A PROUD Pagham woman has taken part in her second graduation ceremony in a year.
Kerenza Holzman was awarded her open degree after six years of studying with the Open University.
Her canine partner Whisky was at her side during the ceremony in Portsmouth. And it was three-year-old black labrador with whom Karenza graduated earlier this year.
Kerenza said: “It feels like such an achievement to have graduated. It was great to have my partner by my side.
“It was a chance for people to see what he does for me and it was my day to show what I can do.”
Kerenza, 42, of The Green, is a full-time wheelchair user after an accident in her former job as a diplomat, in which her final posting was Riyadh in Saudia Arabia, left her with post traumatic stress disorder. She has also ME among several chronic conditions.
But her life changed for the better when she was partnered with Whisky thanks to Heyshott-based Canine Partners.
The charity trained Whisky to carry out tasks such as pick up the post, take off Kerenza’s socks and slippers and even hand her credit card to the till operators in shops.
Whisky came into Kerenza’s life in June 2012 and the couple spent about a year being assessed to ensure they were suitable for each other.
This process ended in a graduation day at the charity’s base when all those involved in Whisky’s upbringing came together to see him awarded a purple jacket to replace the yellow one he wore in training.
“It was a very emotional day,” said Kerenza. “It was also a chance for me to thank all those who had helped so much and to tell them how much Whisky means to me.
“He is brilliant and has changed my life in so many ways I can’t imagine it without him.
“Having him also gives me a reason to go out. It can be very isolating in a wheelchair but Whisky prompts people to smile and other dog-walkers stop to say hello. It makes me feel a bit more of a member of the community.”
By the time of Whisky’s arrival, Kerenza was close to finishing her marathon studies with the Open University.
She studied six subjects – such as the history of film and television, creative writing and social sciences – for an average of some five hours a day to the limit of her physical and mental capabilities.
“I wanted to keep my brain active,” said Kerenza. “I wanted to feel I could still do something and it gave me something to strive towards.
“My studies also gave me interests in areas I had not really thought of before.”