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Double delight for mum and son on graduation day

Double delight for mum and son on graduation day

Anne O’Callaghan was bursting with pride when son Ben received his Master’s in Medieval History at the University of Auckland’s graduation ceremony on Tuesday.

A little more unusually, Ben (26) had his turn to feel the same sense of family pride when his mum collected her Doctorate of Education on the same day.

“We never expected to graduate at the same time,” says Anne, who lives in Devonport. “It was only as I was completing the preparation for my oral examination in August that I realised this could happen – and then I wanted to make sure it did.

“Ben and I have been through some major ups and downs in our lives together so to share our combined achievements is a wonderful moment.”

Anne’s doctorate marked the end of six years of study which she undertook while working 50 hour weeks as Clinical Director of Palliative Care at Auckland Hospital. Ben, a Birkenhead resident, completed his Master’s in 12 months.

Although the mother-and-son academics were studying in very different areas they worked together when they could, proof reading and critiquing each other’s work.

Ben’s interest in medieval history began when he was just nine and was taken to see a replica of the Bayeux Tapestry at the Reading Museum in the UK.

“I was mesmerised by the battle scenes at the end of tapestry and from that moment I was hooked,” says Ben. “I read everything I could get my hands on about the Vikings, the Normans, the witch hunts – just anything that came into that period of history.”

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He went to the University of Auckland for his first degree, a BA with a major in history and politics.

He later returned to university to do his Honours year and then a Master’s. Thomas Becket was the subject of his Honours dissertation and he took an unusual view of this “very interesting character”, focusing on the role of emotion in his letters in times of conflict. In his Master’s, Ben looked at the life of Edward the Confessor.

Moving into the Faculty of Education was a significant departure for Anne.

“All my previous study had been medical and scientific. The contrast was really interesting - I read very widely and gained a much broader understanding of the philosophical basis of inquiry. Ben had always studied in the arts so suddenly we were speaking the same language and we could have conversations and debates we never had before,” says Anne.

Her medical experience of more than two decades in palliative care was central to her choice of research, which identified key issues of concern to her colleagues. Her findings included stress and burnout of doctors, bullying and misuse of power and the effects of good and not-so-good communication on patients and staff.

Anne presented her findings at the International Conference on Communication in Healthcare in Heidelberg last month and is currently negotiating how her research can benefit staff and patients at Auckland Hospital.

After graduation, both aim to keep on learning. Ben is staying on the medieval track with a plan to learn Old English and Anne intends to study Te Reo Māori.

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