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Fergal battles the odds to graduate with First Class degree 

Fergal Bittles from Belfast left school at 16 after failing most of his GCSEs but today he’s celebrating as he graduates from Queen’s with a First Class Honours in Computer Science. 

Leaving school without any qualifications, Fergal worked as a bartender and spent most of his free time training as an amateur boxer. However, his hopes of moving up the boxing ranks took an unexpected blow as he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when he turned 19.  

After becoming very ill, doctors performed an emergency Ileostomy surgery to save Fergal’s life. Due to the procedure, Fergal was told that he would have to wear a ostomy bag and doctors delivered the devastating news that he would no longer be able to enter boxing competitions.  

For Fergal, this was a turning point and he decided to make the lifechanging decision to return to education. He began an access course at Belfast Metropolitan College in order to get the necessary qualifications to apply for a course at Queen’s. He also simultaneously repeated both his Maths and English GCSEs, moving from a D to an A* in Maths and from a D to an A in English.  

Today, after six years of studying, Fergal is now graduating with a First Class Honours in Computer Science and is about to start a software engineer at EverQuote.   

Commenting on his journey, Fergal says: “When I was told that I would no longer be able to box I was pretty disorientated as I was no longer able to pursue the one thing which brought meaning to my life.   

“However, after a lot of consideration, I decided that my next pursuit to would be to return to education. Given my track record with education, obtaining a degree felt like a more unrealistic dream than becoming a world champion, but I didn't let that deter me.  

“The careers advisors at Queen's are extremely helpful. With their guidance, I was able to optimise my CV and seamlessly transition from academia into an industry internship. Also, the careers advisors are really on the ball with listing all of the local employers and workplace opportunities for graduates and placement students.”  

Fergal says that he is proud of his achievements but it all still feels surreal: “Every loss is an opportunity to learn, provided that you have the right attitude. If you went back in time to ten years ago and told me that this was in store for me, I would have laughed. However, I made a lot of sacrifices and jumped through a lot of hoops to get here. It has been a long journey, but it was completely worth it. Having this degree truly means a lot to me. My friends and family know how much this journey meant to me and everyone is extremely proud.”  

The future looks bright for Fergal. He says: “Graduating from Queen's is such an important milestone for me, but the journey doesn't end here. I will be starting my graduate job as a Software Engineer at a company called EverQuote on the day after my graduation. I'm excited to start my new role.”  

Fergal has a message for others facing difficult circumstances: “If I can do it, anyone can do it. Even if you feel like you're the most unlikely candidate, you're still more than capable of achieving a degree so long as you're willing to stay committed and put the work in.   

“I was heartbroken when my boxing ambitions came to an end following my Crohn's diagnosis and emergency Ileostomy surgery. However, this setback forced me to search for a new life goal to work towards which eventually led me here. Now I truly feel like I've found the path that's right for me and I'm able to reach my full potential.”  


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