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Kelly Garratt

Learning through health issues: I'm now the first member in my family to graduate from a degree

I started my university journey as a Gateway student in 2015. Once a week I would attend class, write mini essays and be taught by the amazing Steve Gascoigne. Steve was funny, often drifting off subject to some random event that happened in his life. He was always fair and always listened attentively to every student, encouraging us when it was needed. Steve taught me for a further 2 subjects following gateway and he was the same throughout.

Following gateway, I started full time on the Social Studies degree. I cannot lie the first year was stressful, being a full-time mum to 4 children while trying to juggle university and life was a lot! If you’ve read my first story? You will know, my first year ended with me having emergency surgery and spending the whole of the last term in hospital.

The CLL team were amazing during this time the whole department were. What I liked most about doing a degree at Warwick was studying with adults and people who came from all sorts of backgrounds. Whether that was failed GCSE’s like me or the older generation who simply wanted to study in their free time. The CLL department has a real family feel, they are available to meet, advise and listen to you if you have any worries or questions. I felt like I belonged for the first time in a very long time.

So, when I was asked to be a student ambassador, I jumped at the chance. I was always a shy person, I didn’t like talking to people I didn’t know. However, going out to events and spreading the word about adult learning really helped me to overcome this. I mean don’t get me wrong, I still won’t randomly go and speak to someone but, if someone was to say hello to me in the supermarket now, I am more likely to reply. Whereas, before I wouldn’t. The most challenging part of university for me, wasn’t the essays or the late nights. It was the drive to keep going.

Kelly wearing graduation robe during her graduation ceremony at Warwick Celebrates 2022Kelly in her graduation robe celebrating graduating from her degree

After, the difficulties with my health in the first year I never truly got back to where I was at the beginning of year 1. I didn’t really find a way to overcome that problem, but I did put all my energy into finishing what I started, never in my life have I given up on anything and my health wasn’t going to stand in the way this time. Yes, it was tough and so many times I wanted to give in and say, “I just can’t do this”. But my teachers and the friendships I had made through the years helped to keep me on track. University gave me the tools I needed to finally complete my English GCSE, it gave me the confidence to learn, to be creative and to accept my flaws are part of life but, looking back now. I can say I was finally ready to learn. As a 16-year-old the worse thing in the world was to fail your GCSE’s. But maybe it was just because I wasn’t ready to learn. And that’s ok! Because life goes on and you gain experiences in life that no school can teach you and with that you grow as a person and when you’re ready. You take your chance with both hands and don’t let go!

The plan for me 2 years ago when I finished my degree was to continue to study and apply for the MA in Psychology and Education with the end result being to train as a special needs teacher. However, with my health this is no longer an option.

During the COVID pandemic, I decided to take one of my hobbies to another level and train as a manicurist and nail technician, this has enabled me to continue to learn on an almost daily basis although not in an academic way, I can be creative and do something I love at the same time. Some people would say that is a waste of a degree, but I see it as I grew as a person because of that degree it was the best years of my life, I met some amazing people and made lifelong friends.

Finally, I can proudly say I am the only member of my entire family to achieve this. If my health improves enough for me to return. I absolutely will.

One piece of advice I would give to CLL students today. Enjoy your time at university, it will go so quick and when it’s over you will miss it.