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High-achieving economics student Shaun Markham, who will graduate from the University of Otago today, is "very proud and very relieved" to have completed a master of economics degree, with distinction.
"Completing the thesis was very rewarding as it was a year’s worth of intense work.
"The class was also great, as it was a small group of like-minded students and we enjoyed some good banter," he said.
His outstanding ability in economics has long been known. He was dux of King’s High School in 2012, when he also gained an Otago Daily Times Class Act award.
Mr Markham (22) also completed an Otago BSc in economics in 2016, and is completing a diploma for graduates in finance.
He was born with athetoid cerebral palsy, which affects his speech and fine motor skills.
But while the condition was "part of me, it doesn’t define me", he said.
King’s teacher Garry Kyle taught him economics throughout his five years at school.
Mr Markham showed his "potential and determination in his first week", by "ditching his wheelchair and practising for weeks" until he could "walk independently up the stairs" between floors in the classroom blocks.
"Each year, his skills and performance increased [in economics].
"We have kept in touch throughout his university career and it has been a great delight to watch his progress," Mr Kyle said.
Mr Markham also loves sport and athletics and competes regularly in shot put and discus.
A keen cricket fan, he also came on as a bowler during a university staff-student cricket game last year.Mr Markham lives at home with his parents Carroll and Richard Markham and sister Brianna, in Sawyers Bay, Dunedin, and Mrs Markham is "extremely excited" about the graduation.
"In our household, there’s no such thing as ‘can’t’," she added.
The university has catered well for his needs.
He has a writer for any exams, which are conducted in a separate room.
He dictates all his essays and answers to the writer. But he had typed up his own dissertation, of about 20,000 words.
Mr Markham said his undergraduate degree had been a "stepping stone" towards the master’s degree.
This second degree, in turn, was "another step towards where I want to go". He ultimately aimed to work for Treasury and to "go as far as possible" in his career as an economist. He was "very grateful" to his family, who had "instilled confidence in me and have pushed me to be independent". The university’s information and disability office staff and his writer were "great", allowing him to "go about my business, and are my good friends".
He takes both his challenges and his success in his stride and does not think of himself as an inspirational example.
Everyone had a talent, his just happened to be "academia and economics".
If asked for advice by students with disabilities, he would say "accept help where you need it, but don’t accept pity and especially don’t engage in self-pity".
He had "thoroughly enjoyed" his time at Otago, which had allowed him to be "independent in my studies", and he had met "many great people".
His dissertation supervisor, Otago economist Prof Dorian Owen, said Mr Markham’s work, on "capital accumulation and growth" was a high-quality multi-country study.
He was an excellent and determined student, and also a "really nice guy", with a good sense of humour, who "really does try things", including that bowling stint, Prof Owen said.
Mr Markham said that athletics was "a good way to keep fit and get away from academia".