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Dedicated Gaelic graduate wins Student of the Year title

A graduate who completed an honours degree despite suffering from a serious medical condition has been named as the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Student of the Year 2017. Hannah McDiarmid (22) achieved a BA (Hons) in Gaelic language and culture while managing cystic fibrosis, a chronic, life limiting condition which affects the lungs and the digestive systems. Enrolled as a distance-learning student with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI, she completed her degree from her hometown of Torvaig, Portree, on the Isle of Skye.

Hannah was nominated for the award by her programme leader, Mark Wringe. He explained: “As a programme leader and lecturer for some of Hannah’s modules, I only saw a capable student who consistently turned in work on time, who always prepared for classes and who achieved good results. She participated in class discussions and answered questions thoughtfully, but didn’t draw attention to herself. She just got on with things.

“When she first appeared on a video link from a hospital bed, she carried on in such a matter of fact, nothing to remark on way, I wished her well and didn’t ask questions. I took her lead in carrying on as normal, not feeling I should expect her to volunteer information. I have only recently gained an idea of what it must have taken for Hannah to have such a normal, uninterrupted student journey. My respect for her wish to achieve her goal on the same basis as anyone else is enormous. It’s ironic that her reliable, regular performance was, in fact, anything but normal.”

Lesley Blaikie, a cystic fibrosis nurse specialist with NHS Highlands, is one of the medical team who cares for Hannah. She said: “As an experienced nurse, I have never come across such an inspirational young lady. Despite living a constant battle with severe fatigue and ill health, Hannah always put her study first. Even being admitted to hospital didn’t deter her. She would lay books on her bed and have her laptop to hand for dial in sessions. This type of determination did not go unrecognised by medical staff. It has been humbling for us all to see how this young lady has not let her ill health define who she is.”

Speaking about her award, Hannah said: “I chose to study Gaelic because I have an interest in languages and, after learning a bit in school, I wanted to carry on and learn more about the culture as well. It’s an honour to receive this award, especially as I wasn’t brought up speaking Gaelic, and I will always be very thankful to everyone at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI, at home and from the cystic fibrosis team for their kind support and encouragement, which has meant so much to me.”

Professor Clive Mulholland, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: “Hannah was unanimously selected as our student of the year by all representatives of our judging panel. Her determination and dedication in the face of challenging personal circumstances has been exemplary, showing what can be achieved when you set your mind to it. I am delighted that Hannah has gained an honours degree in a subject she feels passionate about and I wish her every success for the future.”

Hannah received a certificate and a cheque for £200 at the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI graduation ceremony on Friday 6 October. Now she has completed her academic studies, she hopes to continue to learn about Gaelic and practise it as much as possible.

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