A University Centre Weston (UCW) student will graduate as planned on Saturday 15 September after overcoming a number of obstacles, including having to take time off to care for her father who was seriously injured in a car crash.
Jess Darby, aged 24, from Worle, has achieved an upper second class Honours degree in Early Years Education and was just one per cent away from achieving a first.
The result is a remarkable achievement for Jess, whose father Mike, aged 54, was trapped inside his Peugeot for more than two hours and had to be cut from the car by firefighters after being involved in a collision with another vehicle on the A370 just outside of Weston in February.
Mike suffered a fractured neck, a broken nose and fractured bones in his hand, wrist and knee as a result of the collision, which led to him having to spend weeks in the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Weston General Hospital and undergo four operations and rehabilitation before he could even walk again.
Jess took time away from UCW to care for her father as he recuperated, but she kept up with her studies at home while also working part-time as an early years practitioner at Little Bears Day Nursery in Weston.
Although Mike is now recovering from his injuries and has resumed his role as a supervisor at his air conditioning business, the collision took a toll on the whole family, with son Chris taking on more duties at the business and wife Hayley using her days off from her job as a care assistant to look after her husband on the days when Jess needed to work.
Happily, Mike and Hayley will attend UCW’s graduation event to celebrate their daughter’s determination and success, along with Jess’s fiancé Dan – who proposed on a beach in Tenerife during a short break in May.
Jess will be among the more than 500 UCW students who will collect their degree scrolls, take part in a traditional mortarboard toss and enjoy a drinks reception in the ballroom of the Winter Gardens Pavilion on Weston seafront.
She said: “Thinking back about the time of the crash, it was so horrible, especially as I was in Torquay at the time with my best friend so I didn’t even know the full extent of what was going on and couldn’t just come back straightaway because of traffic.
“It’s been a crazy few months for me and my family; all my friends make fun of me by telling me that my life is such a soap opera.
“Dad’s recovery has been amazing and I’m so happy he’ll be there to watch me graduate.
“I’m also so grateful to my family, my friends, and my lecturers and everyone else at UCW who helped me through such a difficult time.”
Mike said: “It’s been a tough year and we’re so proud of Jess as she’s achieved her degree despite all of the emotional and practical obstacles something like this throws up.
“I can’t wait to see her graduate from UCW.”
Jess studied Child Care and Learning Development at Weston College before progressing to higher education, and although she initially took time away from her studies after breaking her ankle and deciding to teach English in Cambodia, she returned to UCW in 2016.
She is now considering getting a tattoo to celebrate achieving her degree, and is also hoping to persuade Dan to reconsider their plan to get married in 2023 and instead tie the knot in Thailand in December.
Dr Paul Phillips CBE, the Principal and Chief Executive of the Weston College Group, said: “So many of our students achieve success in the face of adversity and we’re so proud of all of them, but Jess’s story is inspiring because she was forced to take time away at such a crucial time in her studies.
“I’m really pleased that Jess and her family will be joining us for graduation and I’m really looking forward to hearing all about her achievements in the future.”
The degrees at UCW are delivered in partnership with Bath Spa University and the University of the West of England, Bristol.