Universities Week – a personal story of striving to achieve

I was not the brightest pupil in secondary school. I always got E and F grades in my assignments. At the time it felt as though the tutors only cared about those who were going to boost their ratings, and that did not include me. A careers advisor once told me to drop my ambition to do A-levels and to be ‘realistic’ and do a vocational course instead.

At a school parents’ evening I received my predicted grades – two D’s, one C and six E’s. Depressing as this was, it actually made me stronger.  One of my tutors had said to me: “Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.” After that I gathered all my books and for the next two months I went to my local library and revised.

When I sat my exams I was taken out of the normal exam hall and placed among students who were not expected to achieve good grades – it made me feel ashamed. I completed all my exams in July and I decided to go on holiday with my family and take a break from all the pressure.

When the results arrived in August I was too scared to open the letter in front of friends, so went to the school toilets. I was brought up in strict African family and I was scared of the consequences if I didn’t get good grades. Looking at my results, I was relieved – not the best results in the world but it was good for me. I achieved one B, four C’s and four D’s.

Walking down the school stairs for the last time, I bumped into my English tutor who approached me and said, “Moriam I am really happy for you – I wasn’t expecting the grades you achieved, well done.”  When I got home I ran straight into the living room where I showed my parents my grades.  They were proud of me and the following day we went to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate my achievement.

When it was time to enrol at college I contemplated whether to do A-levels and retake my Maths GCSE or listen to the careers advisor and do a vocational course in a subject I was confident in. In the end I decided to do a course I was good at – media.

As my actual grade was better than my predicted grade I begged the college to allow me to  do a National Diploma course instead of an entry course which would have taken me four years to complete rather than two. The tutor agreed and I was enrolled on a radio course.

My new tutor was in his late fifties, quite tall and very slim. I liked his personality – he was calm and relaxed. He wasn’t like the tutors I came across in secondary school, he was strict but his strictness felt like it was for my own good.

When I got the marks for my first assignment he sat everyone down individually and went through their work. At last someone took the time to read through my work and tell me what mistakes I made and how to correct them. From that point I felt more confident and was able to go to my tutor when I needed help and receive constructive criticism.

Later, the time came to apply to UCAS to decide what course to do at university. I never thought this day would come for me. I was the dumb one, the underachiever, the one who wasn’t going to achieve a single GCSE – and yet here I was applying for University.

When I looked at the university I wanted to go to, I realised how high their entry requirement was! As I was doing a vocational course, they had expected me to get a higher grade Distinction, Distinction, Merit (DDM). As I was knocked down so many times in secondary school I thought it was impossible for me to achieve the grades they were expecting.

But in the end I was tired of doubting myself and I applied for the university with the highest grade. When college ended and I received my grades I was both delighted and shocked to get a DDM – the highest grade in my class.

I applied to study journalism, media and cultural studies at Kingston University but the experience was not as enjoyable as I imagined it would be. Media and cultural studies was fine – I felt instantly connected with students and the lecturers, but journalism was different.

Nobody spoke to me, not even the lecturers. Out of 300 students, three of us were from ethnic minority backgrounds and I felt somewhat uncomfortable. When second year arrived, I wanted to drop journalism and just continue with my media and cultural studies class but I decided against it and soldiered on.

One lecturer in particular always put me down and once again my confidence was knocked. It wasn’t until the third year that he noticed my potential and warmed to me. He told me that he felt as though I didn’t want to ‘communicate with my fellow pupils’ and he didn’t ‘know anything about me’.

I finally finished university and when my results arrived I was awarded a 2.1 which put me in high spirits. I thanked God that I – the girl who was an underachiever became an achiever! At the graduation ceremony when I walked on stage with my oversized gown and large hat, my parents said they were the proudest parents on earth – and I was also proud of myself.

Through my experiences at secondary school, college and university I have learnt never to let anyone tell me that I cannot achieve anything; I have learnt that if you want something in life you must work hard to achieve it – and if you get knocked down you have to bounce back!