News Release

O'Reillys Make Education a Family Affair


When Joanne O’Reilly, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, saw her fifth child begin university it reminded her that she always wanted to finish the university degree that she started 20 years ago. The timing was right: she and her husband James were well-placed to return to study, having sold their shares in two businesses. They discussed their options and decided that together, they would give study another go. They chose Griffith University in Queensland and followed in the footsteps of four of their kids who were either still studying or had graduated from the same university.

James has had a long-time interest in photography. The walls of the family home are lined with stunning photographs of travel and family events. As a result, James enrolled in a Bachelor of Photography at the Queensland College of Art.

Joanne has always been drawn to math and science. She saw the need for more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teachers, so continued the Bachelor of Education degree she started as a 19-year-old.

Even while working on her degree, Joanne felt like she was making a difference as she took part in placements, planned programs and created assessments for high school students. “That’s certainly been a highlight of the degree – to be able to do practice in schools and have relationships with the students and be mentored by the teachers,” she said. “I think that if there’s any way you can help society, then do it,” she said.

James worked full-time during his degree in a job that included extensive travel, but he found the flexibility offered at Griffith University, as well as technological advances, allowed him to juggle his time effectively. “Technology has made the university experience more flexible, allowing it to better meet the needs of mature-age students and their busy schedules,” he observed.

At university, James came into study expecting to be able to pass on knowledge to the younger generation, but found he learned more from them. He shared, "I was in a group of five or six students that are aged between 17 and 22 – it’s been great to get their thoughts and insights and understand the way they look at life. It’s enhanced my learning experience at university."

While James studied with the younger students in his photography classes, Joanne found a support group of peers also working towards their Bachelor of Education. “It’s been a very close-knit group of maybe six or eight of us that have gotten along really well," she said.

The couple found ways to support each other during their studies. Date nights consisted of James sitting at one end of the dining table and Joanne at the other as they both completed assignments. “It’s been fun,” James said. “We’ve learned a lot; we’ve tutored each other, we’ve encouraged each other, and we’ve been frustrated together.”

Joanne said, “We had different timetables, but we worked our schedules so that one of us was able to do pickups and drop-offs for school or home to cook dinner. We've both shared in the responsibilities at home." Working together, the couple made study fit around their lives.

Joanne shared that being back at university inspired their two girls who were still in high school. “I’m the stay-at-home mum - supporting the kids and making sure they’re doing OK in school, but my studying myself increased their desire to sit down and study.”

The O’Reillys are a couple who want to be self-reliant and so the practical side of James and Joanne’s return to university is that it provides for them job security into the future. Jim says, "This was the start of my recession-proof strategy....pursuing more education keeps my skills current and keeps me at the top of the list of other candidates who may be applying for the same roles in the future." He believes that education is the key to successful futures. “It enhances your personal well-being to be able to keep learning throughout your life." James plans to continue his studies to become a high school teacher just like Joanne has done.

James has dreamed of walking across the stage to receive a degree for a long time. “There have been tough times, but when my kids and grandkids see me walk across stage, I hope that’s one of the things they remember about Dad,” he said. “And if Grandpa can do it while he’s working and doing other things then they could easily do it themselves.” James achieved this wonderful goal and graduated on 18 December 2018.

So, what do James and Joanne think about their accomplishment? “I like to think that we’re pretty remarkable at age 52 and 49 respectively to have completed tertiary studies. If someone can be inspired to seek an education no matter their age - that would be great," said James.

Joanne added, “Education, is what I’m all about: passing it on to the next generation and having a positive influence on other people.”

Because of their unique circumstances, the O’Reillys were chosen to be featured in a campaign for Griffith University. Their positive impact will be felt for a long time.

Church President Russell M. Nelson has said, "Education is yours to obtain. No one else can gain it for you. Wherever you are, develop a deep desire to learn."

The O'Reillys are living examples of a couple who have followed this wise counsel, regardless of age.

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