2019 Valedictorian Speech - Masters in Special Educational Needs - Deborah Hewes

Congratulations to everyone graduating today, your hard work is inspirational! It is an honour and privilege to represent my graduate class today.


masenvalMy journey to this stage started 22 years ago… actually, it was 22 years, 2 months and 2 weeks exactly that I walked away from my career as a Technology Manager to be standing before you today.

I am the mother of three children, all have dyslexia. 22 years ago, I learned that my daughter Katrina was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. The diagnosis was a relief because she was struggling. So, my husband and I decided that things needed to change in our busy lives. I walked away from my career into a far more challenging and difficult role, being a mother supporting a child with learning differences.

It is a decision I will never regret! Because it has led me to this place, to this stage, and has provided me with the most amazing journey. I have learned so much about myself and my abilities, not only academically but also how I can be an advocate for children with learning differences… and not just for my own children.

On Katrina’s diagnosis and the subsequent diagnosis of my eldest daughter Rachael with dyslexia and son Sean with Dyslexia and ADHD. I understood my own situation. I also have dyslexia. … and I look at my husband and think….“Mmm three children with dyslexia?? Boy, you must be responsible for some of this!” And it is true, my husband does have some mild traits of dyslexia. (I made him take the Adult Dyslexia Checklist!) Together, we have cooked up a storm! So, I started learning all that I could. I took courses, read and learned about dyslexia, ADHD and other learning differences.

I also volunteered at school - and found myself going to school with the kids and coming home with them. I volunteered to do remedial reading, and reading with every kid in the class, maths, science, writing and computer classes, I helped in the library, in drama and art classes – you name it I did it.

Over time I became a learning support assistant and was mentored by some wonderful teachers who taught me about supporting children in the classroom, I even shadowed students with Asperger’s syndrome. But most importantly I was actively supporting my children through their education, and being a fierce advocate for their educational progress.

I was also an advocate for others and created a Support Group for Parents who had children with special needs. I became the person that people would seek out for help – but I had no qualifications!

You see, although I had just enough points to go to university when I left school, after 6 months at university I sadly dropped out, despite my Father’s protests!

No qualifications meant that I was unable to get a paid job as a teacher, so in my mid 40’s I studied for my honours degree in Psychology and graduated from the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

I have attended every DAS conference, and now, of course, I organise them! In 2010, at a DAS Conference, Robin Moseley, the DAS CEO at the time, approached me to ask what I was going to do after my graduation. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about what I would do… I was only focussed and very stressed about passing my exams.

He asked me to send him my resume… Well, now you know why I work at DAS. I am privileged to work in an amazing organisation full of passionate, dedicated and creative people who make a difference in the lives of children who struggle to learn.

I am also grateful for the vision and commitment towards staff professional development at DAS and the fact that I have been able to undertake this Masters Degree which I have thoroughly enjoyed studying for. If it wasn’t for DAS I don’t think I would have seen myself studying at this level.

And undertaking this Masters degree has empowered me to greater heights and although I won’t miss those late nights writing my assignments, I will miss the experience of studying, researching and interacting with my fellow classmates of which many were parents just like me!

I wouldn’t be here today without my family. They have given me the reason to excel in what I have done. First, I must thank my husband, Donald, for his love and support …and
patience – especially when you understand the chaos I created in our home office! He was the one that allowed me to start this journey 22 years ago, it was a leap of faith and sacrifice for us both, but what an amazing journey we have had because of it.

Next, I thank my wonderful children, Rachael, Katrina and Sean, who are the inspiration and reason that I have pursued this master’s degree. I don’t think it is a coincidence that all three of my children also work in education.

Rachael has a double degree in Law and English and works for a school in Arusha, Tanzania where they educate the poorest of the poor to ensure that education can make a difference in this developing nation. Rachael leads their VIP Sponsorship team to raise much-needed funds for the school.

Katrina has a double degree in Primary School Teaching and Performing Arts and she also has a master’s degree in special education. She is a Primary school Teacher currently teaching a composite class of Primary 2 and 3. She has a wide range of abilities in her classroom as well as students with learning differences, who best to teach students with learning differences than a teacher who understands learning differences?

And we had a very proud event last week when Katrina received a NSW Education Director’s award for significant achievement in the role of an early career teacher. Also, her Drama group, which she teaches in her own time, recently performed in a regional competition and was the only primary school group to be selected for the competition where the rest were secondary students.

Sean is a Design Technology Teacher working in one of the most prestigious private schools in Sydney. Actually, we knew he would be a DT Teacher when he was in grade 8. The most challenged of all my children, it was important that we mapped out his career path very carefully, and with the support of some amazing teachers, who despite his grades, had confidence in his abilities and ensured that he was successful in his learning journey. Sean is currently studying for his master’s degree in engineering.

All three of my children have taught me so much about the positive aspects of being successful adults with dyslexia. Because, it is so true, as adults they have learned to ‘fly’ and to fly very high, I am so proud of their achievements and successes in life, especially when compared to the very challenging educational experiences they had as children.

And FINALLY, I say, that it is a privilege to be among a group of people who have made a difference in the lives of thousands. You inspire and encourage PARENTS LIKE ME YOU GIVE PARENTS HOPE THAT THEIR CHILDREN CAN SUCCEED. Because I have looked up to you all, you have ALSO been MY inspiration And in my role at DAS, I will continue to share the excellent work you do and the difference you make in this world.

To each and every one of you thank you, thank you very much.