Graduate beats dyslexia to earn degree

A speed hump in Mosselbank River Road.

Goodwood resident Melissa Titus, 22, has graduated summa cum laude with a BCom degree from the University of the Western Cape (UWC), maintaining an average of 75% throughout her tertiary studies.

Now registered for an honours degree, her achievement is all the more special because of the challenges she had to overcome throughout the years.

Melissa was diagnosed as severely dyslexic when she was in Grade 4 at Goodwood Park Primary School, her dyslexia so severe that she read back to front.

Her parents Shaun and Colleen Titus were called in to school to discuss their daughter’s struggle. Melissa remembers the times at school when there would be sessions for unprepared reading – a big hurdle for a child with learning difficulties.

“It was challenging because you would have to read and you would get so nervous,” she says.

Melissa had to work hard, putting in extra hours and attending extra classes at school. At home her parents encouraged their middle child, as mom Colleen explains: “We were determined that it wouldn’t be her stumbling block.” She encouraged Melissa to read, including the children’s stories in the church magazine.

“Melissa put in a lot of hard work. She always wanted to excel. She read a lot, rehearsed a lot,” says Shaun.

Melissa remembers going for extra classes at primary school – not always easy as it identifies academically-struggling pupils in front of their peers.

She also attended one-on-one therapy sessions. Melissa went on to Fairbairn College, and remembers her primary school teacher’s surprise that she had been accepted there.

She was class captain in Grade 8, but when the results of the first tests came, she had scored low marks.

“My teacher told me I cannot be class captain and get such low marks.”

Again Melissa had to buckle down, saying: “All the incidents in my life pushed me.”

Melissa credits her parents and interventions at school for helping her overcome difficulties.

“I couldn’t have done it by working hard only,” she says.

In Grade 12 at Fairbairn, she scored high marks – years of hard work were paying off as Melissa recalls “always having to work hard for average marks”.

Going on to varsity, Melissa was not sure of a career path, and chose a general BCom, later developing an interest in industrial psychology.

She is now doing an Honours year, which she announced to her parents in the kitchen one evening, saying: “You’re paying another year,” they remember, laughing.

Her parents say Melissa leads a balanced life, making time for family, her studies and activities at church. They also admire the way she interacts with her younger brother Luke, 17, who has special educational needs and attends Chere Botha School in Stikland.

“I’m proud of the way she treats her brother,” says Colleen. The conversation turns to Luke and the family’s journey to get him to reach his full potential.

Shaun says often children with special needs are seen as “the misfits of society”. They said they’ve been fortunate as Luke has “grown with the Chere Botha school”. But they’re aware that for some special-needs children, access to education is difficult. “If you’re not financially stable, you can’t provide for them,” says Shaun.

In an interview with a varsity publication, Melissa paid tribute to her friends and family: “I hear stories of parents not wanting to accept their children’s disadvantages – but my parents not only accepted mine, but also embraced it. They’ve supported me in ways that I could never repay; no monetary value can make up what they have done for me. I also want to acknowledge my sister (Lisa Titus) and my varsity friends (especially Kirsten Marshall and Tammy Dodgen); without you ladies, these four years would have been a drag.”