Valedictorian Speech of Master of Arts in Special Educational Needs

Hear what our valedictorian has to say about the MA SEN


Valedictorian Speech of Master of Arts in Special Educational Needs 2019

Mrs Deborah Hewes (MA SEN)

DAS Academy Graduation 2019




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


My 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.


Valedictorian Speech of Master of Arts in Special Educational Needs 2018

Ms Siti Mariam (MA SEN)

DAS Academy Graduation 2018




Good morning faculty members of the University of South Wales and the DAS Academy, honoured guests, colleagues and fellow graduands. Today is a day to be thankful and to be inspired. As nervous as I am standing here today, I am also honoured and humbled to deliver the speech on behalf of the graduates of the Master of Arts in Special Educational Needs, University of South Wales.


I would firstly like to congratulate all my fellow graduates from the University of South Wales and the London Metropolitan University, as well as all the other graduates for the Diploma in Dyslexia Studies, the Specialist Diploma in Educational Therapy and the Specialist Diploma in Specific Learning Differences. Our reasons for being here are many, but our common goal is to graduate. There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs. Your hard work and dedication has led you to the top. Congratulations on forwarding a step towards the next phase, be it in your life or career.


As someone once said, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself, ‘I’m Possible!”. We all have the possibilities that life has to offer because we have the potential to achieve anything when we put our mind to it. We are the mechanism of our success. However, at times, we are unsure whether we should continue up the stairs to success. This was clearly the case for me when I decided to take up the MA SEN 4 years ago. I felt it was a necessary step, to develop myself professionally, to increase my pedagogical knowledge and to broaden my perspectives on special educational needs. Being a mother of three young children; I had a lot of doubts, a lot of uncertainty. Nevertheless, I, and I am sure my fellow graduands did the same too, ploughed through and climbed those stairs slowly.


I remember the day I submitted my dissertation. The moment I clicked the ‘Submit’ button, I felt like a massive load had been taken off my shoulder. Needless to say, and I’m sure my fellow graduands will resonate with this, the entire journey demanded a lot of sacrifices. From late nights, off days, and even family time. Sacrifices aside, I also had to constantly motivate myself and persevere to work towards the various deadlines I set for myself.


Looking back, it was a sacrifice made worthwhile, considering the impact it has created in my professional development. As a relative new associate lecturer, the knowledge that I have gained has helped me to deliver courses and workshops better, by including new strategies and content, and supporting students with relevant research as well as ensuring that they are in line with current educational trends. As a practising educational therapist, the knowledge I have picked up validates my current classroom practices and helps me appreciate the sound theoretical framework that guides my practice. It also extends my thinking and encourages me to expand my repertoire of teaching approaches with the students.


I also constantly ensure that these approaches stay relevant to the students and remain applicable to the mainstream classroom. No doubt, despite a turbulent learning curve, I, together with my fellow graduates, have reached our destination, and we carry with us a bag of insights of personal growth and a lesson on grit and resilience that we have obtained along the way, and which we want to pass on to others. Each of us has learnt and grown so much, and we hope to inspire others to do the same.


Before I end, I would like to convey my gratitude to a group of people. To Dr. Shirley Egley, my supervisor who, despite our time difference, always found time to guide me and address my never-ending questions. To my colleagues in the DAS and DAC, for always hearing me out and cheering me on all the way to the finishing line. To my family members, for supporting me in their own ways, from the moral support to helping with the kids, especially during the final lap. Thank you.


Once again to all graduates – Congratulations! We fought battles, overcame obstacles. We had a goal, gave it our soul. We worked hard, went the extra yard. We gave it our all, so stand tall. Take pride in how far you have come and have faith in how far you can go. Keep on learning. Keep on increasing your knowledge and improving your practices in the special educational needs field. Learning is a lifelong process of keeping up with changes. Never stop learning, because change is constant. Embrace new challenges, seize opportunities and surprise yourself. Thank you.


Thank you.