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Class Of 2018: Atoofah Gierdien - Perseverance Pays Off

Atoofah Gierdien: From hope to action through knowledge - perseverance and hard work literally pay off for graduating student

Atoofah Gierdien is the living embodiment of the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) motto: “from hope to action through knowledge”.

Three years ago, when her family fell on hard times financially, she came to the University with only R500 in her bank account - and with her hopes and the drive to succeed and change her family fortunes. Atoofah not only excelled in her BCom Information Systems and Industrial Psychology studies - she’s graduating summa cum laude at UWC’s April 2018 Graduation - but she also worked to earn some money while still giving back, by tutoring other students.

“The fact that I had to help - and am still helping - my family get out of these tough times, kept me going,” she says. “The adversity that my family had faced made me more resilient, more persistent and more driven. I know that my degree will open doors for both myself and my family.”

Atoofah, who hails from Greenhaven near Manenberg, has passed her studies with flying colours, having scored straight As last year.

She is currently the IFS department tutor coordinator, helping to (among other things) select, interview, train, manage, support, motivate and up-skill the tutors, shaping the minds of those who will help shape the minds that will shape the future. She’s made the Dean's Merit List and received the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences IFS top achiever award every year since enrolment.

“I have an insatiable appetite for success, and contagious ambition which really kept me going for three years, ” she says. “I visualised and worked to have my dreams actualised. In my mind, I wasn’t poor…I was wealthy.”

She received an invitation from the International Scholar Laureate Programme to visit either China or Australia, and has been selected by the Information Systems department to visit Germany as a member of a research cohort to participate in an innovation camp based on the Digital Transformation of Universities.

But how did she survive at university with only R500?

“I couldn't even afford to pay registration fees,” she recalls. “Fortunately, I was afforded the opportunity to plead my case at Student Credit Management, who subsequently cleared me for registration.”

She immediately applied for a NSFAS loan, and when the academic year commenced she only had a ream of paper, some pens and a scientific calculator. “I stapled together about 20 pages to create a notepad that would last about two weeks, for all my modules - if I wrote really small.”

First year was tough. She often had to skip classes because she didn’t have enough money to travel to campus or pay her lift club. But she was determined to overcome these issues creatively.

“I would save money by asking different friends to take me to campus each week so that it wouldn't seem like I'm a consistent lift club member. I would strategically skip campus on certain days of the week so that I had enough money for transport if I had a test on weekends.”

After achieving an A-aggregate in her second year she was eligible to receive a NSFAS loan, accompanied by a book allowance and Pick 'n Pay vouchers. She also secured a job as a tutor, and was ultimately promoted to the position of tutor coordinator.

“I was finally able to afford to buy a new bag and new shoes - I only had two pairs of sneakers and a pair of pumps for campus wear since first year,” she remarks. “One time, a girl impolitely announced to a group of my friends that I wear my black sneakers every single day. I was a little embarrassed.”

Atoofah, who is currently doing her honours, has been an inspiration to all of her friends, and encourages them to discover and achieve their true potential.

It seems to be working.

In her first and second year, only one of her friends made the Dean's merit list alongside her, but this year, her entire group of friends and some of her former students and current tutees will attend the EMS Dean's Merit Awards alongside her.

“In essence, I started with R500 cash in 2015, but my academic performance rewarded me with loans and a bursary (in my final year) that paid for my tuition for three years,” she continues.

“Basically, my hard work literally paid off.”

UWC’s 2018 Autumn Graduation ceremony ran from Wednesday 4 April through to Wednesday 11 April - a full week of celebrating amazing graduates who are going out to make their mark in the world. For a graduation timetable, just click here. To see the grad ceremonies from the comfort of your own home (or phone, laptop, etc.), the ceremonies are live-streamed here and grad pics can be viewed on Flickr.