UNAM’s best graduate from the class of 2019, Shannen Da Rocha, is a remarkable student. Yet, beneath the surface of her achievement is the story of a warm and brave human being, who overcame a great tragedy and found her passion.

Born in Keetmanshoop and bred in Oranjemund, Shannen Da Rocha is undisputedly UNAM’s best performing graduate this year. She was awarded both the Vice Chancellor’s Medal, as well as the Chancellor’s Medal for outstanding academic performance, averaging above 80 percent overall. She graduated Cum Laude!

Proud moment with the Vice Chancellor

The struggle
A high achiever since primary school, Shannen’s life was turned upside down when tragedy struck her later in life, during the early years at a South African University. While studying International Studies in South Africa, Shannen was attacked by two strangers at the campus.

Eager to appear unbroken, she resumed with her studies shortly after the ordeal. Her parents were supportive and believed that she was strong enough to persevere. Time proved otherwise. Soon after, she found herself suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, rendering her usually sharp mind unable to focus or memorize things the way she used to. “I always had a really good memory, but I somehow lost the ability after what happened to me”, she said.

Unable to focus, Shannen could not continue with her studies despite many desperate attempts. Her mother said, “Maybe International Studies is not your thing, you are not meant to be a politician”. She then sought a safe space where she could gain back her confidence and live a life unhindered by the past. She decided to go and live with her grandparents in Keetmanshoop.

Inspiration
Somehow, as if by fate, she got the chance to be a relief teacher, standing in for a teacher at a primary school in Rosh Pinah. There, working with small children and experiencing how vulnerable they are and what limited social help they receive, she discovered her passion to work with small children. “I felt good being around them, not only as a teacher, but as person who is there for them when they need someone to talk to”.

After the teaching stint, Shannen enrolled for a Bachelor of Education, focusing on Pre-Primary and Lower Primary at the Southern Campus. With a renewed sense of confidence and passion to help children. She worked hard. Unable to rely on a sharp memory, she made extensive notes, something she never used to do. Preparation for tests and assignments always began weeks before, not days. “The inspiration from those children, and my hard work is what got me here”.

On graduation day, last week Thursday in Keetmanshoop, a teary eyed Shannen walked off the stage into the embrace of her supportive family. She credits both her parents for being there for her but gives emphasis to her mother, as someone who has “endured a lot yet is till bubbly, loving and likeable”.

Shannon plans to pursue a career in educational psychology in the feature.