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Academic prizes

Academic prizes: encouraging the best and brightest minds

Thank you for helping over 300 students to receive prizes in recognition of their achievements at Warwick. On this page we tell the story of just one prize at Warwick, and what it means to the donors and the recipient.

Gary and Kate Freeman made a donation to create the Claire Freeman Inspiration Prize in memory of their daughter, who sadly passed away in 2009 during the second year of her MB ChB at Warwick Medical School.

Claire was a conscientious student who took an active role in setting up support services for students outside of her degree. Claire’s parents wanted to create a prize to recognise other students like Claire, who inspire their peers by making a contribution to life outside of the classroom.

Claire and her mum

Claire Freeman Inspiration Prize at Warwick Medical School, 2014

Speech at the MB ChB ceremony in March 2014, by Claire's parents, Gary and Kate

“If things had gone as we’d hoped, Claire would have graduated in the Class of 2012 - and today, yes today, March 19th, she would be a doctor celebrating her 29th birthday.

But they didn’t. And she isn’t.

In April 2009 Claire was diagnosed with what turned out to be a very aggressive form of bowel cancer and within 9 months, just 5 days before Christmas, at the age of 24, tragically she passed away.

Like all parents, we knew our daughter was special. She had passion for life like no one we’ve met before or since:

  • She loved her academic studies (be they at school or Uni) and she threw herself into them;
  • She loved working for her money – be it as a receptionist at a vet’s practice, or as a waitress in the local pub;She loved to travel – and had a map of the world above her bed with pins showing the places she’d been, and where she wanted to go.
  • She loved to party – and boy did she party! Her favourite song was Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”. It could have been written for her!

But, above all, she loved people.

So when in February 2010 (a month after her funeral) we held a celebration of life in our local church, it came a no surprise that the church was packed (standing room only) - full of people from her early childhood, her school days, Edinburgh Uni (where she graduated) and this Medical School.

"Above all, she loved people."

But what did surprise us, afterwards in the Village Hall, was the consistent message that that people expressed with a passion (and with specific examples): Claire was “an inspiration” or “inspirational”.

Gary Freeman giving this speech in memory of his daughter ClaireWe heard of the small things like the way Claire would spot someone “lost” – such a person walking into a room, not recognising anyone, and nerves causing them to “freeze”; or abandoning her plans for the evening to support someone at a party who’d had a little too much to drink and (with their guard down) finding life too hard to bear.

We heard (although we already knew) of Claire taking paid jobs throughout her sixth form to fund a gap year in which she spent 3 months in Chile teaching English to Spanish-speaking kids; and following it immediately with 3 months in an orphanage in India. “Dad” she had said, “There’s serious danger that I’ll be joining the rat-race soon – so I’d better start paying back in advance!”

We heard of how she joined Edinburgh’s Nightline team (a Uni equivalent of the Samaritans) and working tirelessly to make it more professional, and to improve the social lives of those who worked so hard in the interests of others!

Also of the countless times that Claire raised money for charity, including in 2009 when she and Liz (now Dr Liz Barnfield, and with us tonight) were registered to visit and help the Kenyan Orphan Project (KOP). But while Claire continued to help with fund raising, Liz has to visit the KOP without her.

And we were reminded that (ironically) she used to be a volunteer visitor each week at a hospice.

As a proud parent, I could go on, and on, and … But I don’t need to. Others do it for me. At Claire’s celebration, most of the guests I’d either not met before, or had only met them during her illness. Everyone saw how inspirational she was during that. Not once did she ask “why me?” and she only complained when the pain was increasing and more morphine was needed.

But few people reflect on that. Most talk of the way that she inspired them when she was well. Not long ago we received a card “out of the blue” from a friend who wrote of how Claire still inspired her. We still get emails, texts, and visits regularly from Claire’s friends, who requested that Claire’s photo be placed with that of the Class of 2012 on the staircase – and the Medical School kindly agreed. Thank you.

So what can we learn from this?

We can all learn that people’s behaviour can inspire and motivate others. As doctors, you’ll have more opportunities to motivate others than most.The academic skills are essential of course. But in a surgery, hospital, or just in life, the way we behave can have a profound effect on those around us.

That effect can be good or bad. That gift is in your hands. Please don’t take it for granted – please use it as you’d like others to use it for you.

"That gift is in your hands. Please don’t take it for granted – please use it as you’d like others to use it for you."

One person who has done just this year, is the winner of Warwick Medical School’s Claire Freeman Inspiration Prize 2014: Katherine Hewitt.”

Gary and Kate Freeman
Warwick Benefactors

Claire on her gap year

Prize-winner KatherineWinner of the Claire Freeman Inspiration Award 2014

Katherine Hewitt, who is currently on her elective in a hospital in Chicago, won the £250 prize, having been nominated by a fellow classmate for demonstrating inspirational leadership beyond the classroom.

Katherine was able to join the ceremony via Skype to receive the award, and says,

"It is an absolute honour to receive the Freeman Award.

I am thrilled to be deemed worthy of such a tremendous prize and I hope to champion the spirit of the award in years to come.

I would like to thank the Freeman family; not only for their part in choosing me as the recipient, but their strength and resolve in creating this award is truly inspiring."

Katherine Hewitt
Final year, Medicine

Why is it so important to say "Well done"?

“It’s vitally important that people’s achievements are continually recognised and praised. At one end of the spectrum, a simple, timely, and sincere, “well done” can motivate someone for days.

At the other end, the prospect of graduating (or not!) can motivate one for months and years – we still remember that feeling, and we both started Uni over 40 years ago!”

Gary and Kate Freeman
Warwick Benefactors


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