Inspirational Graduations

By Rachel Sanders

This summer I had the privilege of being a part of the graduation ceremonies taking place in the shiny new Great Hall on Bay Campus. While I sat there watching all the students walk across stage receiving their handshakes from the Chancellor or Vice-Chancellor, it struck me just how many amazing stories there were of overcoming hardship and perseverance to achieve. Truly, I felt humbled and inspired, eager to start my second year of studies with a new vigour and perspective. Then I thought about all the freshers who would be coming to Swansea for the first time in September and how lost I felt when I started. It would have been great to have had some stories like these as a sign-post pointing me in the right direction and reminding me of why I was here. So, here they are, hopefully they will inspire not only you freshers but also those of you who are more seasoned students possibly in need of something to remind you of what on Earth we are all doing here!

The Undergraduate
Name: Robyn Lock
Graduated with: BSc Marine Biology

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Robyn is well known round campus for her sporty endeavours but this girl has brains as well as brawn. Robyn was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma during her third year which resulted in her taking a year out to fight the disease. She came back fighting strong, though (in true Robyn fashion) and completed her degree whilst running for (and being elected as) Sport’s Officer for the Student Union – a post which she currently holds.

What was the hardest thing about your time in Uni?

The jump between the first and second year. Also, my transition back to Uni after my year out; seeing all my friends graduate and then coming back and having to re-jig my brain. The hardest bit is always coming back after a long period off, so the second year September was difficult and then the third year, and then the third year again.

What was the best thing about your time in Uni?

Starting my third year, things clicked which was a great feeling. Also, the field trip to Puerto Rico – two weeks in the Caribbean, tropical Marine Biology, going out there and applying my brain in the field, under pressure. I’m very hands on so instead of stats and error bars I just wanted to wrestle with alligators.

How did sport help you?

Massively, there are lots of transferable skills like teamwork, meeting training times, meeting deadlines. Communication as well and understanding how feedback works. Also, having your time split helps your focus. I had less time to do my course but I was focused because I had less time to mess about. I would lose my head if I didn’t get involved in extra-curricular stuff. I know now I work really well in a team, so I knew going into a lab for my dissertation I needed to coincide with other people. People say “You’re either a sport’s person or an academic” but no, you’re not. You can be all of them.

How did your year out affect your studies?

When I came back and needed to focus and start meeting deadlines my lecturers were really understanding; they taught me it was alright to say “I’m struggling” which I’m not very good at.

The year out wasn’t great, but coming back I knew I was going into my third year, I was going to be doing my dissertation, I was going to Puerto Rico, I had my third year exams and I was going to run for Sport’s Officer. So I knew I needed to come back focussed; I said to myself “That happened, whatever, crack on”. I always focussed on the next step and when they said “You can’t”, I said “I can, watch me”. It also gave me massive perspective on life. A first isn’t the bee-all and the end-all. It’s great, but I did my best and I’m happy with that.

What helped you face your challenges?

Like-minded people, close-knit friends and the societies. That is why it’s essential to get involved in other things.

Who/what inspires you?

My mum [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][*N.B.* Robyn’s mum captained England’s women’s rugby team, was 7th in the UK bodybuilding championships and completes half-ironman competitions in her spare time]. Nothing is too big for her, she’s been a great teacher and now we teach each other. If I’m in a difficult situation I ask myself “What would mum do?”

How did it feel to receive your degree?

Really good. All my family were there and I thought “Oh my god, I’ve done it, I’ve done Uni”. I was really proud of myself and my friends. I wanted to say “Well done everyone, you’ve got this. You’ve done Uni and you can do life. Easy. You’ve just got to start paying council tax”

What do you think the future holds for you?

Obviously I’ll be married to Dan Carter with his babies. Aside from that, I definitely see myself working in sport. I know I want to live by the beach and I would rather have less money and love my job than have more money and be miserable. As long as I can keep a smile on my face, look forward to going into work in the morning, don’t live for the weekend but live for every single day, then I’m happy.

What advice would you give to current students at Swansea?

Enjoy now. Realise you’ve ended up in Swansea for a reason and embrace it – being by the sea, opportunities from the University and the Student Union, get involved!

The Postgraduate

Name: Mohamad Hosein Khaleqi
Graduated with: MSc Advanced Computer Science
(with a specialisation in Software Technology)

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Originally from Iran, Moho (as he likes to be known) arrived in the UK as a refugee in 2012. Since then, he has achieved a Distinction in his Master’s Degree at Swansea, walked into a job almost immediately after finishing University and within seven months of being employed as a web developer has already risen to the ranks of department manager.

What was the hardest thing about your time in Uni?

I had no idea where to start and how. The biggest problem was the lack of information, where to begin, how to begin. There was no help from anyone, particularly in the University because they didn’t know anything about other countries’ qualifications and education systems.

Once I had started my course, everything except the studying was not in the right place. Obviously, language was a problem (I still have difficulty transferring my ideas to my team in work), it took maybe ten or more minutes to understand the whole meaning of the text first, then I needed to memorise it or solve the problem. Mainly, if I had a difficulty I didn’t know where to go, what I should do. I think the lack of information in the system was the biggest challenge.

What helped you face those challenges?

I think I ignored them, to be honest. If I can change it, I change it, but if I can’t, I usually accept it and move on.

What was the best thing about your time in Uni?

When I was alone in the library. I would say to myself “Moho, you will stay here and you will get it in the end”. It was all a new experience, a new challenge for me.

Who/what inspires you?

My goals. I have both short and long term goals. I don’t really care about other things, I just want to do it and I go for it. During University I wanted to finish it and I wanted to finish it with a very good result.

How did it feel to receive your degree?

