Meet 'Class of 2020' University of Suffolk students graduating during Covid
- Credit: Gregg Brown/University of Suffolk
It was one the toughest of years for these students - but now, it is time to celebrate.
2020 was an incredibly challenging year for University of Suffolk students, who were forced to learn online for large parts of the coronavirus crisis.
Yet with perseverance and support from their tutors, they succeeded - with nearly 570 graduating in the Class of 2020.
Normally, students would celebrate all their hard work at graduation ceremonies with their friends and family.
That was planned for October 2020 but could not happen, because of COVID-19 restrictions on major events.
So over the past fortnight, the university has invited the Class of 2020 back for Mark Your Achievement events, taking place instead of the usual ceremony.
Starting on Tuesday, May 18, the events have given graduates the opportunity to wear their gowns and be formally congratulated by the university in the presence of their families.
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They have also been able to have traditional graduation photographs taken.
The events have operated in accordance with the government guidance and safety measures, such as the wearing of face coverings and social distancing.
Vice-Chancellor, Professor Helen Langton, said: “Graduation is the culmination of all the hard work of our students, and we are extremely proud of the Class of 2020.
"Although the last few weeks of their final year were not necessarily as they would have hoped given the national pandemic, nevertheless they all demonstrated resilience and commitment to their programmes of study.
"This is a time to celebrate accomplishments and we congratulate our graduates on attaining their awards.
"I wish our Class of 2020 every success for the future."
Here are just some of the Class of 2020 who have been celebrating their graduations.
'The University of Suffolk believed in me' - mum Donna, 43
Donna Crake, from Bury St Edmunds, previously worked as a manager for Greene King for nearly two decades, joining the brewer at the age of 23.
The 43-year-old mother-of-two said: "Once I got as high as manager, there were two options for me - join another company and work my way up again, or study a trade such as nursing as I knew I wanted to work with people."
She said she applied for a BSc (Hons) in Adult Nursing at the University of Suffolk because nursing is a career that "opens up a whole range of opportunities".
After being offered a place on the course in 2016, she had to retake maths and study functional skills so she could get into the next intake.
She went to West Suffolk College to get the qualifications she needed, spending her evenings and weekends sitting past papers and studying.
"No-one in my family has got a degree," Donna said.
"In school, I was told I was never going to be clever enough to gain a degree.
"I taught myself to academically write. I planned my time and got my assignments done in time, every time with no extensions.
"I did the Great East Run through uni whilst working and studying - and carried on training and running throughout."
Donna qualified in February 2020 - but could scarcely have imagined a more challenging start to her new career.
She started working as a Band 5 nurse for emergency surgery at West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, the next month - just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
She described it as an "extremely hard and stressful time as a newly-qualified nurse" - but managed the difficult period by spending time reflecting, staying in touch with friends and reading books such as The Chimp Paradox and Atomic Habits.
"I really took control of my mental health through running and exercise and spent a lot of time reading up around common conditions that my ward dealt with to try and better my understanding and performance at work," she said.
"I like to think of barriers as challenges. Therefore, I used the time throughout COVID-19 to really improve my learning, so that I could apply it within my role."
Donna later successfully applied for her dream job as a diabetes specialist nurse, having done her dissertation on the subject.
"I start in July and I cannot wait to expand the service and make diabetes super interesting for healthcare professionals and engage patients into wanting to manage their condition,” she said.
"I am now starting an exciting role which at the beginning I could only have dreamt of getting.
"I was the one that had no time off in practice and attended every lecture, as I knew it would make me a better nurse.
"I am not one to blow my own trumpet, but I am so proud of myself for everything I achieved in my three years and what I continue to achieve now.
“People telling me I cannot do something or won’t make a success of myself, there is nothing better than proving your doubters wrong.
“This graduation event is more than celebrating my degree to me. It is showing my two boys that you should not listen to people and that, if you want something to happen, you need to work for it and persevere.
"I look back now at my three years of training and it was just the start of my learning.
