In early 2001 aged fifteen, I dropped out of my final compulsory year at school. I was due to sit several GCSE exams that June in St Brigid’s College. However, I never showed up.
At the age of 15/16, I struggled to fit in or adapt to school life. In those day’s I carried a lot of anger which greatly affected my ability to concentrate, fit in socially or to use the talents and gifts that others said I had in a positive way.
Family breakdown and other factors meant my home was far from the average nuclear family. However, despite our issues, my family home was full of love and each challenge was dealt with as they kept on coming.
We are all subject to our environments and the social conditions we that were born into. We can only grow from the soil that we have been planted. Some are lucky and instantly grow in fertile soil, whilst others have to wait for the right conditions to appear.
With that said, I believe that an incident which occurred when I was six years old in Fort George military base in 1991 involving two British soldiers completely knocked my direction off course. The fear triggered by this incident taught me how to use anger in a negative way at the age of six.
This factor coupled with the choices that I made based on these emotions reduced everything in my life to one thing, fear. I meet many people like this, albeit the trigger is a lot different.
There are only two primary emotions, fear and love. Hate and anger and other negative emotions all flow from fear. For a long time, my choices were made from fear, not for the love of myself or of others around me.
With that said, I am sure there are lots of young people who face similar difficulties and do well at school. However, that wasn’t me. On GSCE results day I remember going to the school with some friends to collect our results.
Of course, my printout said UUUUU as I never showed up. Others did well and some like one of my friends didn’t do so well neither he got FUDGE. This guy went on to get a trade and is doing really well for his young family.
Bizarrely, my form teacher referred to me as a ‘strange child’ on my ‘record of achievement’, how on earth could I show that to employers? Thankfully, the old burgundy booklets have been dumped.
In 2014 at the age of 29 after thirteen years of beating myself up and being badgered by my partner and friends repeating that I was too intelligent to be sitting driving a taxi without a single GSCE to my name, I decided to act.
My plan was to beg Emer O` Sullivan to get back into the Access Course at NWRC that I flopped at a few years before due to my involvement in politics and the drama that went with it. After convincing Emer and the NWRC that I was serious this time around and convincing myself that I was done with politics, I gave it another go.
2014/15 became eventful years. Inter alia this included a full year of illness and a six-week stay in a hospital after getting diagnosed with a large tumour on my thyroid which was pressing against my throat with crippling symptoms. All of this was going on in the middle of my course.
I can remember researching assignments whilst be connected to all sorts of medical equipment. Encouragement and support from NWRC staff and fellow students helped a lot and I was determined to get to the end.
There were moments when I believed that this thing would beat me, however, the tumour was successfully removed. Nevertheless, an equivocal report regarding the nature of the tumour and continuing symptoms led to health anxiety that crippled my mental health for the rest of the academic year.
Despite these hurdles, I sat five exams over two weeks in May 2015. A Maths GCSE was followed by Psychology, Sociology, History and Law A- level equivalents. I passed every one of them and I graduated with a distinction in the Diploma. I had every excuse to drop out, but by the Grace, of God, I kept going.
Earlier that year Emer O` Sullivan had helped me fill out a UCAS application and helped me draft a personal statement. I applied for 5 courses in Queens and Ulster University. Results pending, I received offers for all five places and I later was awarded the results which allowed me to choose the course I most greatly desired.
I decided to choose one of the tougher courses, a Law LLB with Honours at my local university in Magee and I began in September 2015. I have just completed my second year with a chunk of my results sitting in the first-class division. Results from my latest exams are due soon and I am confident of making it into the final year.
It’s not just me doing so well, I know social workers, nurses and a young determined mum from Gallaigh who is about to graduate as a result of the access course. Great thing lies ahead. Over 2000 people have graduated as a result of the NWRC access course.
I am planning to use my academic achievements in a positive way to help others in my wider community and my city. My short-term plan is to become a local welfare advisor, before continuing my legal studies and completing an LLM later down the line. Many challenges and hurdles lie ahead.
My final point notes the importance of refusing to write yourself off. Regardless of your past and your failures, great things can be achieved.
An insurance company wouldn’t write a Porsche off because of a few dents and a chipped window screen, nor should you do the same to yourself without knowing your true value.
If you think the academic path is for you, the first thing you should do is believe. The second is contact the NWRC and the third is to keep on believing in yourself and jump over the hurdles as they come.
There is always time, it is never too late, people in their sixties have completed access courses and went on to university. Oh and make choices out of love, not fear and never allow anyone to write you off.
Ciaran Boyle Derry