AFTER a sunny afternoon in Fitzgerald’s Park one day last week, myself and my four-year-old son decided to stroll through the beautiful grounds of UCC on our way home.
The campus, bathed in sunshine, was home to several enthusiastic groups of incoming first year students enjoying their orientation day. At once I was transported back to my own first tour around campus as a nervous but excited first year.
I did not have to travel too far back in time for this memory, as it is only three years ago that I began my journey as an anxious but eager mature student, embarking on a long-harboured dream of studying English literature in UCC.
Having enjoyed many happy years working in pharmacy, that dream became a reality for me and I took my first tentative steps through the gates of this prestigious university.
Thinking now of my own orientation day, I recall some funny moments. At a welcome talk for new students, serious matters such as respecting the residential area surrounding the campus, alcohol awareness and issues of sexual consent were discussed.
To lighten the mood the speaker encouraged us to look around as many of us will meet our future spouse at university and may even be sitting beside them now. Nestled between two 18-year old boys neither I, nor they, dared to turn our heads.
Throughout the course of my studies I enjoyed close relationships with my younger counterparts. I also was lucky enough to find myself embedded in a small, but strong, family of fellow mature students. These students, whose fields of study varied from philosophy to law and from archaeology to psychology, became a continuing source of encouragement and support to me.
As a group we faced challenges less often associated with the conventional student. Some faced challenging childcare issues, some endured serious illness, some faced crippling financial situations and some suffered bereavement. In difficult times we held each other up.
As well as the support we offered to each other, UCC must be applauded for the many support systems they have in place for students of all ages. Academic, financial, emotional and social needs are readily and eagerly met.
For the mature student, the first port of call is often the Mature Student Office which provides unending support and advice. Every member of staff at UCC, from academic to administration, shares the same goal as you do: to ensure that your potential is reached and successful completion of your chosen path of study is achieved.
My own experience as a mature student was hugely positive, exhilarating and enjoyable. Life being life, however, meant that there were times when student life was not always plain sailing. During these times I liked to take heart from watching proud graduates glide across our magnificent campus in cap and gown and I imagined how that day would feel. That day is now a few short weeks away for my fellow students and I. In October our conferring ceremonies will take place.
On my orientation day, one of the speakers joked ‘If you come out of this experience the same way you came in, then you’ve done it wrong.’ He was right. I have learned so much throughout my degree and not simply about Shakespeare, Dickens or Joyce. I have learned about people, friendship, compassion, support and acceptance. UCC proved to be the most welcoming and encouraging environment one could wish to find themselves in. I and my group of mature students, varying in age from their twenties to their sixties, had travelled many different paths which all led us to the gates of UCC in 2015. Through those gates we brought with us years of life experience which enabled us to become a vital component in university life, sometimes offering different views and opinions, having learned that life is not always black and white.
To anyone who may be considering a return to education I would say this: Take the plunge. You will dive into a welcoming sea of encouragement, support and positivity. You will gain in ways you cannot even imagine. You will be met with a body whose sole interest is your success and well-being. You will challenge yourself, you will experience great highs and inevitably the occasional low, and, if you do it right, you may never be the same again.
* Deborah Hickey is from College Road and decided on a career break after the birth of her son in 2014. She had worked as a pharmacy technician for more than 10 years before that. She completed a joint honors degree in English literature and History of Art.