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GRADUATIONS 2023: Prize-winning creative path to First-Class degree

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Published on 10 July 2023

Hannah Drinkwater
Hannah Drinkwater

She may have been part of the “COVID-19 cohort” who began their degrees at the start of the global pandemic, but Hannah Drinkwater overcame the lockdown challenges to achieve a First-Class degree and pick up a prize.

As she steps on stage at the Stadium of Light this week, during the University of Sunderland’s Summer Graduation Ceremonies, to collect her degree in BA (Hons) English with Pathways, she’ll also add another accolade to her name - the recipient of the Michael Lavery Creative Prize for Most Outstanding Student.

Hannah, 21, from Chester-le Street, is delighted with the achievement, having fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a writer.

She says: “When I got the news I’d won this year’s prize, I was in shock. I haven’t been able to stop smiling since I found out. The idea that I had won a prize for my creative writing - something I have always poured my blood, sweat and tears into, and a craft I have been honing since I was eight-years-old, was just an amazing and incredibly emotional piece of news to hear. I immediately contacted my family and friends to share the good news. I am beyond honoured to be this year’s winner.” 

She added: “Like many of my classmates and other students around the world, I was part of the “COVID cohort”. Starting university during a worldwide pandemic was challenging and unlike anything I had always expected the start of my experience would be like. Studying and making friends online was initially difficult, but we all adapted and made the best out of a bad situation. I am proud of myself and my classmates for achieving everything we have achieved after enduring such circumstances.”

The Creative Prize was presented by Michael Lavery, who himself graduated with a degree in English from the University of Sunderland in 2000. Michael has gone on to become a successful strategic brand, marketing and communications consultant, notably working with high-profile clients across education, health, arts, industry and third sectors, nationally and internationally.

Michael said: “I’m delighted to acknowledge Hannah as an exceptionally talented writer who, like the other graduates from the University this week, is at the start of an exciting career.

“I have been very fortunate since my own graduation 23 years ago to have built a varied and successful career and to make an impact across consulting, private and third sectors. 

“I’m delighted to give back to the University and have made a further, long-term commitment as a donor, switching from funding graduation prizes to giving a regular gift to the Faculty of Arts & Creative Industries and their Futures Fund to support a new generation of students – from different backgrounds - to join the University and take their first step on a career in the creative industries.”

Before joining the University, Hannah attended The Hermitage Academy school in Chester-Le-Street and studied A-Level English Literature, A-Level English Language and A-Level Spanish. Sunderland was her first choice University.

She says: “When I came to the Sunderland Campus Open Day, I was blown away by how it was exactly what I was looking for: interactive, friendly, not too intense, but a place that would help me reach my potential.

“I think the highlights of the programme for me have been working on all of the stories and pieces of writing I have been able to submit for my assignments, as well as making some friends for life; I wouldn’t be anywhere without them.”

Now she has graduated, Hannah plans to work as an editor and proofreader, while also continuing to write and prepping her stories and other pieces for publication. She intends to search for a literary agent as soon as she feels her writing is ready for publication.

So what advice does she have for students beginning their own University journey?

“Never let anyone tell you you’re incapable. You got into university for a reason. You are capable of everything you put your mind to. No matter how small anyone makes you feel, you’re enough - more than enough. 

“Give it your all, but honestly also just enjoy it while you can. It might be cliché to say this, but the experience goes by in the blink of an eye, especially when you’ve made some amazing friends and you’re studying the thing in the world that you are most passionate about. Work hard, put in 100%, but make it an experience to remember.”