Jason Ushaw prepares for the University of Otago graduation
day he once thought would never happen. Photo by Craig
Axe handle attack survivor Jason Ushaw has done a
University of Otago law degree the hard way, and has succeeded,
thanks to a great deal of support.
And he has had to overcome some extraordinary personal
challenges along the way, but had also gained a job in a
Dunedin law firm.
''It's been the longest, longest road and I never thought I'd
ever get there,'' Mr Ushaw said.
''I just kept one foot in front of the other and didn't look
up, just kept working, just kept working.''
Mr Ushaw (32) will be among about 350 graduands who graduate
He comes from a low income background in Otara, South
About 13 years ago, his parents, Daniel and Julie Nolan,
moved to Southland, and parts of rural Otago, including
Waipori Falls, in search of cheaper housing and better times
but life had since remained fairly tough for them, he said.
''They struggled all the way through.''
''She was a hard worker. I may have got my work ethic from my
Mr Ushaw had been still living in Auckland and had recently
shifted to a flat in Manurewa in early 2001, when a flatmate
attacked him with an axe handle, as he lay sleeping,
fracturing his skull and causing brain damage.
A Manurewa man, then aged 19, was subsequently sentenced to
five and a-half years' imprisonment for the vicious attack on
March 4, 2001, after a perceived slight.
After two weeks in a coma, Mr Ushaw woke up in Middlemore
''I was very, very lucky.''
But it took quite a while for his normal faculties to return:
initially he spoke with a stutter and had to retrain by
reading children's books.
Heading south to be closer to his parents, he spent three
months recovering in Wakari Hospital's Isis Community
Rehabilitation Unit, and then spent six months in supported
living, also in Dunedin, receiving help from nurses.
He vividly remembers waking up one morning and deciding he
wanted to study philosophy.
The initial reaction of his carers was: ''You've had a head
injury, you can't do philosophy''.
But he was determined and, with the start of extensive
''fantastic'' help from the Otago University Disability and
Information Support service, including lecture note-takers,
he passed his first philosophy paper that year, with a B-plus
And after more years of hard part-time study, he eventually
completed a BA in philosophy.
He was later invited to study law, and realised he faced a
tough challenge, including having little money, and the
challenge of highly competitive entry into the later second
year of law.
And he worked hard all that ''extremely intense'' first year
- ''I just wanted it so bad.''
Later, he made it into second year and was proving successful
with his legal studies, although he had to work four hours a
day at the university, changing lighting tubes throughout the
campus from 7.30am, in order to survive financially.
Other law students from more comfortable backgrounds were
eating sushi for lunch - he was eating baked beans.
In the midst of his growing success, the second big blow
His parents had just moved to Mataura in late 2010, when his
mother, aged 48, died suddenly, of a heart attack.
He took about a year off his legal studies and headed south
to Mataura to support his father. In his grief, he initially
considered abandoning his legal studies.
But unfailing strong support from staff at the Otago Law
Faculty brought him back to law, and he completed his studies
''I'm the poorest lawyer that ever was - I still am,'' he
said with a wry smile.
But, despite huge odds, he has completed two university
degrees and was now ''absolutely stoked'' as he looked
forward to a graduation his father would be attending.'I'm
proud for my mum and I'm proud for my dad.''
• This is the first Otago graduation ceremony held in
the town hall after an extensive refurbishment was recently
completed. Graduations have been held at the Regent Theatre
since August 2011.