Jefferson Mac likes to joke that his orientation work with incoming students at The University of Queensland has been a matter of “the blind leading the blind”.
But as much as the self-deprecating Mr Mac is quick to thank all those that have helped during his five years at UQ, it’s undoubtedly he who has been a constant source of inspiration.
Legally blind for the past 10 years, the Masters of Clinical Psychology student has not only excelled while juggling a demanding schedule, he has also filled numerous support and volunteer roles on the side.
“When I was declared blind I had a stereotypical image of a bleak, limited outlook where not much was possible,” 2014 valedictorian Mr Mac says.
“Then I met a guy through Guide Dogs Queensland who had completed a Masters in Audio Engineering and was a qualified mechanic. There was no piece of technology he couldn’t fix.
“I formed a resolve that I would not be held back by circumstance.
“I wanted to do something with psychology, so I went for it, and I was so thankful for the assistance I received along the way that I wanted to help others.”
Beyond his coursework, Jefferson has been a student leader, helped facilitate English-speaking classes for foreign students, provided information for first-years and worked in supporting others with disability.
Recipient of multiple Dean’s commendations and a two-time bursary recipient, the 31-year-old has also filled roles with Guide Dogs Queensland and Vision Australia.
“Nothing stops Jefferson,” School of Psychology Associate Professor Barbara Masser says.
“His sheer perseverance and determination are to be admired, and he brings a unique perspective that only enhances the experience for fellow students.
“He is an excellent listener, a thoughtful and mature commentator, and a person people are drawn to because of his kindness and warmth.”
A constant companion by Jefferson’s side is Ice, his four-year-old Labrador.
Just as popular a figure as his owner around St Lucia campus, Ice was given his assignment after an exhaustive selection process.
“I really need a guide dog who is strong, active, smart, but also with the temperament to cope with large crowds and plenty of interaction,” Mr Mac says.
“His memory – to recall all the buildings around such a huge campus – is fantastic.
“The problem is that my memory has to be just as good, because Ice likes to take the initiative and quite a few times he has thought I wanted to go somewhere else and dragged me to a different building.
“I have to realise when he has taken me off course. He keeps me on my toes.”
Matching the effervescence of his canine cohort, Jefferson uses what slender spare time he has to keep fit.
He has taken part in numerous tandem bike rides for charity, previously trained to make the Australian Paralympic team in rowing, and is a regular at the gym.
Despite having vision so poor it cannot be numerically measured, he is not perturbed by the possible dangers of lifting heavy weights.
“Like most things in life it comes down to being assertive with what I need,” Mr Mac says.
“I’m yet to find anyone unwilling to help me if I ask for support while I find my way.”
This year will see Mr Mac undertake an internship with UQ’s Parenting and Family Support Centre, hopefully followed by external experience with Queensland Health.
Beyond that he has a particular interest in the music therapy work of UQ’s Dr Genevieve Dingle and hopes to advance research in that field.
“I’m just enjoying the ride,” the former Strathpine State School student says.
“I’d really like to thank everyone I’ve been involved with through UQ.
“I’ve received so many opportunities and been provided a lot to achieve my full potential.”
Mr Mac said aside from academic success, one of his proudest accomplishments was mentoring a young girl who had only recently been declared blind when they first met.
The student in question has since proceeded to obtain a Degree in Criminology and has enrolled for a Masters in Forensics.