"Every day now, I reflect on what I have learnt. If mistakes are made, I will always ensure it never happens again and learn from it. Successes are mistakes revisited, as the author James Clear said - and that couldn’t be more true.
"I often beat myself up about why I didn’t train to do nursing when I was younger and the simple answer is that I didn’t have the confidence, was put down, didn’t want to put the work in.
"Everything I do, I put 100% into. I can hold my head up high and put my hands in the air and say that every day I walk away after my shift, I have given my patients my 100% everything. I will continue to do this until my final day of being a nurse.
“The University of Suffolk is somewhere that believed in me and gave me the chance to better myself. It's a university that changed my life, so that I can better others.
"My message to anyone wanting to be a nurse - believe in yourself but be prepared to work hard. Recognise and get the help you need from the academic lecturers, plan and manage your time well.
"In practice, spread the sparkle! I always used to say this to myself when I was up against the less enthusiastic nursing staff, and also never stop asking questions.”
Beatrice's lasting memory will be the friendships
Beatrice McCabe had worked in assistant roles in the NHS before deciding on her chosen path of a BSc (Hons) in Diagnostic Radiotherapy at the University of Suffolk.
For part of her degree, she went to Coimbra, Portugal, on an Erasmus exchange programme, before going on to work at the James Paget University Hospital, in Gorleston.
Like many of her fellow students, she was placed on the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) temporary register due to the coronavirus pandemic - meaning she could join the workforce before she had received her final qualifications.
“It was like an overnight transition from student to professional, which was quite daunting," she said of the role, where she did numerous X-rays and scans on COVID-19 patients.
However, she added that her colleagues were very helpful and said: "Being thrown in at the deep end helped me to hone my skills quickly."
Beatrice said she never considered herself to be very academic, so was delighted when she got a First for her dissertation.
With the help of her supervisor, she is now reworking it with a view to publishing it in a radiography journal.
She is also undertaking in-house training to be a specialised CT and MRI diagnostic radiographer.
“Having the chance to take the skills I had learnt aboard in Portugal was a highlight for me," she said.
"Over the three years of my degree, I had various opportunities and the chance to meet a range of people. Every week there was a new challenge and new skills to learn.
“My lasting memory will be the friendships I formed on the course. You spend a lot of time with the other students at your placement site and we all helped each other a lot.
"I will also miss the lecturers. They are so supportive and enthusiastic about their subjects.
"There is something for everyone on this course. If you are looking for a career that involves providing patient care, learning anatomy and using state of the art technology, then this is the ideal career.”
Her advice to anyone considering a similar career path is to try and spend time in a radiology department to discover the broad range of career opportunities available.
Mauro 'confident of my career choice and excited to get going'
Mauro Cardoso had been coaching at a school and working in a warehouse when he was meant to start an apprenticeship.
The apprenticeship got cancelled, but Mauro said: "I felt like I needed more in my life and I wanted to achieve big things."
He therefore decided to go to university, saying: "I wanted to study at the University of Suffolk because of the opportunity to work with professional clubs through my degree course.”
Taking a BSc (Hons) degree in Sport Performance Analysis, Mauro said: "Before attending university, I felt lost in terms of my career.
"Now, I am confident in my career choice and I am excited to get going.
"I am obsessed with being successful so I can support my whole family. My parents worked hard, extremely hard, to bring me to England from Portugal, so all I want to do is repay them.”
In his final year, Mauro was also elected Vice-President of the University of Suffolk Students’ Union.
“My lasting memories will be the friendships that I built through my course and also through participating in the university men’s football team," he said.
'University has given me confidence' - degree helps launch Sally's artistic career
Sally Jackson created a 9m wall mural for Ipswich Town Football Club during her BA (Hons) Fine Art degree - an opportunity she says wouldn't have been possible had she not been to university.
She was able to collaborate with the world-famous DJ Yoda for her final degree project.
