Tag Archives: Graduation

“It’s never too late to achieve your goals and ambitions and don’t let anything get in the way.”

Netty Yasin spent her life advocating for her daughters and her community, before deciding to pursue her life-long ambition of a legal career. This month she graduated from the Qualifying Law Degree (LLM); this is her #BBKgrad story.

Netty Yasin

Netty always had ambitions of a career in law, but life got in the way of her dream. She had intended to return to education once her two daughters (born 16 months apart) were in nursery, however when her youngest daughter was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, learning difficulties and a speech and language disorder, Netty channelled her energy into ensuring her daughter was able to thrive.

When her daughter was of school age, she found that the independent special school she was attending was not helping her progress, so she took matters into her own hands. “I could not find a school that suited her complex needs, so I found an American programme that really resonated with me because it didn’t set unjustified limits on what she could achieve. I did it myself, set up a classroom for her in one of our bedrooms and I taught her all day everyday while my other daughter was at school and she started to make really amazing progress.”

After home-schooling her daughter for six years, Netty was able to secure funding from the local council that meant that she could hire people to take over the day-time teaching. She then set about finding a role for herself, taking on a series of volunteer roles and eventually a full-time position as a Special Education Needs and Disabilities advisor, a job which she describes as rewarding. However, for Netty, her love of the law was never far from her mind and it was a conversation with her eldest daughter that spurred her back on to the path she had always intended to take. “We were talking about careers, one of those deep mother-daughter chats, and I was encouraging her not to limit herself and to pursue her dreams… she turned to me and said well, why don’t you just take your own advice. It was a lightbulb moment!”

Although she describes Birkbeck as a welcoming place, she recalls the challenges of her first year, having to balance studying with full-time work, and caring for her daughter and her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to that she felt nervous about starting education at that stage of her life. “I had the sense that maybe I had left it too late. In the beginning I was so insular and nervous.”

To get past this, Netty threw herself into university life wholeheartedly. She  spent the weekends on Birkbeck’s mooting programme, even after initially suffering from a bout of stage fright in a practice session, she went back again and again, eventually entering two competitions and achieving second place out of six teams in the sole team competition.

Netty Yasin throwing up her capNext, she took hold of her fear of public speaking and made her debut at the Bloomsbury Theatre in the play, Othello on Trial, as part of a week of events for the School of Law’s 25th anniversary celebrations. Also, through her Birkbeck contacts she even spent some time volunteering with the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, an experience that she describes as ‘profound’, and took up the opportunity to have career coaching sessions that boosted her resolve in her future plans.

In her second year, Birkbeck’s careers service Birkbeck Futures put her in contact with Aspiring Solicitors, a leading diversity platform that helped her get commercial legal work experience at American Express and Sky while she was studying.

When asked about her favourite modules, Netty exclaims, “I am the nerd who enjoyed everything!”, even taking the time to voluntarily audit other modules in an effort to soak in as much as she could.

For many 2020 was defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, however for Netty, it was an unexpected illness that further tested her resilience. “In February 2020, I was hospitalised after suffering a sudden terrible headache and lost vision; it was really terrifying.” With doctors unable to provide a diagnosis, she suffered debilitating headaches for six months, while still being determined to finish her course. “I worked when I could, even if that meant waking up at 2:30am and working for four hours, taking a nap and then getting up with my daughter. I just did what I could to get through it and then, in a completely unexpected scenario, I got my highest ever mark in one of my exams.” In the end Netty surpassed her own expectations and achieved a distinction overall.

With her illness now behind her and her Master’s degree in hand, Netty is looking forward to qualifying as a commercial solicitor. This summer she’ll be completing a summer vacation scheme at a global law firm with the hope of obtaining a sponsored training contract at the end of it.

Undeterred by her age or circumstances, Netty believes that pursuing her ambitions came at the right time in her life and in closing reflects, “I can look my daughters in the eye and say I am doing what I am telling them, it’s never too late to achieve your goals and ambitions and don’t let anything get in the way.”

Further information:

 

Share

Overcoming alcohol and drug addiction to achieve a Master’s degree

Azad Ashim Sharma graduated in April with an MA in Creative and Critical Writing. Here he tells his remarkable story of life growing up, his battles with alcohol and substance misuse, starting a publishing company, and his aspirations for the future.

