Canberra University students, Graeme Innes AM, graduate

Alexandria Garlan has known firsthand what it's like to be a woman in a man's world.

As the sole female, and also the youngest project manager for a Canberra construction company, she represents the changing face of the building industry in Australia. 

Ms Garlan was one of four women in a cohort of 10 students who graduated from the University of Canberra with a bachelor's degree in building and construction management on Wednesday. 

They were among hundreds of relieved and jubilant students from the university who gathered for their graduation ceremony in the Great Hall at Parliament House.

More than 1300 graduates will have donned a cap and gown to collect their hard-earned degrees when the last of four ceremonies, held over two days, ends on Thursday.

Ms Garlan began her studies in 2009 with a bachelor of arts, but after her father developed brain cancer and died that year, her plans for her future shifted.

"All my dad's side is in construction, so it's something that has always been important," she said. "When my Dad died I thought it was time to get serious."

She switched her degree to follow in her father's footsteps and started work with Banyan Constructions three years ago.

"I'm interested in building conservation and Canberra's a really good place to do that in Australia. 

"I think the best basis for that is a really good background in construction."

She's now set on forging a career path in a traditionally male-dominated field. 

"It's hard but I think we're slowly closing the gender gap and I think there are a lot of people and groups in the industry which are really trying to encourage that.

"Equality in construction has come so far."

Also among the elated crowd on Wednesday was Australia's former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes AM, who was awarded an honorary doctorate.

He was surprised and honoured to be recognised and hoped it would give "continued momentum" to his long-term advocacy work in the areas of disability and human rights. 

Dr Innes, 59, was commissioner in 2005 and also had stints as race discrimination commissioner and human rights commissioner.

He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1995 and was an Australian of the Year finalist in 2003.

Dr Innes said his  experience of disability, after he was born blind due to a congenital condition, as well as a passion for human rights, had been the driving force behind his work. 

"I grew up in a family which had Christian values and we believed we had a social obligation to support people who were more disadvantaged than we were," he said. 

"My parents always treated me as one of three children, never as the special child just because I had a disability." 

 Those with a disability were often portrayed in the media as either heroes or victims, and he had a simple message for the next generation: "To young people with a disability I always say just get on with your life, do whatever you want to do."

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