On the day of her graduation from the University of the Sunshine Coast, 24-year-old Jacci Sharkey posed proudly for a photo in her cap and gown while breastfeeding her baby boy Alek. The Australian mother-of-two later sent the photo and a thank-you message to the her university, which the school shared on its official Facebook page. Within days, it had over 200,000 likes.
"It filled me with such pride that the Uni wanted to share [the photo]," Sharkey told The Huffington Post in an email. "It shows how supportive they are of all their students, whether they are athletes, scholars or mums."
While many commenters and articles have focused on the breastfeeding aspect of the picture, Sharkey says the photo was actually less a statement about nursing and more about motherhood and work-life balance. "I would have sent the same picture to the uni had Alek had a bottle (I had tried to give him one but he doesn’t take them when I offer them) or a sandwich," she explained, pointing to the main sentiment behind the photo:
"My main message was to show to other mums that were thinking of studying that it can be done and to just go for it. To me the picture represents mums being able to have it all, a career and a family. They don’t have to give up the career for kids, and don’t have to give up kids for the career. As mothers we can have it all."
Sharkey, who is also mom to a toddler son named Ari, graduated with a Bachelor of Business in Human Resource Management. She described receiving her degree as "one of the greatest feelings," on par with getting married and having children. And she is incredibly grateful for her family's support throughout her studies. "To be able to share it with them is something I’ll never forget."
In contrast to another mom's graduation breastfeeding photo that went viral in June, Sharkey says that most of the responses to her photo have been "extremely positive," though there are a few "keyboard warriors" as well.
But the mom won't let any negative comments affect her life. "At the end of the day I’m going to do what is best for my baby, not what someone hiding behind a keyboard wants me to do."