Celebrating student resilience ahead of graduation
Published on 20 June 2022
All students graduating from the University of Dundee this week can look back with pride on their achievements, but some have had to face more obstacles than others
Bethany Downs (left) and Michael Cordiner (right)
The Covid-19 pandemic brought difficulties that no previous cohort has faced, while many students also had personal challenges to come, as exemplified by Bethany Downs and Michael Cordiner, who will officially graduate from the University’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design on Wednesday 22 June.
Although Bethany and Michael experienced different complications throughout their studies, they were both continually required to call upon reserves of perseverance and resilience in order to succeed academically.
Both students received support from the University’s Disability Services from the outset of their studies, with Graphic Design graduand Bethany (27) facing significant personal, physical and mental health difficulties. A debilitating brain condition, Idiopathic intracranial hypertension, left her severely unwell and an autism diagnosis in her second year brought additional challenges. Despite these setbacks, Bethany consistently and determinedly applied herself to her studies.
“When I first moved to Dundee I really struggled with the change in environment and found things quite difficult,” said Bethany. “I came to the University with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and undiagnosed autism and borderline personality disorder, so it was a lot to deal with.
“It was extremely challenging at times but the support from staff in Disability Services was amazing. Without them I wouldn’t have got my autism diagnosis and received the additional help and support I required. Their support really means the world to me.
“In fourth year, I became really ill with my brain condition and had to take a lot of time out. I was too ill to function at times and didn’t think I could finish the course, but I was determined to graduate. It feels surreal that I have achieved that.”
Michael (22), who studied Fine Art, joined the University after completing the Access Summer School programme. Michael, who has anxiety and is dyslexic, admits that throughout his time at university he considered dropping out on more than one occasion.
“There were a couple of times where I thought I couldn’t cope with it all and would have to drop out,” said Michael. “I have dyslexia, mental health issues and some form of autism. All of that in one isn’t the easiest thing to deal with, but my support networks were a huge motivator for me.
“My Disability and Mental Health Advisor was there to make sure that I wasn’t slipping and my mental health wasn’t deteriorating, my tutors were there to help make sure I was on track, and all of my friends were by my side too. Having those individual support networks in the one setting and knowing I could rely on any of them was a huge help.
“Despite all of the stress, I wouldn't change anything. It’s got me to where I am today. I would do it all over again.”
Both Bethany and Michael say they are grateful for the support they received from Disability Services and encourage incoming or current students to reach out if they need additional assistance.
Bethany said, “University is hard, but with the right support and the right systems in place you can reach your goals. Don’t let mental health or illness stop you from achieving your dreams. The support is there.”
Michael added, “Do not hesitate to get in contact with Disability Services or any of the extra supporting networks that are available. People are more than willing to go out of their way to help you get your degree.”
The University’s Graduation ceremonies take place at Caird Hall from 22-24 June. Thousands of 2020 and 2021 graduates will also return to Dundee from 28 June-1 July for special ceremonies in lieu of their original graduations, which were unable to be held in person due to Covid-19 restrictions.
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