Azad Ashim Sharma celebrating on his graduation day

My childhood was strange in a way. I’ve come to look at it not through rose-tinted glasses or nostalgia, but through a sense of compassionate inquiry. Being raised in an intergenerational home deep in South London, I was co-parented by grandparents, who were political exiles from apartheid South Africa. My grandmother was a political activist and our family in South Africa are quite close to the anti-apartheid liberation movement.

Our family home was always busy: my younger brother is autistic, so we had a large care team. During my school years, I attended two local independent schools, and my brother, who is severely autistic, was home-schooled. I was bullied at school, which was really quite traumatic for me at the time. I sought solace in music and art from a young age and my most special childhood memories are of attending exhibitions with my mother.

My family’s love of reading certainly made its mark on me, as I went on to study BA English at the University of Sussex. After finishing my course, I knew I wanted to pursue a Master’s degree in Critical Theory at Sussex. Whilst I was on track for a distinction in 2015, my mental health deteriorated. I had returned to London to look after my brother who was unwell and under-supported due to austerity. I came home to support my mother with his care and all three of us were also trying to cope with the grief of losing our grandmother a couple of years before that. What started off as something I did socially spiralled out of control into alcoholism and drug addiction. I had to drop out of my Master’s degree to contend with that dark patch in my life.

I’d always been writing poetry at Sussex and this continued during this difficult patch. I published my first poetry collection in 2018, exploring islamophobia and racism in the time of Brexit Britain. In 2018, I received a surprising invitation to read at a poetry festival in India. Reading outside in Delhi, surrounded by flora and fauna in the pleasant hazy sunshine, I had something ignite in me that made me think, wow I want to do this for the rest of my life.

When I got back to the UK, I applied to Birkbeck because I knew several alumni who recommended studying there. I managed to get sober by the time I submitted my application. For a period of nine months, I was totally integrated back into normal life. Approaching a year at Birkbeck and filled with so much energy, I founded a publishing company with two friends called The 87 Press, named after the number of my family home. Our company mission was to change the landscape of publishing, by advocating for fairer trade and more smaller presses in bookstores, but also a more clearly defined representation of under-represented writers. We started off very clueless as to what owning a company would entail, but thrived off the energy of hosting events, publishing books and visiting universities to hold creative writing workshops with students, offering them the chance to get their work published.

Everything was going really well for me, but I was growing wearisome of being ‘that guy’ that always has the lime soda. So, I started walking out the door of sobriety again. I suffer from depression and anxiety too, and everything was taking its toll. During this time, I also met the love of my life who’s stuck by me through all of this recent drama. Both her and my family have been steadfast and invaluable supports.

At the beginning of 2020, I felt really disorientated with everything going on. I needed some counselling, so I signed up to Birkbeck’s counselling service. My counsellor was wonderful and compassionate, and really listened to me. I’ve now been clean for over a year – it’s not been easy, but I’m pleased that now sobriety is my normality.

My ultimate career goal is to become a lecturer, so this autumn I’m pursuing a PhD in English and Humanities at Birkbeck. I got the news that I had been awarded funding for my PhD on the day I was a year clean, which is serendipity to the max.

I plan to continue with The 87 Press during my PhD. We’ve just published our 15th book and it’s such a joy – it continues to surprise me what our initiative can do and the people it can reach. After my PhD it would be a dream to become a lecturer at Birkbeck and have the opportunity to give back. Birkbeck really is a place that gives people second chances in life.

Further Information

Share

“A year into my degree I fell pregnant and experienced numerous complications during and after my pregnancy – the support I received from Birkbeck was second to none.”

Ella Michalski graduated this month with an LLB Law degree after becoming pregnant with twins during her degree and her daughters experiencing many health complications. Ella persevered with her degree throughout this traumatic time, even studying from hospital. This is her #BBKgrad story.

Ella Michalski with her family on her graduation day

Ella Michalski with her family on her graduation day

I spent my teenage years in the care system with a local authority. When I entered my early twenties I was desperate to travel, so I used my savings from various hospitality and retail jobs I’d had to travel around the world. I returned from travelling aged 25. I had an amazing few years but I was ready to return to normality again and wanted to settle in one place.

My late twenties soon came around and I decided I wanted to enter higher education to pave and develop my career, but I wanted to find a way of studying that meant I could keep my daytime commitment of working in retail. I knew I wanted to study law, with criminal justice being a huge interest of mine.

I came across Birkbeck after friends recommended it to me – studying in the evenings provided the perfect solution. I signed up for a Birkbeck open day, and after attending I just knew Birkbeck was where I wanted to go. It had a real feel, straightaway, of a strong student community. Despite having no previous legal experience, I took a deep breath and enrolled onto the LLB Law degree.

