Mother of two Jill Guljas crowned a memorable year when she graduated from Griffith University today (Mon).
Jill was joined by daughters Juliana (12) and Kaitlyn (6) at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre when she received the first of two degrees.
The 29-year-old has completed a Bachelor of Psychological Science and will continue her studies at Griffith Law School during the summer and into 2014.
The graduation ceremony came hot on the heels of Jill being named the Attorney General’s Indigenous Law Student of the Year for 2013.
Jill’s journey to this high point in her life is nothing short of inspirational, starting as it did in a Brisbane homeless shelter in 2007.
“I was pregnant with my second child in a homeless shelter for three months, doing a hairdressing apprenticeship,” she says.
“One morning I realised someone else is feeding me and my daughter. I felt I had hit rock bottom. I couldn’t provide for my daughter and had another one on the way.
“I made a decision to save up and get my head in gear.”
Jill’s big decision and new focus took her to Griffith University where she started her degree in psychology in 2010, aged 25.
“Coming to university was massive. Being a mum so young, there’s an inclination to say it’s the only thing. But it’s not. There are options to do something prosperous.
“I started to realise I was capable of being both a mum and a university student. I don’t downplay motherhood but some mothers feel locked into motherhood. A mother needs to have her own goals and dreams.”
Her personal experience inspired her to seize the university moment. When she discovered she could do a double degree, her ambition soared. She started her law degree in 2012 and has excelled, maintaining a high GPA.
“I found it rewarding and I meshed well with the content. I picked it up easily.”
She says she wouldn’t have been mature enough to take in the program content in her teens, acknowledging that this capacity varies from person to person. Jill was a single mother at 16, completing her final year at Woodridge High School while pregnant.
The challenges faced by single mothers are very much the focus of her studies in law. She wants to get involved in writing, informing and implementing government policy around child protection, young women and mental health.
“My degrees are a pathway towards this goal where hopefully I can make a difference for other young mothers.
“I don’t want to be a politician or a lawyer. I want to write policy that’s implemented.
“Getting young mums out working and learning requires infrastructure. You have to make it do-able for them.”
Jill’s views and ambitions in this area also caught the attention of the judges at the office of the Attorney General were considering the candidates for Indigenous Law Student of the Year for 2013.
“They were impressed with my ideas on how to help young mothers with children to find work and break the interlink cycle,” she says.
Jill, who lives at Jindalee, is already planning the next step of an education journey that is only gaining momentum.