Bruce Fitzgerald endured a childhood that many would have struggled to survive. But he has overcome trauma and illness to realise his dream of a university education.
He recently graduated from Australian Catholic University (ACU) with a Bachelor of Arts after first completing the Certificate of Liberal Studies through Clemente Australia, an innovative university pathway program that empowers people experiencing social isolation and multiple disadvantages.
Clemente Australia students are often dealing with complex social issues, such as mental illness, disability, addiction, unemployment, homelessness or family breakdown that can make studying difficult.
By focusing on the humanities, the Clemente Australia program supports students to re-engage with their community while enabling them to see themselves as agents of change.
Mr Fitzgerald, who endured mental, physical and sexual abuse as a child, now wants to help others realise new possibilities and life choices.
“The worst part of my childhood was the mental abuse. Being blamed for everything that was wrong and then constantly being told how ugly I was,” he said.
While Mr Fitzgerald did well academically in both primary and high school he was eventually expelled for non-attendance due to his difficult home life.
Most of his working life involved heavy labour in the metal industry, and during this time he began to suffer mental health issues that developed into injecting drug use and a heavy drinking problem.
The drug use left him with serious health issues, including HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.
After 12 months of treatment and at a “loose end” he began the Clemente Australia program.
ACU first introduced Clemente to Australia 15 years ago and variations of the program are now run at every campus. Clemente Australia’s national leader ACU Associate Professor Peter Howard says that Clemente Australia is “transformational”.
The program has produced hundreds of graduates with many choosing to undertake further studies. “Clemente Australia opens doors to new opportunities. Everyone is always helpful – there was always support available from the staff,” Mr Fitzgerald said.
Mr Fitzgerald is now employed by ACU as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Graduate. The program provides a two-year, broad-based employment experience across two ACU directorates; student administration and community engagement.