Brilliant, really good. I really enjoyed the ceremony, we don’t have one for graduates in Iran. Now it’s over and officially finished, it’s a relief – a very good experience.

How do you think Swansea Uni helped you get to the place you are today?

The majority of my success today is down to Swansea Uni. My degree from Swansea helped me to find my job a lot easier, I really needed the qualification – Swansea has a very high ranking for IT. When I completed my qualification I had much better opportunities and more chances of getting jobs. I came here as a refugee, everything was difficult, now it’s not.

What do you think the future holds for you?

This is just the beginning. I’ve got a lot of plans for the future: I think programming is the future and I will continue on this path. My general plan is to be more successful.

What advice would you give to current students at Swansea?

When you are doing something put 100% into it. Do your best, otherwise what’s the point?

The Honorary Awardee
Name: Professor Laura McAllister
Graduated with: Honorary Degree

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Laura has an impressive CV; born in Bridgend, she studied at London School of Economics and then completed a PhD at Cardiff University. She is an expert on Devolution and headed the Richard Commission on the Powers and Electoral arrangements of the National Assembly for Wales. She is the chair of Sport Wales, co-chair of Women in STEM subjects, a former trustee of Stonewall and a fellow of the Learned Society Wales. As well as this she has stood as an election candidate twice for Plaid Cymru and played as a Women’s Football International and gained 24 caps for the National team also serving as Captain. And just as an indication of her character, when the subject of her CV was raised her response was “I don’t think I’ve done anything more than anyone else really. I’ve just taken the opportunities when they’ve come and embraced the opportunity to do things when I can”.

What was the hardest thing about your time in University?

Probably the initial move from Bridgend to London. In a positive way I really enjoyed that. I had a lot more independence and freedom and choice. I think that also applies to the way one works in University; the kind of independence that’s required to adjust to the demands of undergraduate life can be quite hard. It does take some thinking about and some adjustment before you actually get there.

What was the best thing about your time in Uni?

Meeting such a different range of people. There’s also the quality of teaching and the experience of learning – I was very fortunate to go to a good University, like Swansea, where the standards are very high and the quality of the academics who taught us was really fantastic. I felt like I was learning things just speaking to them. If you make the most of that and really embrace that culture of intelligence, intellectual learning that surrounds you then you can learn as much informally as formally really. You’ve got to buy into it and have a will, a positive drive to do it yourself, but if you’re prepared to do that then it can be one of the most rewarding experiences possible.

How important is it to be involved in societies and social activities during your time at Uni?

For me, really important, and not only sports. I guess it’s the easiest way of making friends initially. Most of my greatest friendships have come from the world of sport both in and out of Uni.

How can current students contribute to society and their local community?

It’s really important that they do try and do something, not just for the sake of the community – it’s good for them too. Whatever it is (it could be playing for a hockey team that’s not your University hockey team, for example, or working with a mental health charity or children’s charity) it keeps your feet on the ground. It allows you to remember that we’re very privileged as students and academics; we’re doing really interesting things and we’re getting funded – to some degree or other – by people out there working. So, doing something for the community is a great way of paying it back as well.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced since leaving Uni?

Initially, getting a job. Then I went on to do a PhD, I didn’t get a great deal of funding for that so it was quite difficult at times; having to do a lot of teaching and external work to fund the PhD, that wasn’t easy. Life’s about challenges; it’s really important to test yourself and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. It’s important to be ambitious and aspirational when you leave Uni.

What helped you face these challenges better, your time at Uni or your own personality?

Both. I think it’s your family as well, the background you come from. I came from a fairly ordinary family with a real ethic for working hard, being ambitious and being determined. University taught me to think properly and seriously, it taught me to self-discipline in work, it taught me that those of us who went to ordinary educational establishments have got as much to offer as those who went to private ones. It builds your confidence when you see you can hold your own with people from much more privileged backgrounds. So, in answer to your question, I think it’s a bit of everything; family, your own personal drive and University.

How did it feel to receive your degree?

Really, really special. I’m from Bridgend, Swansea’s just down the road. I‘ve got close links with Swansea; we spent a lot of time in Gower as children and I know the city very well. So, it’s a great honour to receive the kind of accolade that says you’ve made a good contribution to Wales and to the area in which you grew up and also to public life. Yes, a huge honour.

Who/what inspires you?

Making a difference for Wales, whether that’s in sport or in analysis of our politics or in public life generally. There is a real frustration that Wales is still a very poor place. It’s obviously economically poor, I think it’s politically poor in some respects. We haven’t got enough diversity in our politics and our thinking. All of that frustrates me. So, I think the inspiration comes from frustration as much as success. When I see things happening that I think are wrong or not good enough, that inspires me as much as seeing a great success and wanting to be a part of it.

What advice would you give to current students at Swansea?

Make the most of every day, blink and you’ll miss it. Don’t do the same things all the time. Take opportunities for things you can do locally and nationally. It’s the one time when you can pilot a lot of things simultaneously. Savour every moment, embrace it. Work, not just on your degree, but your life skills. Meet people, take responsibilities, engage with people in positions of authority. University is a great training ground for life.

What an incredible bunch of people. The word ‘legends’ is rarely so appropriate. It has been a privilege speaking to them, I hope they inspire you as much as they have done me. If you would like to contact anyone at the University about some of the topics raised there are some links below. All the best and good luck with your course!

Student Union International Students Officer:
international.pto@swansea-union.co.uk

Student Union Welfare Officer:
welfareofficer@swansea-union.co.uk

Discovery volunteering opportunities:
www.swansea.ac.uk/discovery

Academic Success Program:
www.myuni.swan.ac.uk/myuni-academic-study-services/cas/asp

Student Union societies’ page:
www.swansea-union.co.uk/activities[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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