Skip to main content

Grace Finlari has embarked on a remarkable journey that saw her overcome many disadvantages in her young life to become the first Sanctuary Scholarship graduate from South East Technological University’s (SETU’s) Waterford campus.

“My enthusiasm and dedication did not go unnoticed when I joined SETU. My eagerness to learn led me to achieve at SETU." SETU Graduate, Grace Finlari

SETU is currently working towards University of Sanctuary status, and it is specifically referred to in its new Strategic Plan, Connecting for Impact. A University of Sanctuary should be a place where anyone can feel safe, welcome, and able to pursue their right to education. With that in mind, SETU offers a number of Sanctuary Scholarships to refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants each academic year.  

On Friday, 03 November, Grace, who is originally from Douala in the heart of Cameroon, was applauded as she received her BA (Hons) in Accounting from SETU under the University of Sanctuary initiative. 


As a Christian girl, Grace had always dreamed of going to school and pursuing an education, but she faced many challenges. 

“In my tribe, girls were expected to help with household tasks and were often married off at a young age. My family struggled to make ends meet, and the nearest school was miles away,” explains Grace.  

From the age of nine, she harboured a much bigger dream to become an accountant and to provide a better life for entire family.  

“My brother lived here for a few years and tried and failed to bring us here. In 2018 my sister and I had the opportunity to join my brother in Waterford through the family reunification program. This unwavering support would soon lead me on this remarkable journey,” says Grace. 

From the outset, Grace said her desire for education “burned brightly,” and she knew she had to find a way to overcome the obstacles in her path.  

Educational journey

“There was a huge language barrier when I got here. We speak English in Cameroon, but Ireland has different vocabulary, different grammar and the accent was different. It was a big challenge to understand, but the more I spoke English the better I became," she says, "By God's grace and my family's encouragement, I began my educational journey. I walked to the nearest school each day - Waterford College of Further Education to study a business studies course and I graduated with distinction.”   

From there, Grace was accepted to study a BA (Hons) in Accounting at SETU in Waterford and was supported in her studies by SETU’s Sanctuary Scholarship Scheme.   

“My enthusiasm and dedication did not go unnoticed when I joined SETU. My eagerness to learn led me to achieve at SETU. I was awarded a Sanctuary Scholarship which helped to support me through my studies. It took the financial burden off my shoulders. Having the scholarship was of huge help to the family. I also secured an internship at Deloitte under their graduate program.   

Prayers, family support, and the desire to provide her mom and siblings back in Cameroon with the best quality of life lies behind her drive to succeed.   


The first girl in the family to graduate with a university degree, Grace speaks highly of her time at SETU. “I met wonderful people, be it classmates or lecturers. I enjoyed after school studies with my classmates. They were good craic. I also enjoyed being involved in group projects.   

“My internship with Deloitte was another highlight for me. During this internship, I was able to put in practice and develop my understanding of accounting principles, economic theory, Irish and international tax, and management accounting. This internship boosted my confidence, and I saw a huge improvement in my communication skills.”  

Graduating from SETU means to the world to Grace. “I am grateful for the different support SETU placed at my disposal so I could graduate. I am grateful for the friends I met at SETU, for the amazing lecturers, and for the opportunities they provided. I am thankful for the support from the SETU Sanctuary Scholarship Programme, as they sponsored my first and second year of college,” Grace states.  

SETU Sanctuary Scholarship graduate Grace Finlari (centre) with her family at a special reception held at South East Technological University’s (SETU’s) Waterford campus.

A special reception was held for Grace and her family in advance of the morning conferring ceremony at SETU Arena. Meeting SETU President, Prof. Veronica Campbell was considered a real honour by Grace and her extended family, who joined her for the celebrations.  

Going forward, Grace hopes to thrive in her career and “go as high as God enables me to go.” 

Encouraging others in similar situations to follow in her path, Grace says, “There are opportunities for everybody in both the national and international labour markets. By everyone, I mean everyone, with no exception. Do not let your race, or negative thoughts fluster you. Just be skilled and prepared for the path you have chosen.”