By Aidan Van Den Heever
BPharm Hons graduate Keaton Harris is celebrating a very special achievement this Autumn Graduation: 24 As across his degree, and successfully pursuing his dreams despite long odds.
“Just getting a degree is good, but it’s not enough – you need to grow, develop and inspire others on your journey.”
So says University of the Western Cape (UWC) Pharmacy Honours graduate Keaton Harris. Keaton, who hails from Strand and is the first in his family to attend university, graduated summa cum laude last week (7 April 2017), having been announced as Valedictorian of the Class of 2016 – with 24 As in his time at UWC.
Coming from a single parent household and struggling financially, Keaton was determined not to let difficulties stand in his way – and he hopes to inspire others to feel the same way.
“I want to let all students know that it is possible to achieve your dreams – it doesn’t matter how hard it gets, no matter your financial situation, always give your best to achieve your dreams,” he says.
In his second year he was financially excluded – but because of his exceptional performance (he achieved 8 distinctions in his first year) the Faculty of Natural Sciences at UWC made it possible for him to complete his undergraduate degree. It was a wise decision.
“I continued working hard and was recognised in 2015 with the Abe Bailey Travel bursary, whereby one representative is chosen from each University every year in SA to travel to the UK on an all-expenses paid trip,” Harris remarks. (Harris was the youngest student on the 2015 tour.)
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I asked the head about this today and he said there was someone 3 months younger than me in the 1970’s, but I definitely was the youngest on the 2015 trip!
That’s not the only time Keaton was recognised for his achievements. He’s been President of the University of the Western Cape Pharmacy Association (UWCAPS), he’s won the Clinical Skills competition at the SAPSF 2015 Conference (where he also won the Nic Scheeper’s Memorial Award for Best Performance), and he placed second in the Future Stars South Africa awards in 2014 (for example).
He also believes in giving back and inspiring others: he tutored and demonstrated for a number of classes at UWC, and has organised several food and clothing and HIV awareness drives (often as part of Cecil Esau House Committee).
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Keaton is currently completing an internship at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. While he has learned a lot during his pharmacy studies, he’s not done studying yet.
“My dream is to become a cardiothoracic surgeon – which is currently what I am busy with, as I applied to study Medicine (MBChB) in 2018.”
Dreams and Determination: It’s always possible
It’s not been easy following this dream – Keaton was rejected more than ten times to study medicine. But he never gave up.
“Like many others, I’ve felt the pain of rejection. I want to be a guiding light for those individuals, to show that it is not the end of the road – and you can achieve your dreams even if it does take you a bit longer than most.”
His mother, Charlotte Sinclair, is extremely proud of her son.
“I am so happy to see what he has achieved,” she says. “It has always been the two of us, and now that he is grown, it is wonderful to see what kind of person he has grown up to be.”
And the appreciation is mutual.
“One must never forget your family and God for allowing students the privilege to study and the motivation to work as hard as we can to reach our dreams,” he says. “It’s only right that we work as hard as we can to enrich the lives of others and inspire those who feel like they just want to give up.”