It’s that time of year again, when our finest graduates reach for their finest attire and head out (often in the pouring rain) to collect their well-deserved graduate diplomas – all whilst fearing the dreaded walk…

We wish we could give every single one of Belfast’s amazing new graduates honourable mention – but we particularly want to highlight these particular student’s inspiring stories.


Inspirational Billie-Jo, who grew up in the care system, experienced homelessness & financial difficulties throughout her degree…


A Queen’s student who experienced homelessness and financial difficulties while studying for her degree will graduate with a Bsc (Hons) Geography from the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology (GAP).

Billie-Jo McDowell, 23, a care leaver, grew up in the care system in Northern Ireland.

Billie-Jo struggled with financial issues and homelessness while studying at Queen’s and faced the prospect of dropping out.

She said: “At the start of second year, I was living in a homeless shelter, and Deirdre Lynskey was installed as the Care Leaver contact in Queen’s Widening Participation Unit. She helped me get into Queen’s Accommodation and, in fact, she has helped me through a lot. She gave me a lot of opportunities which have helped me decide on my future career as a social worker.

“The help and support offered across the University, from academic staff to well-being staff, has helped me through my three years. Education helped me through the rough times.”

Hannah McMullan

After becoming ill, Hannah had her beautiful baby in July – and just four weeks later sat her exams. Just months later, tragedy struck, as both her dad and grandfather passed away within weeks of each other…

Hannah McMullan

After being very ill, Hannah McMullan had her beautiful baby in July and sat her exams just four weeks later.

Then, in October, she lost her dad and two weeks later her grandfather passed away.

“Stranmillis and Queen’s were so supportive about the whole situation and helped me stay on track to finish my degree. I just want highlight what a brilliant university Queen’s is and how they can support a student during difficult times.”

Hannah graduated this week, but has already set herself a new challenge at Queen’s, signing up to study Adult Nursing.

“My dad’s nurses and carers inspired my career change. Both my granda and dad lost their battle with cancer, so I would like to specialise in that area.” Good luck, Hannah!

Lifelong Friends

This close trio attended the SAME Primary and Secondary schools AND studied the same course at University!

Ulster University music graduates Joshua Murray, David Smyth and Conor McErlane

Three childhood friends from County Down celebrated a unique achievement when they graduated together from Ulster University with music degrees.

Best pals Joshua Murray, David Smyth and Conor McErlane attended the same primary and secondary schools and studied the same course at University.

The trio, who live 10 minutes apart, inspired each other to follow their passion for music and are looking forward to being side by side when they graduate from Ulster University’s Magee campus with honours in music.

Joshua, from Saul close to Downpatrick, and David and Conor, who hail from Crossgar, are all 21. Joshua is a keen clarinet and saxophone player, David enjoys guitar while Conor loves the drums. They were in a band as children and maintain a strong bond to this day.

Claire Hughes

Claire Hughes helped create the world record-breaking Meccano Bridge!

Claire Hughes

Queen’s student Claire Hughes who helped lead the world record-breaking Meccano Bridge, featured on news outlets worldwide, will graduate in Civil Engineering.

Claire was also one of 35 UK engineering students selected to receive the Engineering Leadership Advanced Award from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The Meccano Bridge set a world record for the largest Meccano Structure in the World

The world record for the largest Meccano structure.

As if this wasn’t enough, Claire went on to break yet another Guinness World Record for her design work on the world’s largest water storage facility, during her placement.

Claire is staying on at Queen’s to start a Phd in September.

Conor Robinson

Conor has gained a well-deserved position at the European Space Research & Technology Centre

Conor Robinson

Conor has secured a trainee position at the European Space Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands.

“I have accomplished so much during my time at Queen’s and to be accepted into the European Space Agency graduate scheme is a dream come true.”

Conor will be celebrating with his father and grandfather as he graduates with a MEng (Hons) in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from QUB – School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Check out both Queen’s University and Ulster University online.

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