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University of Sunderland Graduations: "Never give up"

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Published on 14 July 2022

Mitch Stevenson
Mitch Stevenson

Graduation is a special milestone for every student – but for 59-year-old University of Sunderland graduate Mitch Stevenson it’s nothing short of a miracle. 

In March 2017, Mitch was at home in East Lothian, Scotland, when he began experiencing severe chest pains and struggled to breathe. His wife Jackie called for an ambulance, and he was taken to hospital in Edinburgh and immediately put into an induced coma. 

Mitch, who had been taking medication for respiratory problems for around a month, was found to have double pneumonia and sepsis in his lungs. Doctors told Jackie if he had arrived at hospital six hours later, he would have died. 

After being given a tracheostomy to help him breathe, Mitch remained in a coma for a further two weeks, with an additional two weeks on a main ward to aid his rehabilitation.

The road to recovery was long. As well as having the learn to walk again, Mitch developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chose to give up his job as a Community Psychiatric Nurse by taking early retirement. 

However, fast-forward five years and the grandfather-of-five has not only graduated with First Class Honours degree in Media Production but he has completely changed his life – pursuing his dream of working in radio.

Mitch, who is originally from Airdrie near Glasgow, said: “For a long time I wasn’t engaging in anything, and I was in a place emotionally and mentally where I didn’t feel worthy. 

“I have always had a passion for community radio and did some volunteering before my illness, and it was my wife who motivated me to go to university. 

“Being at Sunderland has given me the opportunity to prove to myself that it is never too late to pursue your passion and move forward. Coming to the University was the best decision I ever made.”

Around 5,000 students are graduating from Sunderland over two weeks – as part of the University’s biggest ever graduation celebration.

Mitch is one of around 2,500 who returned for the ceremonies at the Stadium of Light last week (July 4 – July 8), after missing out in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID. This week, a further 2,500 students from the Class of 2022 are celebrating their graduations at the venue.

The University hosted a series of online graduations during the pandemic but always pledged to invite students back to graduate in-person.

For Mitch, the ceremony was a rollercoaster of emotions – as his mother sadly passed away earlier this year.

“It was lovely to be able to take a moment and think of her,” he said.

“She always pushed me to chase my dreams and she would’ve loved to have been there on the day.”

While studying for his degree Mitch presented a rock music show on the University’s community station Spark. He enjoyed his student experience so much he has returned to Sunderland to study an MA in Radio, Audio and Podcasting and will be graduating from this course in November this year. 

Richard Berry, Senior Lecturer in Radio at the University and manager of Spark, said: “It was wonderful to see Mitch graduate and be able to celebrate his achievements. 

“Mitch joined the course as a top-up student having studied at a college in Scotland and the award of a First Class degree is proof of his determination to succeed.

“I hope this inspires others to follow in his footsteps.”  

Mitch, who currently has his own show on Sescot Radio in Dunbar, has this message for anyone who is struggling after experiencing trauma: “Take on board what other people are saying to you, listen to their advice and guidance and embrace their support.

“Five years ago I was six hours from dying and now I’ve just graduated with a First Class Honours degree. All of the support from my family and friends made this happen. 

“Never give up.”