Susie reflects on 'wild ride' as five years of study come to an end
Outstanding graduate keen to kick-start career in storytelling
Susie Alderman never expected that her five-year degree at the University of Wollongong (UOW) would end with a Zoom call.
But it was a very 2020 conclusion to what she described as a “wild” ride.
Susie, who is celebrating her graduation from UOW, completed a double degree Bachelor of Communications and Media and Bachelor of International Studies.
Originally from Cootamundra, in Central West NSW, Susie moved to Wollongong with the aim of saying yes to every opportunity that came her way. She was drawn to the beauty of the region, and the fact that it felt like a big country town, but what surprised Susie was the number of figurative doors that opened during her degree.
“When I finished school, I was interested in so many different areas,” said Susie of her decision to study at UOW.
“I found it hard to pick something that I thought would be a lifelong path. But I’ve always had a passion for storytelling. There is so much power and potential in storytelling and digital media. International studies also gave me a great rounding to my communications degree.
“I love talking to people, whether that is someone I have known all my life or someone I just met on the bus. I enjoy hearing other people’s stories. Everyone is so unique but the experience of life is so universal.
“I feel like I have room to grow and move with my degrees. I don’t see myself staying in the one profession for the rest of my life.”
In 2018, Susie spent a few months in Spain as part of her International Studies minor in Spanish. She was able to rapidly improve her language skills and experience the culture and history of the country. It was one of the highlights of Susie’s time at university, an experience she is looking forward to emulating when the world opens up again.
“It was so much fun and so memorable,” she said. “I just can’t wait to go back. It was the best thing I could have done with my Spanish.”
Volunteering has been a huge part of Susie’s time at UOW. She has been closely involved with UOW Maker Space and with Hidden Harvest Wollongong, an organisation that promotes reducing food waste and increasing sustainability.
“I have always said yes to volunteering opportunities,” Susie said. “Immersing myself in the university community has been really rewarding.
“With Hidden Harvest, I started as a volunteer and then became their Communications and Media Coordinator. I have always had a really strong passion for environmental sustainability.
“Climate change and issues like sustainability can often feel daunting and out of our control, but the responsibility for saving the world should not fall on the individual. It needs to come from small, everyday changes. My passion is trying to find fun and interesting ways to contribute to a greater cause.”
Susie has also long been a volunteer for Camp Quality, a non-profit organisation that helps children with childhood cancer as well as their siblings.
“Every now and then, I take part in camp for Camp Quality. I just hang out, and play games, and chat to the kids and their siblings, and generally make a fool of myself in front of them. It is such a simple thing, and such a small thing you can do to make someone’s life better. That is how I look at volunteering and at life: what is a small thing I can do to make someone else’s life a bit better?”
COVID-19 threw a spanner in the works for Susie’s final year of study, like every other student, but she found remote learning suited that stage of her degree.
It meant that an internship with Screen Illawarra became an online experience and that Susie’s plans for international travel after graduation have been scuttled, for now.
“I never would have imagined I’d finished my entire five years of study by pressing end on a Zoom call,” she said, with a laugh.
Susie’s achievements throughout her degree are even more impressive considering the health struggles she has faced. At the age of 14, she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. During her time at UOW, Susie underwent four major brain surgeries, which she said severely impacted her studies.
“The support offered by the University in helping me stay on track with my degrees has been greatly appreciated,” she said. “Having a lived experience of disability and still making it to the end of my degree, with such an amazing experience and results, demonstrates the support offered by UOW for other students who might be experiencing any kind of difficulties.”
Susie said the experience of having a brain tumour has utterly shaped her life and the way she sees the world. She is resilient and empathetic, and firmly believes that life is too short to not pursue what you love.
But the future remains bright. A trained florist – she spent a year learning about the trade after finishing high school – Susie has been flexing her creativity by working at a florist in Thirroul.
And in the next few months, she will embark, with a friend, on a road trip west in a revamped Toyota Tarago named Priscilla. They are hoping to explore as much of the Australian interior as possible before finding full-time work.
“At the moment, I’m very much enjoying a few months of downtime after university. My goal, after our road trip, is to move. As much as I love Wollongong, moving to a new place pushes you out of your comfort zone and opens you up to new experiences. It will only make my storytelling stronger,” Susie said.
“I love spreading social and environmental activism through storytelling, so any role that allows me to combine those elements, and continue spreading those positive messages, like working for the ABC or SBS, would be amazing.”