Applause as guide dog leads visually impaired student on stage for graduation

2019-04-06 07:28
Michelle Nel, who obtained her master's degree in music, cum laude, was accompanied onto stage by her retired guide dog, Donna. (Supplied: Stefan Els)

Michelle Nel, who obtained her master's degree in music, cum laude, was accompanied onto stage by her retired guide dog, Donna. (Supplied: Stefan Els)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

The Stellenbosch University graduation hall burst into rousing applause when visually impaired student, Michelle Nel, obtained her master's in music cum laude on Thursday evening.

Much attention was also given to her guide dog, 11-year-old Donna. The dog had a yellow band around its neck as it accompanied Nel onto the stage.

Donna has been Nel's able companion since 2010 and retired in November last year already. But the canine made one final appearance alongside her on stage for the occasion.

"It's been special," Nel, aged 32, says of her journey with Donna. "Knowing that there is another soul with you is comforting and it has been a meaningful journey."

PhD journey

Born in Cape Town, Nel says she will forever be grateful to her parents, who, after discovering she was visually impaired, decided to give up their life in the Mother City and move to Worcester. 

Having started piano training from the age of 8, Nel says studying music was a "logical choice". And so, in 2005, she enrolled at Stellenbosch University to study a BA in music. To date, she's completed her honours in piano repertoire and more recently, her master's in music education. She is currently studying towards a PhD in psychology.

Read more: University throws graduation ceremony for campus cat

She remembers how challenging it was to complete her master’s: "In 2011, I was diagnosed with a mood disorder and could not do my master’s degree full time as I was in and out of hospital but even during that period, Donna was there," Nel remembers. 

"She's very protective and thinking about her [now that she's retired], I cry sometimes because I miss her."

New guide dog

Nel now has Luna, a black Labrador, as a guide. Luna started in November last year. "Things have been going well with Luna," she says. 

Luna will now guide Nel as she goes through her PhD research, looking at career counselling for visually impaired school leavers.

"I'm passionate about the topic of visually impaired people. I have received a lot of support throughout my life, but there are many who fall through the cracks and I'm hoping with my research that I'm able to provide a sustainable framework for visually impaired people after they leave school because currently, they are either unemployed or underemployed."

Read more on:    stellenbosch university  |  cape town  |  education  |  good news  |  animals

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.