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Visually impaired student earns academic honours

Xolani Gxekwa – Summa Cum Laude

He received a standing ovation from the entire academic procession as well as the audience for graduating with a LLB degree, Summa Cum Laude, at the University of the Western Cape's (UWC) Summer Graduation on Monday, 11 March.

This on its own would already have been a major accomplishment for anyone, but Xolani Gxekwa (26) from Somerset East in the Eastern Cape achieved this despite facing  the challenges of impaired vision.

To top it all, he also received additional prizes at the UWC Law pre-graduation function, at which he was honoured for persevering in very trying circumstances.

All the humble new lawyer had to say was: “This is a realisation of my dream. However, it is not about me...this is to show ordinary people like me that achieving this goal, is also possible for them. I want my story to be a source of inspiration to the ordinary person”.

He says the news of graduating with a LLB degree, Summa Cum Laude, came as a surprise. “You won't ever see me jumping up and down when I am happy, but I was surely very grateful and I soon realised that this achievement may be a great one, but that it is time move on again”.

Gxekwa said the going was not always easy, especially during the first few weeks of campus life.

“The University has a student assistance office for students with disabilities and I had a fair amount of help from the disability office staff who directed me to the office and the classes I needed to attend. Thereafter, it was a matter of finding my way to places like the cafeteria and library on my own, but the other students were always helpful in this regard.

“The support of my classmates was exceptional. They didn't see me as any different and treated me the same. Sometimes we would have to remind a lecturer to explain whatever was on an overhead in more detail. This was the way most lecturers had to adapt to having me in their class.”

Gxekwa spoke about the reasons for wanting to become a lawyer. “While at school in Port Elizabeth, I attended a school for the visually impaired, but I didn't belong there. All I could tell myself was that I should get out of there and prove myself. I just couldn't be stuck there and always feel like I am labeled as disabled.

“I just always believed that I was capable, but people don't always believe you until you prove yourself. This was the same factor that stirred my desire to want to become a lawyer and enroll at UWC.”

But it is his heart for the underprivileged with no access to education that is the major factor for his drive towards excellence.

“I have found that a lot of people don't know that they are affected by certain laws, and sometimes they could benefit from those laws but they don't realise it. I would really like to change that and make a difference in their lives, especially in the lives of those who have their rights violated.”

On a personal level, Gxekwa is not married, and his plans for the future include focusing on his career.

“For now, I will be registering for a Masters Degree to further my studies at UWC,” he says.