Confession I have too many bits of almost meaningless paper which are only useful when it comes to filling in job applications. Tomorrow I get another such certificate, having the M Litt I found I had passed in the latter part of last year conferred upon me. I have to admit though I have a major sense of achievement about the one I’m getting tomorrow.
Durham is just another uni like all the others I’ve been to on many levels, but on another it has to be admitted that there is a difference between that institution and others I’ve been to, particularly those I first studied at. It’s mainly to do with the perceptions of others but its also to do with the type of intake they had as well as their ranking in the official assessment exercises and so on, particularly for Theology, my area of study.
For those who don’t know my story I was a sixth form drop out who left my A Level courses at school because I thought I was too thick to go to university.
Having gone and done my A Levels at evening class over one year each I got grades which weren’t wonderful, in fact Nene College, (now Uni of Northampton), was the only place that would take me to do a degree rather than an HND when I was frantically phoning round during clearing.
During what I describe as my “falling apart period” I went off to University of East London part time (one day a week) to do an MA, didn’t get the dissertation done and so ended up with a lower post-grad qualification. Part of the reason for the lack of dissertation on the first MA was I went off to Canterbury Christ Church to do my teaching qualification, and the actual logistics of preparing to move were a nightmare.
After a while teaching I got the study bug again and found myself at the University of Kent having been offered a place on a Theology course (again part time, one day a week), when I didn’t even really know what the subject entailed. Life didn’t quite go to plan and I got a promotion when I changed jobs and I had to do the second year of that one basically by email correspondence - but I got through.
Then, just when I thought studying was over, I got this urge that the right thing to do was give up my good job and head north to Durham in order to do M Litt research into the experience of single parents within evangelical churches.
It was crazy and I wouldn’t have got through without the support of friends and family particularly Karl who was a proof reader extraordinaire, including several wibsite people, at one point I was working 3 part time jobs as well as doing other stuff besides my study and being a single mum dealing with a teenager going through a rough time.
It’s important to add the role of family and friends was important through all whole academic journey. My mum, who died half way through my MA, was a particular source of support in her own slightly unique way.
Actually, I guess I should add in I was a single mum with main care of my daughter for 15 years in total and all the qualifications apart from my A Levels and first degree were whilst I was doing that job of being a single mum too. Oh and for those who don’t know and think my undergrad must have been without complication I had my daughter between my second and third years at uni. From when she was six weeks old I’d travel to Northampton from Ipswich on a Monday morning, returning home to husband and baby on Thursday evening.
Looking back on all that I realise that I deserve to be pleased when I graduate tomorrow, mine was not an easy or perhaps in that place “normal” route to this graduation – although I know enough about others to doubt there really is a “normal route” - but I got there.
So tomorrow I think it’s not out of order to say I am entitled to my sense of achievement as I attend what I am pretty sure will be the final graduation ceremony to give me a bit of paper.
I share that not just because I have that sense of achievement but also to encourage others who might be reading this who are progressing through courses in sometimes less than ideal circumstances, you can do it! I also want to highlight the way that people progress at different rates. Under the changes currently taking place in education I would have been labelled somewhat of a failure and may not have been able to develop later in the way I have. In fact with the new systems of funding for further education courses and undergraduate degrees and the cut backs to FE provision I am not sure I would have even managed my A Levels, that’s if I had made it through the Bac.
I also want to give my story as an example to show how the assumption that everybody who inhabits that academic bubble has no experience of “real life” is wrong. Behind everybody in a uni, of whatever sort, is a life story and as I’ve gone through I’ve found talking to those around me that very few of them have the ‘priviledged’ or ‘simple’ route to success which is often associated with them.