After more than a decade at university, Gemma Killen became a doctor on Friday.
Like many other students and PhD candidates graduating this month, there were no sparkling wines and graduation hats tossed into the skies.
Recent COVID-19 outbreaks in capital cities around the country, including nearby Sydney, have meant an in-person celebration for students at the Australian National University would not be possible for the July 2021 cohort.
While she felt like a weight had been lifted, the sociology academic explained the journey to this point was one that gave her a sense of purpose and belonging.
As a teenager, Dr Killen had dropped out of high school after she experienced bullying and harassment by students because of her sexuality.
"School was great and something that I loved until I was in year 10 and that's when I came out," Dr Killen said.
"My girlfriend and I at the time were the only ones out [about our sexuality] in the school.
"Everybody knew us as 'those weird lesbians' and so teachers would regularly ask other students if they were comfortable sitting next to me or if they were comfortable working in group projects with 'the lesbian'."
But when she signed up to study in university, she found others she shared common interests and stories with.
"I am driven a little bit by - I don't want to call it vengeance - a sense of showing people that felt that I wouldn't be able to amount to anything because of my sexuality that I could become Dr Killen," she said.
"I think that's why high school was so difficult. I felt quite alone because of all the bullying.
"But when I was at uni, I was surrounded by such a supportive community - both a queer community and an academic community - that I was really able to flourish there."
After completing her undergraduate, Dr Killen decided to dedicate her research to the online community that helped her feel less alone during those early years.
She recalled using throwback social networking platforms, like MSN and LiveJournal, to seek out others in the LGBTQIA+ community around the world.
"For a lot of queer people, [the internet] is a place where they can be themselves and sometimes the only place that they can be themselves," she said.
"It's also, I think, a really important archive of queer history - our history doesn't necessarily get recorded through other official channels."
"I think there's been this shift away from relying on big media companies to represent minority identities, and particularly queer people," Dr Killen said.
"Especially in places like TikTok or Instagram where people can represent themselves and tell their own stories and don't rely on this kind of gatekeeping process by bigger corporations."
While there was no big festivity planned to mark the submission of her thesis, she said her partner's planned a customised cake decorated with the front page of her thesis.
Reflecting back on her difficult times during high school, Dr Killen said she was glad she could show her adversaries how far she had come.
She encouraged others facing similar situations to not let those moments define them.
"All of your hopes for your whole life don't have to hinge on the way that you perform in high school, or even the way that you perform at the beginning of university," she said.