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The 51-year-old will graduate from the Otago Polytechnic with a bachelor of social services and will also be presented with the Otago Daily Times Award for personal achievement in her studies.
"Actually, it’s still quite hard to believe I’m graduating.
"You just start thinking maybe you won’t make it — I mean, you kind of hope you will, but when you first start you think ‘four years, that’s forever away’."
While four years may seem like a long time, Ms Rushton said it had gone quickly because she had been very busy trying to keep debt levels low by continuing to work part-time as a chef, and she had been taking care of her mother, Beverley, who has a terminal illness.
"I gave up work halfway through this year because Mum got a lot sicker and so I was trying to spend as much time with her as possible.
"She has a heart and lung condition as well as type 1 diabetes. She went into full-time care last week because she needs 24-hour nursing now."
Ms Rushton said she used to be a full-time chef in Dunedin, but decided to pursue a completely different career by studying at the polytechnic because the hours and pay in the hospitality industry were poor.
"I didn’t want to be doing that when I am 65. I decided it was time to make a change to a career that I could do well into my 70s."
She studied for a certificate in human services and then went on to study for a bachelor of social services, specialising in career counselling.
She now plans to return to the polytech for a further year to do a postgraduate diploma in disabilities.
At the end of next year, she hopes to be working as a careers counsellor for people with disabilities or mental health issues.
"It’s a really important field.
"A lot of people tend to forget that people with disabilities need jobs because otherwise they’re going to end up in a lot of poverty. No-one on a benefit is ever going to be rich.
"They need hope and they need connection with the community."
Ms Rushton’s mother said she was very proud of her daughter, considering all the stress she had been under.
"She’s the first in the family to get a tertiary degree."
Ms Rushton said she was now looking forward to having some "me" time and making the most of whatever time was left with her mother.