At the time when most young people are applying to university, Sarah Solomon from Horsham was battling an eating disorder and depression as she came to terms with her father’s death.
Now she’s looking towards her next challenge with optimism after she graduated on Tuesday with a degree in law on what would have been her father’s birthday.
“My dad committed suicide when I was 14 and I really struggled to cope,” explained Sarah.
“I suffered with depression and anorexia and was in and out of hospital for the last four years of school, so I didn’t get great GCSE or A level results.”
Despite her struggle preventing her doing as well as she could have at school, Sarah eventually felt ready to return to education six years later at Birkbeck, University of London, where she gained her degree.
However, she was dismayed to find that most universities were very inflexible when it came to her exam results, despite the time that had passed since.
“Birkbeck looked at more than just grades when they considered my application.They take on students that really want to be there.”
Going back to full-time education was a nerve-wracking experience for Sarah at the start but in her first year of study, she received support from Birkbeck’s wellbeing service.
“I knew that with depression I might find it hard to motivate myself to go in,” she said, “Birkbeck couldn’t solve that problem for me, but they really listened to me and were very supportive.”
It would have been easy to walk away in those first few months, but Sarah persevered and soon began to enjoy studying.
Birkbeck’s evening study model suited Sarah, who prefers working late in the evening, as it gave her the space in the day she needed to focus on her mental health.
She said: “It’s important for universities to understand that students and staff have competing demands on their time, and to make provision for that.”
Sarah’s dad also studied law at university, but it was from always having a keen interest in the subject herself which led her to take up the degree.
“I’m the kind of person who likes reading the small print,” laughed Sarah.
“I didn’t choose my course because of my dad, but I suppose it was always in the back of my mind while I was studying.
“I’m relocating to Canada with my husband next year and I’d like to do more research in law and eventually work as an academic or in a not for profit - I don’t want to place any restrictions on my future.”