Inspirational Cape Town ouma walks tall to receive her degree

2015-12-14 14:55
Regina Bessick at her graduation. (Justin Alberts)

Regina Bessick at her graduation. (Justin Alberts)

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Cape Town - Hitchhiking to class, not knowing anything about computers and struggling with a language barrier - while battling cancer - were some of the obstacles a Delft grandmother had to navigate to get to her university degree.

So on Friday Regina Bessick, aged 50, walked tall to receive her theology degree from Stellenbosch University, seven years after walking onto campus as a first-year student.

“Everything I went through to get here was worth it,” she said, hours after her graduation ceremony.

And although she would have loved to have a celebratory meal at the Schoongezicht buffet restaurant with her family, with money being so tight, she could at least celebrate with a Kentucky meal with money her sisters managed to scrape together.

“But that’s okay. What we eat isn’t important. What counts is that they are with me and that my next step is a job to finally take care of them.”

On completing her studies, she said: “It shows that the Lord is good. Age and circumstances don’t determine what you can achieve at this stage of your life,” she beamed.

She was one of hundreds of students who graduated on Friday, standing proud in a mint green dress a friend bought her for the occasion.

She spoke in wonder about all the people who helped her navigate the hurdles, with two of her kids putting their own education on hold to help her realise her own first.

Bessick said she always dreamed of attending university and having a career instead of working menial jobs to put food on the table.

'I wanted something better'

“I did everything, from packing supermarket shelves to working as a security guard,” she recalled.

“But I wanted something better for myself and my children. I just didn’t know how to get it.”

After speaking to church leaders about her interest in theology, they gave her the registration forms and encouraged her to apply.

“I was so surprised when I got accepted. I had no idea how I would get to Stellenbosch every day, but I made sure I was there when class started. Most of the time I had to [hitch]hike.”

Her fees were paid for by anonymous donations, which were regularly paid into her account.

A National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) bursary also made a substantial dent in her student fees.

One church in Maitland made periodic payments of "substantial amounts" to make sure she could complete her studies, she said.

Students as well as friends also gave her cash and groceries to keep her household going while she focused on her studies.

But the past few years have been hard on her family, she said, and sometimes going to bed hungry was common in her household. “I persevered,” Bessick said simply.


“Being a student was quite an experience. I was so fascinated with the others in my class. They were fluent in English and Afrikaans and were all computer literate. I could only speak Afrikaans and know very little about technology.”

The friends she made helped to translate their English lectures to Afrikaans and showed her how to work a computer.

“They are so young, but they inspired me. I put in extra effort to get to their level and prove to myself that what they can do, I can do too.”

In 2012, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and while still putting all her effort into her studies, she failed a number of subjects.

Some of her friends at Maties helped to pay for her doctors bills while she battled the disease and two of her children dropped out of school to help take care of her. 

“But I went back,” she said. “I wasn’t going to let anything get between me and success.” 

In her community, young people don’t often complete high school, let alone make it to university, Bessick said.

“I want to inspire them, especially my own children. They need to see what you can do when you believe in improving your life. I did this for them. And as soon as I have enough money, they will be heading to university as well.”

Academic, poet and playwright Professor Adam Small also received an honorary doctorate as a Doctor of Arts.

Read more on:    cape town  |  education  |  good news

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