Paralympian Jessica Gallagher awarded RMIT Honorary Doctorate

Paralympian Jessica Gallagher awarded RMIT Honorary Doctorate

The inspirational athlete accepted a Doctor of Social Science honoris causa in front of over 8,500 RMIT graduating students at Marvel Stadium.

Gallagher boasts a remarkable list of sporting achievements, including as the first Australian woman to win a Winter Paralympic medal and our first athlete to medal at both the Summer and Winter games.

She has famously represented Australia in four different sports – alpine skiing, athletics, track cycling and rowing – a three-time Paralympic medalist, World Champion, two-time Commonwealth Games Champion and eleven World Championship medals to her name. She has been to five Paralympics and is on track to make it number six next year in Paris.

Gallagher acknowledged that while her career is usually judged by the conventional measures of success – the medals, the good and the great times – the reality was that things had not always gone the way she planned.  

Her message to the crowd of 50,00 graduating students, friends, family and RMIT staff was to embrace the challenges they would inevitably encounter during their lives. 

Jessica Gallahgher and Peggy O'Neal AO Jessica Gallagher receives her Honorary Doctorate from RMIT Chancellor Ms Peggy O'Neal AO

“At any point in time during our lives we will all face our challenges, the difficult and inconceivable moments that push and stretch us beyond what we are trying to achieve," she said. 

“People often think when they learn you have represented Australia in four sports that you move seamlessly from one to the other, but this has not been the case for me, far from it.

“What I’m proudest of is that at those points where I’ve come to a block in the road ahead, I’ve been forced to think differently, try something new and create a new pathway.”

Diagnosed with cone dystrophy at the age of 17 and classed as legally blind, Gallagher uses her personal experience and her achievements to make a difference in the lives of others. 

Through advocacy and dedicated community engagement, she works tirelessly to increase awareness, promote independence and participation for those living with low vision or blindness and to reduce avoidable vision loss or blindness. 

Announcing the award, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Design and Social Context and Vice-President Professor Tim Marshall said Gallagher’s achievements and commitment to community service made her a role model for the RMIT community.

“Jessica has challenged stereotypes in the world of sport and broken down barriers in Australia and around the world, he said.

“Her determination to overcome any obstacle in her way, to embrace diversity and to stand up for others are testament to the strength and potential in us all.”

Alongside her sporting achievements, Gallagher has a successful career as an Osteopath, holding a Bachelor of Applied Science (Complementary Medicine) and Master of Osteopathy, both from RMIT and is a highly sought after keynote speaker.

She is a longstanding global ambassador and Board Member of Vision 2020 Australia, an organisation committed to the elimination of avoidable blindness and the full participation of those with blindness or low vision and an ambassador for Seeing Eye Dogs and Vision Australia.


Story: Karen Phelan

13 December 2023


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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.