Age is no barrier to education success

Falkirk graduation winners (L-R) Charlene Bissett, Martin Connelly, Martin Derham and Annette Ballantyne
Falkirk graduation winners (L-R) Charlene Bissett, Martin Connelly, Martin Derham and Annette Ballantyne

Mature students have shown age is no barrier to success as a handful from across the district scooped top prizes at Forth Valley College’s annual graduation ceremony.

Martin Connelly (42), from Larbert, picked up the Most Promising Student in the department of applied science, maths and mechanical engineering, while Annette Ballantyne (48), from Grangemouth, did the same in the business department.

Charlene Bissett (30), from Falkirk, also won the Most Promising Student in the access and progression department and Martin Derham (26), also from Falkirk, collected the same accolade in the department of electrical, instrumentation and chemical engineering at the Falkirk Town Hall ceremony last Tuesday.

Martin Derham graduated with an HND in Electrical Engineering and is now studying at Strathclyde University, despite not doing “very well” at school.

He said: “It’s a very proud personal achievement. When I returned to education, my expectations were not very high.

“I didn’t really do very well at school and with more responsibility as a parent and step-parent, I thought I would give it my best shot. To not only achieve the grades that I have, but to also be acknowledged with this award is something I never thought would be possible.

“I feel incredibly proud, after all my hard work, to receive the grades that I have and then to win this award, it is just the cherry on top. It’s improved my confidence in my ability and I’m excited to carry on at university.”

Annette Ballantyne, who graduated with an HND in business, said: “I am really chuffed, surprised, emotional and proud. Shocked and speechless also come to mind, which doesn’t happen very often.”

A total of 900 students were eligible to graduate this year from Forth Valley College. More than 250 of them chose to collect their scrolls at events held at the Falkirk Town Hall and Stirling Castle.

Charlene Bissett – who graduated with an HNC working with communities – said: “I feel surprised and overwhelmed to win such an award. It’s good all my hard work and dedication has not only paid off, but also been recognised.

“It is a shock to be selected as I feel there were class members who worked and achieved just as much. Nonetheless, it is a proud moment and I am happy to have won the award.

“I was confused at first as to what it was I had won, before having it explained. It took a few minutes to sink in with me just feeling shocked, I still am in shock.”

John McNally, chief operating officer at INEOS Olefins and Polymers UK spoke at Falkirk Town Hall, while guest speaker at the Stirling Castle event was Alex Paterson, chief executive of Historic Environment Scotland.

Martin Connelly – who graduated with an HNC in mechanical engineering through the ECITB pre-apprenticeship programme, is now taking up an electrical engineering Modern Apprenticeship with Babcock’s in Rosyth.

He said: “I am very proud to receive this award and it is rewarding to be acknowledged for my effort and commitment.

“It is also humbling as I shared classes with some very intelligent people who were always prepared to help me when required. Honestly, I thought it was a wind up! When I realised it wasn’t, I was very proud of this achievement.”

Forth Valley College Principal Dr Ken Thomson wished all the prizewinners and graduates luck on their career paths in the future.

He said: “Everyone at Forth Valley College would like to congratulate this year’s prizewinners and wish them well as they embark upon their new careers or continued study.

“They should rightly be very proud of their efforts throughout the course of their studies, they have without a doubt been a credit to themselves and to the College. We are confident they will all make a success of whatever they choose to do.”

Awards were sponsored by Falkirk Council, Lyreco, Rotary Club of Falkirk and Ede and Ravenscroft.