19 April 2021 | Story NONSINDISO QWABE | Photo Supplied
LLB graduate Tshepang Mahlatsi

‘Be loyal to your calling and the universe will locate you.’ This slogan is the mantra that University of the Free State LLM student, Tshepang Mahlatsi, lives by. It is also this slogan that carried him through a tumultuous journey during the pursuit of his LLB degree, which he received during the Bloemfontein Campus graduation ceremony on 19 April. 

Mahlatsi began his LLB degree in 2014, but he had to take a break from his academics in 2016 after being clinically diagnosed with depression. He obtained his qualification in 2020. Mahlatsi said 2016 was a year that started on a high note for him as a third-year Law student and newly elected prime for Tswelopele residence, but quickly took a downward dive when he found himself overwhelmed by leadership demands – coupled with the simultaneous loss of loved ones and constant academic pressure. It ultimately led to a breakdown, forcing him to put his studies on hold. "I am graduating with my LLB after life-changing events in my undergraduate years – from student politics, depression, and PTSD, to starting a mental-health organisation and using both CUADS and Kovsie Counselling support services to come back to ‘normalcy’.”

He said the year-long break from his studies left him feeling discouraged as he watched his peers and classmates progress and graduate. "It was the most difficult thing to do to remind myself that I wasn't stupid." 

"This journey exposed a lot about myself; it exposed that with determination and resilience, you can achieve what you set out to achieve. I had to persevere not because I wanted to, but because my family has never seen a graduate. I was doing this for them; to give them something they've never had,” he said. 

UFS support services can save lives 

Mahlatsi would like more students to make use of the UFS support services and not crumble under mental-health problems. "I hope to inspire students to use their support services and not be ashamed – services such as CUADS and Student Counselling and Development. I hope to inspire student leaders and students to realise that you can be a well-rounded student and still have challenges, but eventually, success awaits us all."

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