A year into my degree, when I was aged 29, I became pregnant. Unfortunately, I experienced numerous complications during my pregnancy, and at 12 weeks into my pregnancy I was told with near-certainty I would lose my twins. I spent 14 weeks on bedrest in hospital. The Wellbeing Team at Birkbeck were so supportive with finding me alternative ways to study in hospital, and despite being in such a traumatic situation, studying really helped give me escapism from my difficult reality at that time.

When I gave birth, my twins were born with chronic lung disease. They spent three months in intensive care, with multiple medical difficulties whilst they were there. I spent my days visiting the hospital in the day and studying in the evening. Knowing that I could tell my daughters about how I studied for a degree kept me going as I knew how proud of me they’d be one day.

When my daughters were finally discharged from hospital, they were on oxygen 24-hours-a-day for a whole year. Despite their severe health needs during this time, I continued with my degree. It was certainly hard but Birkbeck ensured I had the support in place, and with my strong network of family and friends I was able to persevere and eventually complete my degree.

Reflecting on my Birkbeck experience as a whole, it’s provided me with skills that I didn’t even know existed and given me so much more than I ever anticipated. The skills I’ve gained will stay with me forever and go far beyond just academic skills. My degree has propelled my confidence – it’s made me believe in myself a million more times more than I ever thought possible. When I was able to attend lectures in person, I found the teaching incredible. The lectures were always so informative and inclusive with students in the room, and questions were really encouraged. I’d describe the learning experience at Birkbeck as gentle and encouraging. I particularly enjoyed group work – I found it brought people together and the Library facilities were brilliant as we could book group areas easily to work together.

Thankfully, my daughters are now well and thriving. In the future, I plan to pursue a career in criminal justice. I’m hoping to volunteer for the Innocence Project soon, which aims to free innocent people from incarceration. I also enjoy being an ambassador for the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity, which provided invaluable support for my family and I through our challenging times.

I’d 100% recommend studying at Birkbeck to anyone – the level of education, flexibility and support I received was second to none.

Further Information

Share

“I flew to the other side of the world to study at Birkbeck, leaving my family and children behind”

Shernette Edwards-Rowe left her home and family in Jamaica to pursue her life-long dream of studying in the UK. This is her #BBKgrad story.

Shernette Edwards-Rowe on her graduation day

Shernette’s fascination with England started from a young age. She was drawn to the UK for its history, architecture and fashion, and in 2006, during her first degree, she visited London to see it all for herself.

That was when her love affair for London truly began. She came back as often as she could, every few years, and made it her mission to study in the city one day; “we model the British education system in Jamaica so I know how high a standard the British education system is and I wanted to experience it for myself.”

Shernette’s career path has not always been straight-forward. She undertook her first degree in business administration in Jamaica. Despite being encouraged by her teachers and peers at school to become a counsellor, at the time she felt it wasn’t for her. She worked in business for a few years, but soon decided she desperately needed a career change and a job where she was directly helping others. This led her to enrol onto a BA Counselling course at Northern Caribbean University in Jamaica in her late twenties, where she studied for four years. When she finished her Counselling degree, Shernette began working in a school with children up to aged 12. She has worked in a number of different schools ever since.

Her desire to undertake a Master’s degree in England and expand her career opportunities never went away so when the opportunity for her to study in London came in 2019 she took the plunge and flew across the world to London, leaving her two boys (now aged 10 and 7) and her husband behind.

Shernette Edwards-Rowe with her family on her graduation day

A year and a half later, Shernette reflects on her experiences of being at Birkbeck and in London, “I’m so glad I pursued my life-long dream of studying in the UK. I’m really proud I fulfilled my dream, but I did face more challenges than I expected, including several illnesses and the anxieties that came with the global pandemic and being away from my family. My academic tutor offered me tremendous guidance and support which I am hugely grateful for.

“My son recently said to me how proud he was of me battling my illnesses and never giving up. This really melted my heart and made me so happy. I wanted to show my children that whatever dreams they have, they can accomplish them with hard work and perseverance.”

Shernette moved back to Jamaica when the borders re-opened in May 2020, getting the first flight home to Jamaica to be back with her family and finish her degree remotely. She cites the degree as really opening her horizons and giving her the confidence to work with older children. She is now searching for a job in a secondary school and is excited for what the future holds.

Further Information

Share