DAVID Atherton was accompanied by a very special guest for his graduation from the University of Newcastle: his daughter, Aria, aged four.
"I want to give her the sense you can do anything you put your mind to and encourage her to think about her own little future," Mr Atherton said.
He graduated on Thursday with a master of business administration, which he said he spent at least six hours on every week for the past two years, while also working full-time at Craveable Brands.
He moved from the Far North Coast and enjoyed being close to the university.
On this issue: University of Newcastle graduates ready for new adventures
"I feel good, relieved, accomplished," said Mr Atherton, who was also accompanied by his partner Katarina and parents Karen and Gary, who he said had all been supportive and contributed to his success.
"I started an undergraduate degree in business when I was 19 but never finished.
"I went through the McDonald's leadership process and they offered me the advanced diploma of business management.
"Driving me was never finishing my undergraduate degree - that's really what pushed me."
Mr Atherton said he had been warned the master's program was very difficult, but said he found it easier than he had expected.
"Fifteen years of experience really helped," he said.
"I had a better understanding going into it. It was about evaluating situations and coming up with solutions, instead of being given information and having to regurgitate it."
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Melissa Blandford graduated with a master in leadership and management in education.
"I'm happy and ecstatic," said Ms Blandford, who balanced study with working full-time as the leader of college ministry at St Joseph's College, Lochinvar.
"A lot of hard work went into it to achieve the results I got with distinctions, so I'm pretty happy in the end. I wanted to go further my career progression and just upskill in those areas of management where I aim to head."
Ms Blandford said it was "a bit of a balancing act" juggling her responsibilities, but having good time management skills and a study routine helped.
"For me, the motivation was around I knew I could achieve at a higher standard," she said, before a surprise dinner.
"I wanted to prove everything I've learned since [my undergraduate degree] had benefited me and I could achieve at this level."
Nicole Fuller was celebrating completing her graduate certificate in business. "I'm excited and glad it's done," she said.
"It's another piece to the puzzle in there."
Mrs Fuller - who is a recipient in the Women in MBA (WiMBA) scholarship program - will finish her master of business administration at the end of this year and start her master of human resources management next year.
"I wanted to show my kids that no matter what age you are you can go after your goals," she said, adding that healthy competition among students helped them all aim high.
"Education to supplement work experience is really key - it's the missing link I had in my career and has set me up for success for where I want my future goals to be."
James Brew graduated with a Bachelor of Music, in which he majored in audio production and guitar.
"I hurt my wrist midway through and had to take some time off, so this felt like a long time coming," he said.
"In other electives or school I could leave things to the last minute, but this required consistent work throughout."
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