Alumna, Aira Abarra’s inspiring address to our Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences 2020 Graduates

Aira Abarra celebrates someone's birthday every working day! She is a registered nurse and registered midwife at Monash Medical Centre. 

Aira graduated from our Faculty with a Bachelor of Emergency Health (Paramedic) in 2015 and a Bachelor of Nursing and Bachelor of Midwifery in 2019.

Despite all the shift work, she manages to stay competitive in powerlifting, having been national, Oceania and Commonwealth bench press champion. 

Read her inspiring address to our 2020 Graduates, delivered at an on campus Graduation Garden Party last night, Thursday 25 March 2021.


Congratulations everyone.

This evening is an opportunity to celebrate your achievement supported by your family and your peers.

Tonight, we are in a privileged place in this world to share the joy of gathering together, in person. I encourage you to take an opportunity this evening to warmly greet graduates around you, not just the ones you know and not just the ones in your faculty.

Together the class of 2020 has transcended not only academic requirements but also the potential financial disadvantage of trying to support yourselves in industries hard hit this year. On top of that you endured the burden of isolation and lack of work/life balance. Please recognise these accomplishments in one another and recognise the grit that the class of 2020 shares.

A big theme in the new life of a typical graduate is impostor syndrome.

New grads at work tend to make themselves scarce - making way for colleagues in corridors and not speaking unless spoken to. And this may not be limited to physical manifestations.

I remember being fresh out of uni, working as a midwife - feeling out of place - caring for a woman quite a bit older than me. She was telling me how she couldn't believe she was having her second baby, how she herself still felt like she had some growing up to do. And this lady was looking to me, in my early 20s, never having been pregnant. She was looking to me for reassurance.

That’s when I realised there's no particular milestone, no switch that flicks when we and the people around us deem ourselves as worthy adults.

But the completion of your qualification arms you with the knowledge, the skills and the mandate to succeed. Hold your head up high as a Monash graduate, because the world won't know about the years of hard work, the sacrifices (that of your own and potentially those of your family) the world won't know the resilience, the ambition, the talent, the resourcefulness and the sleepless nights that have accumulated to today's celebration.

Looking back I wish I knew it was ok not to know the answer to one of life's biggest conundrums. I wish I knew it was ok not to know where my career might take me. As Professor Hodgson briefly touched on, my university experience led to the completion of three(!) undergraduate bachelor degrees. (And I've got the HECS debt to show for it).

Straight after high school. I knew I wanted to help people, I wanted job security and I didn't quite want to play into the Filipino nurse stereotype - so I started my paramedic studies. I slipped through the cracks somehow and attended placement as a 17 year old and I got sent home because I was a minor. I also moved out of home at 18 and it was hard for me to complete the 120 hours. I graduated with a paramedic degree without my driver's licence! At the time I was consumed by assessment tasks and hurdles, all the while ruminating on gym programs, maintaining optimal sleep, rest and nutrition, with the pressures of placement and part time work.

I was not yet ready to look after adults in their time of need when I could barely cater to my own.

But I still wanted to help people and I had my Filipino mum's voice in my ear. So, I started studying nursing and midwifery. Same, same but different. During these studies I was gaining momentum as a powerlifter - traditionally a male dominant sport, I became part of the movement in increasing female representation and breaking down the stigma toward females in strength-based sports.

On placement I was witnessing the emotional and physical capacity of human beings and my extracurricular was testing my own. In the hospital I was primarily surrounded by resilient women empowering and advocating for other women in the most beautiful and visceral showcases of female strength: childbirth.

It was no longer a question of what I was going to be, but who I was going to be.

Identify what your values are and let them pave your path.

Know what you're committing 40 hours a week to.

Helping people is a widespread career motivation, I'm aware of the multitude of specialties being represented tonight and hope that you find your niche within your career construct and find a balance between meaningful occupation and economic fulfillment. Job satisfaction caters to physiological needs and leads to self-actualisation - which we in the world's climate today, are in a privileged place to have the opportunity to fulfil.

Thank you for the platform today to share my admiration and food for thought with you.

Congratulations again and have a wonderful evening everyone.

Aira Abarra