Beccles woman goes from “rock-bottom” to Higher Education Student of the Year

A Beccles woman has been named Higher Education Student of the Year at the annual graduation ceremony at University Campus Suffolk, Great Yarmouth.

Karen Warne was awarded a 2:1 BA (hons) degree in person-centred counselling, a qualification underwritten by two of the best universities in the country, the University of East Anglia and the University of Essex.

She was chosen as Student of the Year by her tutor Peter Baumbach for her dogged determination to produce high-calibre work and complete her degree despite her dyslexia and suffering a serious illness in her final year.

Karen, a mother-of-three, gave the vote of thanks on behalf of more than 100 graduates in front of more than 500 graduates, family and friends at St Nicholas Church, Great Yarmouth.

Karen left school more than 30 years ago with rock-bottom confidence.

She had struggled through school unable to understand why her academic achievements didn't match her intelligence.

Teachers told her she was lazy and needed to try harder and she refused to go on to higher education after a catering course at college.

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'I had the values of not being good enough; when you hear it so many times you begin to believe it,' she said.

Ten years ago, when her son was being tested for dyslexia, she was asked to undergo a similar test. After 30 years of knowing there was a problem but not understanding what it was, she realised she was dyslexic.

Eager for a career in counselling and psychotherapy, she decided to return to learning at Great Yarmouth College but was worried how she would cope.

'The support and encouragement from the tutors at Great Yarmouth College-UCS has been amazing,' she said. 'They suggested I take one semester at a time. I didn't believe I was an academic.'

After five years on three courses and a 2:1, she realises she is an academic and is planning to start a masters degree next year.

She is currently working towards her accreditation as a volunteer counsellor with Open Road, which offers drug and alcohol support in Suffolk and Essex, and SeVa, the Norwich-based charity which helps victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Karen, who lives in Beccles with her husband and has three grown-up children, was struck down with pancreatitis in March this year, spending more than a week in hospital.

'I was trying to study in hospital while being injected with morphine and trying to understand Irvin Yalom's Group Theory.

'I had come this far and wasn't going to give up then.'

Mr Baumbach praised Karen's 'considerable resilience, understanding and application' and contributing to his sessions with 'vigour and humour.'

She found studying difficult but was joined in her endeavours by her three children.

'At one point my youngest was doing GCSEs, my daughter was doing her A-levels and my son was in his first year at university in Norwich and I was doing my second year, which was the final year of the diploma before my degree year,' she said.

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