Cystic fibrosis steers Mitchell to commerce

In Wollongong's Tolhurst household, the oldest of the four sons, Mitchell, comes home in a suit and tie, to be ribbed by his three brothers and father, who all work in the mines and are more accustomed to a wardrobe of high-vis vests and dust.

Mitchell might have followed his family into the mines, but the insurance companies wouldn't allow it.

He has cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that affects his respiratory and digestive system and requires hours of management every day.

"I would have loved to work in the mines. It's a yobbo kind of industry and I'm a bit of a yobbo," Mitchell said.

"But I had to think about my career as something that was going to be long term."

Yesterday, Mitchell became the first in his immediate family to graduate from university, accepting a Bachelor of Commerce, with distinction, at the University of Wollongong.

The qualification was hard-won for the 23-year-old, who juggled his studies with the demanding schedule of exercise and medical appointments that is the norm for someone with his condition.

At one point, Mitchell was laid up in hospital for weeks, and had to complete an entire semester's worth of course work in six weeks.

He welcomed the support provided at UOW, where he was extended flexible terms including postponed exams and a waiving of the usual requirement to attend 80 per cent of tutorials.

"Completing this degree has been the biggest team effort," said Mitchell, who majored in finance.

"I'm extremely lucky I have such a strong network of people around me. My mum and dad have always bent over backwards to support me. My brothers, sister and girlfriend have made sure that I'm either out in the surf or at the gym, which is extremely important in the management of my condition."

Mitchell secured a rare internship with ANZ bank mid-way through the year and is an ambassador for Employers Making a Difference, which aims to create positive workplaces for people with a disability by changing the perceptions of employers.

See Wednesday's Mercury for the UOW's Tuesday graduations

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