Wollongong’s Jessica Sparks once doubted she’d live to see the end of high school, but on Tuesday she graduated from university with a double degree and a prestigious award.
At 16, Ms Sparks was diagnosed with end stage lung disease from cystic fibrosis but got a second chance of life after a double lung transplant in July 2009.
‘’I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again, I just need to fight long enough to survive another transplant.''
Since then the inspirational young woman, now 24, has become an organ and tissue donation advocate – even starting her own organisation SparkingLife to raise awareness of the cause.
She’s won a swag of awards and accolades – including being named the 2013 Wollongong Young Citizen of the Year – and this week gained the University of Wollongong’s top student prize.
Ms Sparks was named the 2016 Chancellor Robert Hope Medallist, awarded each year to a student who has demonstrated exceptional academic performance and outstanding leadership.
‘’I've always enjoyed and valued my education, so to come from a place so sick that my mum, sister and I didn’t think I’d even make it to the end of high school, to have survived and persevered to be here today graduating, I’m very proud of that and humbled to receive this award on top of that,’’ she said.
‘’Every student knows studying can have its challenges, I know life certainly has its challenges … but both really are a privilege. And besides, challenges make life interesting, they give you strength. Churchill said ‘success isn't final, failure isn't fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts’ - I've worked very hard to do that.’’
Even as she accepts the medal – and a double degree in law and journalism – Ms Sparks is facing another major battle. Ailing health has forced her back onto the transplant waiting list.
‘’I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again, I just need to fight long enough to survive another transplant,’’ she said.
Her quest for learning continues and she’s currently doing a Masters degree.
‘’You can’t wait for ‘comfort’, you can’t wait for ‘easy or ‘certainty’ to be handed to you, they may never come,’’ she said.
‘’I’ve learned to get out there and forge my own path and adventures, never take opportunities for granted, keep striving for and achieving goals, and live life in the deepest, richest, most productive way I can, no matter the battles being faced.’’
Ms Sparks was humbled by the award.
‘’It is an honour to receive this award named after someone who has made such an impact on this university, the legal profession and whose values I greatly admire and I hope I’m emulating in the work I pursue, in whatever time I have.’’
Ms Sparks said she’d benefited from a fantastic team at the university, including inspiring teachers and firm friends.
‘’We’re very fortunate that right here in Wollongong, we have one of the best modern tertiary institutions internationally,’’ she said.
‘’Staff and students are constantly researching and engaging in absolutely incredible, often world-leading projects.
‘’I’ve seen first-hand that here, you can enjoy the freedom and opportunity to learn, discover and create, and innovate on a platform that has global competitiveness and global reach. It’s a place primed for pursuing potential.’’
A UK academic has received an honorary PhD from the University of Wollongong for her mentorship of its staff.
Professor Ann Wintle received an honorary Doctor of Science at a ceremony on Tuesday, where she was the guest speaker.
Currently with Aberystwyth University in Wales, Professor Wintle has inspired budding scientists and researchers in Wollongong and across the globe.
Described as the ‘world’s leading light in the field of luminescence dating’, Professor Wintle has pioneered ways to determine the age of the earliest fossils.
She credits an inspirational physics teacher in secondary school in encouraging her to study the world around her.
‘’I think that in schools more should be made of ‘what physics has done for us’, with emphasis on physics being the basis of many interdisciplinary studies, whether in astronomy, atmospheric science, medicine, geology and archaeology,’’ she said.
As well as mentoring the next generation of scientists, Professor Wintle has also enjoyed her time on digs around the world.
‘’I was always thrilled to visit archaeological sites and collect sediment samples from round artefacts, such as carved stone or beads that had once formed a necklace, that had not seen the light of day for tens of thousands of years,’’ she said.
Professor Wintle has had a 20-year association with the University of Wollongong, which is ongoing. She said she was ‘’delighted’’ with yesterday’s honorary award.
Californian student Deidre Ryan studied the evolution of Australia’s longest river for her Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from the University of Wollongong.
Ms Ryan was awarded her doctorate from the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health at Tuesday morning’s graduation ceremony.
‘’I studied the landscape evolution of the River Murray over the past two million years,’’ she said.
‘’It’s Australia’s largest river that meets the ocean – it drains 14 per cent of the continent and has a very dynamic environment.
‘’So it’s important to understand how that landscape has evolved through sea level and climate changes so we can better prepare for future change.’’
Ms Ryan also studied for a Masters degree at UOW.
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