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Esme Harvey-Smith is a 20-year-old single mum with a three-year-old son, and a first-year drama student at ARU. How on earth does one person juggle university with the nursery run?

Three images of drama student Esme

“You just get on with it,” answers Esme with a nonchalant shrug. Dressed casually and looking fresh-faced and welcoming, she doesn’t strike one as being the stereotypical frazzled mother tearing her hair or drowning amidst a heap of discarded study notes and plates of leftover macaroni cheese. Then again she is a drama student, albeit only in her first year, but you get the feeling there’s more to it than she at first is willing to let on.

Drama has always been Esme’s passion, long before her son, Kyran, came along, but with a child at 17 came maturity and she’s under no illusions of the competitiveness of the arts industry. It is unsurprising that she comes from a family of strong women, with her mother recently graduating from university. “I really looked up to her for that,” Esme remarks. But even with an inspirational mum and an incredibly supportive dad, it was Kyran who convinced Esme to go to university.

“There came a turning point when I got pregnant. I thought I can’t give up on my life just because I’m going to have a child. I want him to come with me so we can grow together. I know I can be a great teacher and I want him to look up to me like I look up to my mum.”

University has taught me what's important in life. You've got to jump in and just do it.

It certainly wasn’t an easy path to choose: 5.30am starts in the morning are particularly difficult, Esme admits. Kyran has undiagnosed special needs and gets upset and angry if his daily routine changes in any way. With university taking some of Esme’s attention away from him, he has become more needy but Esme does her best to spend at least one day a week solely with him.

Time management has been tricky – a fact which becomes more blatant when faced with her colleagues’ more flexible schedules. While assignment deadlines are the bane of every student’s life, few I imagine spent the night before their paper was due sitting up in a hospital ward while their son was violently ill, with a laptop open and an essay slowly nearing completion.

“You’ve got to go for it,” is Esme's advice to other prospective parent-students. “Things aren’t as hard as they seem. You’ve got to jump in and just do it.”

While she’s the same age as most of her fellow students, Esme considers herself to be the ‘mum’ of the group, enjoying helping them solve their problems: "University has taught me what is important in life.”

Going to university is an experience which she hopes Kyran will, one day, follow – but more important is that he follows his dreams and never gives up; that once he puts his mind to something he can achieve anything. You get the sense that Esme hopes to be the best possible example of this to her son.

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