The graduate

In July 2021 I graduated from the Open University with a Bachelor of Science First Class Honours degree.

tonimum

I had began studying with The Open University in 2002 and in June 2009 I graduated without Honours.  For someone who didn’t enjoy school and was painfully shy, never wanting to put her hand up in class to give an answer or ask a question, for fear of drawing attention to herself, this felt like a huge achievement.

I always tried hard in school but the grades I got for effort, never matched my attainment grades, which were often disappointingly low. I chose to leave school at 16 years of age having convinced myself it wasn’t the place for me but when I told my English teacher I was going out to work, she told me I could do better for myself than that. It was as I recall, a short exchange of words but it was the first time anyone had indicated they thought I could achieve anything and the words stayed with me, niggling way, until eventually I embarked on my first OU course, some 15 years after I left school.

Beginning with a short course about The Human Genome, a subject I was interested in because I am diagnosed with a genetic condition. The course was only for a few weeks long but it gave me a chance to get back into learning and also get into distance learning, which is quite different to studying in a classroom and requires much more discipline. My final course was titled ‘Innovation: designing for a sustainable future’ and was a project based course. The blog I created during the project can be viewed below.

Steps and a shiny floor are not a good combination for someone with a neuromuscular condition and as I watch the film my dad took of me graduating, it really shows but I was so proud of myself that day and even more so when I watch the film and hear my dad shouting as I collect my award – I didn’t hear that on the day, as we were sat miles apart, although I see me looking for him and having safely reached the foot of the stairs I remember turning and giving him a big wave, as I now knew he was sat somewhere up in the Gods.

Exhausted, having worked full time throughout, I decided to take a year out before completing my Honours year and that year turned into twelve. However, in late 2020, I found myself with the opportunity to finish what I started and I enrolled to complete my Honours year. When given the opportunity to write my own research question, I chose to write about the material and attitudinal barriers faced by people with disabilities and gained my second distinction. It was a tough year as I knew it would be, made tougher still by a global pandemic but in July 2021 I proudly accepted an offer of a First Class Honours degree, the same year that I turned fifty years old.

Toni’s graduation: 5 June 2009, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

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