year of full-time study proved ''very busy'' and
demanding, and she failed some papers. A switch to part-time
study the next year proved ''much more manageable''.
She adjusted fairly quickly to being able to hear again,
enjoying 80%-90% of normal hearing, and eventually no longer
needing reader and writer support.
Last year, during the final year of her studies, she had only
two more papers and a fieldwork placement to complete, all
initially scheduled for the latter part of the year.
She and her partner, Keiran Harper, had decided to have a
child early in the year, and their son, Oliver Harper, duly
arrived on January 26.
But changed educational arrangements meant she returned to
her studies when Oliver was only 2 months old, instead of
enjoying an expected longer break.
The polytechnic School of Occupational Therapy proved
''wonderful and very flexible'' and she also enjoyed
''amazing support'' at home, not only from her partner, but
also from many relatives, who helped with Oliver's care.
Late last week, Miss Rees graduated from the polytechnic,
feeling ''absolute joy'' over completing her degree. The
School of Occupational Therapy had been ''very supportive'',
helping her overcome her challenges while ''encouraging me to
follow my dreams''.
''I believe that having a hearing disability and having grown
up deaf has made me more empathetic towards those with
disabilities,'' she said. School head Jackie Herkt said Ms
Rees' degree had been a ''significant achievement''. Born in
Invercargill, Ms Rees shifted to Dunedin at the age of 9,
later attending Kaikorai Valley College and gaining a Queen's
Scout Award through the Roslyn Scout Group.
A further 33 people will graduate with bachelor of
occupational therapy degrees, jointly awarded by the Otago
Polytechnic and the Waikato Institute of Technology, in a
ceremony in Hamilton next week.