Although her responsibilities of home-schooling four children meant she could not later commit to a PGCE as planned, she has since gone on to complete 13 commissioned pieces since December 2020.
The most recent was a 9m mural for a primary school in Wivenhoe, Essex.
“University has given me confidence in myself and my art practice, which has provided me with the skills required to work as a practising artist," she said.
"University challenged me and now I have the confidence to take on commission pieces that I never thought I would say yes to.”
Of the lockdowns, she said: "The situation gave me the push I needed to work as a practising artist."
'Be prepared for hard work' - Amy's message to nursing students
Amy Schwer, who has graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Adult Nursing, was one of those asked by the government to help during the coronavirus pandemic.
She worked as a Band 4 nurse at Ipswich Hospital's cardiac ward.
“It was a scary time, especially as I had a child at home and my mum is my childcare," she said.
"So there was the fear of bringing anything home to your loved ones - but I instantly knew when the government asked that I wanted to opt in and help."
Unfortunately, she did contract coronavirus while working there. She also said "getting used to the PPE was a challenge".
However, she said of the role: "It was definitely rewarding.
"As nurses, we train to take care of people - and what better time and what greater need than during a global pandemic, when people were at their lowest and most scared.
"As families weren’t allowed in hospitals, we were their nurses and quite often their family too.”
After working at Ipswich Hospital, Amy is now a prison nurse at HMP Warren Hill, a men's prison near Woodbridge.
“It’s very rewarding," she said.
"I don’t think people realise there are so many different sectors to go into once you have a nursing degree.
"There is the NHS, which is fantastic - but there is also the private sector as well, with a very diverse range of jobs you can go into.
“For anyone considering a nursing degree, I would say absolutely go into it - but go into it with your eyes wide open.
"It is probably one of the hardest degree courses you can do. You are working long hours on placement as well as juggling studying, possibly working too and family commitments.
"Be prepared for hard work. It won’t be easy but days on the ward make it all worthwhile.
"When you are stressed to your eyeballs, writing your dissertation and things like that, the goal is that day on stage, or as good as, with your family watching you and celebrating your achievements.”
'It opens so many doors' - Daniel on his Business Management degree
After graduating with a BA (Hons) in Business Management, Daniel Serra is now working at Synertec - a document creation, distribution and management company in Bristol.
Daniel, who is originally from Portugal, said: "If you’re unsure, a degree like Business Management opens so many doors. It is just incredible.
"I covered a lot of different topics, from economics to law, from finance to marketing.
"Versatility is a really important factor, especially with the job market at the moment.
"In fact, that is what got me my second job - they were impressed with how agile and versatile I was.
"I now work in technical operations and before that I worked in production, so I have been able to use my skills in both sides of the business.”
'Proud of how much I've grown as a person' - English graduate Jessica
Jessica Howe, from Sudbury, says she is now "far more confident" as a result of graduating with a BA (Hons) degree in English.
Her biggest highlight was achieving a First on her dissertation, which she said was the "culmination of three years’ hard work".
She added: "It was something I’d always hoped would happen but never thought it actually would.
"I’m proud of how much I’ve grown as a person. My course really allowed me to develop and get my own ideas out there, and I’m far more confident as a result.
“My initial plan was to finish the degree then go straight into work, but with the pandemic I decided to take another year and do my Master's to allow things to recover.
"I’m currently studying MA War, Culture, and Society. During my time at the University of Suffolk, I discovered I really love historical fiction, especially wartime texts - so I wanted to learn more about how wars have impacted society.
"Hopefully one day I’ll be able to combine History and English to teach others and I’ve been accepted to start teacher training in September, so I can start to make this really happen.”
Double celebration for Fiona, 40
Fiona Borrett graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Mental Health Nursing.
She attended the Mark Your Achievement event with her daughter, auntie and niece - and it was an especially big day for her, as she was also celebrating her 40th birthday.
Before completing the degree, Fiona was working in management and marketing. She is now a mental health nurse at Woodlands, Ipswich Hospital.