From refugee to role model: How Beatrice learned to help herself and others

Fiona West, Communications Director
By Fiona West Communications Director
Beatrice Waran, ACAP Valedictorian - Master of Counselling and Psychotherapy

As an eight-year-old African refugee struggling with self-identity, confidence and belief, Beatrice Waran would never have dreamed that she would find her voice and vocation two decades later, and be delivering the valedictorian speech as the top performing student at the Australian College of Applied Professions (ACAP) Perth Graduating Class of 2023.

Beatrice Waran, ACAP Valedictorian with Chris Klopper, ACAP Dean


When Beatrice arrived in Perth 22 years ago with her parents and six siblings from South Sudan, she carried experiences and trauma that she didn’t have the words or maturity to identify. While it unconsciously impacted her life as an anxious child and teenager, it wasn’t until she learned about psychology and mental health that she found the tools to heal herself, and the calling to help others.

Beatrice, who graduated from ACAP’s Master of Counselling and Psychotherapy course last year, is now working as a counsellor at a women’s multicultural service, bringing her unique understanding to women of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities, including young migrants and refugees.

“I just love it, because I can relate a lot to what they are going through.”

“I had an experience one time that really made me feel like, ‘maybe this is why I’m here’. I was sitting in the room and one of the clients came in, an Eritrean girl, and her face was gloomy and down, because she was obviously going through a lot. But as soon as she saw me, she just kind of lit up; she started smiling. I think she was grateful to see someone that kind of looked like her, and that might understand what she was going through.”

Beatrice was a qualified occupational therapist before deciding to study counselling. A psychology class in her undergraduate degree introduced her to the area of mental health, and it resonated with her so strongly she knew it was something she needed to pursue. While working in OT she undertook professional development workshops in suicide prevention and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, before finally deciding “I just need to do the whole course”.

She chose ACAP for its flexibility, including online and evening courses that she could fit in around work. With a course and community that was exactly what she’d been looking for, it turned out to be a life-changing decision, both personally and professionally.

Beatrice Waran, ACAP Valedictorian
“As soon as I started learning about mental health I realised the reason I was drawn to it so much was because I had experienced my own mental health issues, like trauma as a child - I was always very anxious and worried and I didn't know why. But after absorbing all this knowledge, it gave me answers for things that I had been going through, and I now had language and vocabulary to identify my own issues.”

Beatrice describes her experience as a young child living in a war zone as “very intense”. Her family escaped war in South Sudan hoping to find peace in Uganda, but again experienced more unrest and displacement.

“As an African child you go through a lot because if you end up in a refugee camp, so many different things happen, like abuse and trauma, and I went through that. I think for the longest time, I kind of shut that out, but even though you’re a kid you still kind of know what’s going on around you.”

Beatrice Waran valedictorian speech close up


Beatrice said growing up she had flashbacks and dreams that she dismissed as her imagination. “But after a while, I just couldn’t shake it anymore,” she said. “I was just like, ‘No, that did happen. I’ve been through things and I need to figure out a way to deal with it.”

Beatrice said undertaking the trauma units of study in the ACAP course helped her make sense of her own life experiences, while giving her a “huge appreciation” for the counselling field.

Beatrice Waran, ACAP Valedictorian
“You understand that knowledge is power … and that there are ways and strategies to be able to deal with what you have experienced and are still experiencing. And then being able to provide that for others as well is a very powerful thing. And I think maybe that's why I'm just so passionate about it, because I'm like, ‘If it can work for me, surely it can work for you as well’."

Beatrice delivered the valedictorian speech at ACAP’s graduation ceremony in April, in a room of academics, industry professionals, students, community and families, most importantly, her own.

“My parents and siblings were there,” Beatrice said. “My Mum just cried – she didn’t have any words, because when I told the story of my journey it’s obviously her story too. And my Dad was just very proud.”

Beatrice Waran valedictorian speech wide shot


Refugee Week is celebrated in Australia Sunday 16 June to Saturday 22 June 2024. This year’s theme ‘Finding Freedom: Family’ encapsulates the journey of resilience, strength, and unity that defines the refugee experience. Beatrice’s story is a fitting example of this theme, showing how her refugee experience helped shaped her future purpose, and through hard work, dedication and motivation will now be of great.

“Being a counsellor is being that safe place for someone to allow them to be able to coregulate, and walk through the things that are hard in life,” Beatrice reflects. “But its important to be that for yourself first, because sometimes we’re too busy trying to give empathy and care and compassion to others, but really don’t do that very well for ourselves – and we really can’t give out what we don’t have.

“So I think that's really what my journey has taught me: ‘Be kind to yourself, because of the things that you’ve gone through. And when you can do that well for yourself you’re going to be able to do that well for others’.”
Apply Now
I'm applying as a

Domestic Student

I'm applying as an

International Student