Graduating is not new to “perpetual student” Abigail Whyte, but her most recent achievements, celebrated at the UNE Autumn Graduation Ceremonies, are particularly special to her.

Holding degrees and postgraduate qualifications in chemical engineering, dairy technology and accounting, Abigail has always studied to pursue or further a career, following an affinity for rules and patterns.

“This time, I’ve been able to do this purely for the love of it,” she says, on graduating with a Bachelor of Languages and Master of Arts in Classics.

She’s only previously dipped into humanities subjects for language studies in French, and self-taught learning in Spanish and Italian.

“While helping my younger son with his French homework, I remembered, ‘actually, I really miss this!’”

She found UNE was one of a very few universities to offer Spanish, and to offer it online. Instead of a diploma, she chose a full bachelor degree, because it started immediately. Picking subjects, she stumbled upon Latin, and “fell absolutely head over heels”.

“It’s this thing with patterns and rules – I really like etymology. When covid hit, I couldn’t do the travel and study I had been planning overseas. Instead, I realised I could leverage my Latin into a Master of Arts, and pick some of the units I couldn’t fit into the bachelor,” she says.

“This is my third undergraduate degree and third postgraduate degree, but my Latin teacher, Sarah Lawrence, was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. She is talented at teaching, and has such a passion for her subject.

“There is also just a really great community in Latin – it’s a very close-knit mob. I’ve only ever attended one other graduation ceremony before, and I’ve flown from Melbourne for this because I know there’ll be half a dozen of my classmates there. I’m looking forward to catching up with the staff, too,” Abigail said, prior to her graduation ceremony.

Along with the enjoyment of learning about word origins, Abigail was able to explore fascinating subjects on the ancient world.

“I got to do Dr Bronwyn Hopwood’s fascinating Pompeii unit and a unit on the Archaeology of Food. My experimental archaeology project was trying to make cheese using fig sap.”

She continued this interest in ancient cheesemaking methods with her Masters research project, incorporating her background in the dairy industry.

Online learning can be isolating, but Abigail’s tip is to “get as involved as you can.”

“I very strongly recommend attending the intensive schools on campus if you possibly can. You get to meet other students in person. Also get involved in the Moodle forums and Facebook groups. The more you put in, the more you get out.

“And if you have the faintest interest in language and word origins, do Classics! UNE is very good at it.” 

Pursuing a “passion project” is something Abigail is very proud of.

“It’s really nice using a different part of the brain. The day job feeds the body, but this feeds the soul.”

And she’s not done yet.

“I want to get on top of Ancient Greek. A bit of me still wants to pursue more about Roman cheesemaking, and perhaps do a PhD in Classics.”

At graduation, she received both the Vice-Chancellor’s Scholar Award for outstanding academic achievement, and the New England Award, for social and community activities.  

 “Some of the past few years have been bloody hard. But I’ve got some good marks, and I’m really proud of these degrees. It’s something I did just for me.”