Left to right: Abigail Mureva, Katie Renouf and Maria Perez-Gonzalez.

Three cheers for three exceptional graduates

Three very special women from Exeter are celebrating their graduation this week.

Maria Perez-Gonzalez, Abigail Mureva and Katie Renouf will all be graduating from the University of Exeter Business School with a 2:1 in Business Studies, despite having to overcome some exceptionally difficult circumstances.

All three women have been awarded a Dean’s Commendation for academic achievement in exceptional circumstances.

Despite her situation as a homeless single parent with two small children and having English as her second language, Maria Perez-Gonzalez was determined to pursue her dream of gaining an education. With no qualifications to her name, she had to start completely from scratch. From 2004 she steadily progressed from basic English and Maths, through to GCSEs, AS level and finally onto an HND programme at Exeter College. Achieving a merit in her HND course meant that she was able to come to the University for a final year to extend her HND into a BA Business Studies degree.

Her initial impressions of the University were overwhelming; she remembers her first visit to the Old Library where she says, “The smell of the books and the colossal collection was like music to my ears. I immediately wanted to share the feeling with my little boy, so the next day I took him to the library. We walked all the floors and looked at the books as if they were precious gems. We left amazed."

For Maria, the first person in her family to go to university, there were sacrifices to be made. She didn’t go out and got by on a few hours sleep a night, as most of the evenings she needed to spend studying. Support came from her youngest son who would choose to sleep on the couch so he could keep her company whilst she was working. One friend bought her a bed so she could rest properly, ready for lectures the next day and another friend found her a bicycle so that she could get to university as she didn’t have enough money to pay for the bus fare.

It is now seven years since she started her journey and, having achieved her goal, Maria is looking to train as a chartered accountant before setting up her own business at some point in the future.

Talking about one of her clearest memories of her time at the University Maria says: “I was walking to a lecture. My heart was full of emotions, my thoughts were focused on all the situations I had to overcome to get to university, and I just couldn’t believe I was here. I remember standing at the intersection, looking all around the campus thinking “This is real. I am here”. I could not help it, I started to cry and laugh at the same time. I felt so proud.”

Originally from Zimbabwe, Abigail Mureva also came to the University having completed an HND at Exeter College. Her greatest sacrifice was leaving her son behind in Africa whilst she relentlessly focused on achieving the best education possible for herself and her family. She chose to do Business Studies because the diversity of modules on offer would give her a wide range of experience, useful when looking for graduate employment.

Balancing a home life as well as the demands of the course was a constant challenge, made all the more difficult by trying to be a long-distance parent. However, the University provided lots of support and encouragement that covered a wide range of issues from CV writing and careers advice to helping with problems of a more personal nature.
Overcoming all of the difficulties and achieving a 2:1 honours degree has ensured Abigail is ready for the next phase in her life as she looks for a job on a graduate trainee programme.

Talking about what graduation means to her Abigail said: “Graduating with a decent grade from a world-class university like Exeter makes it all worthwhile. Graduation is the recognition that I have achieved my lifelong ambition of gaining a degree. Graduating as a mature student makes my degree more meaningful and I am proud that I was able to embark on this journey and achieve what I set out to achieve.”

Also a single parent, Katie Renouf had originally hoped to follow a career in athletics. When this didn’t work out and she found herself pregnant with daughter Matilda, Katie decided to come back to Exeter to be closer to her parents. After completing a foundation degree at Bicton College, Katie spent a year at Exeter College and her final year at the University. This meant she was also able to continue to be involved with competitive sports, which she achieved by joining the University rowing team.

Katie said:“ I have been very lucky in that I live next door to supportive and loving parents, who have helped with Matilda and given me motivation whenever I needed it. At Exeter, all of the lecturers were enthusiastic for us to learn, experts in their field and also made us feel that they cared individually about each of us. There were times when the demands of looking after a three-year-old coupled with essay deadlines and exams almost became too much; but when I hold Matilda with my family around me on graduation day, I know I’ll feel on top of the world.”

Leaving the final words to Abigail but something that’s true for all three of these extraordinary women,"I can honestly say that this is the start of great things."

Date: 22 July 2011

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