Graduation Tales: “I don’t believe in bucket lists. All I want to do is graduate”

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Inspirational Youth Work student, Helen Atkins, has graduated from University of South Wales (USW), with BA (Hons) Degree in Youth and Community Work, and at same time achieving her JNC Professional Youth Work qualification.

In a unique and heartfelt graduation ceremony, Helen, who is terminally ill with cancer, celebrated her hard work with her youth work lecturers, friends and family.

Helen, mother of four children and six grandchildren, was absolutely determined that she would walk across the stage to collect her degree. She said: “I don’t believe in bucket lists. All I want to do is graduate.”

It is with this spirit that all came together on 16 November, to not only celebrate Helen’s achievement but to also pay tribute to her work, her determination, and her drive to help support the young people that she works with to have improved life chances.

Helen said: “I cannot thank everyone enough at USW for organising the special graduation for me and my family.”

Mick Conroy, Helen’s Course Leader said: “The whole youth work team were devastated to hear about Helen’s diagnosis. It was therefore a privilege and a bittersweet pleasure to be able to add our own love and tribute to Helen by organising this special graduation for her and her family.

“When interviewing Helen in 2018, we immediately sensed that she was someone who doesn’t just say they want to make a difference to the lives of young people, we saw a spark in her that made us think that she believed she could make a difference, and that she would, and as we now know that she did and still does!”

Professor Kate Williams, Director of the Wales Centre for Crime and Social Justice, presented Helen with her qualification. She said: “My colleagues have told me how privileged they have been to teach and learn alongside Helen these past few years. They have told me of her practice in Eastwood Park and Cardiff prisons and I am struck by the contributions Helen has made. The respect and care she showed to the young people and women that she worked alongside, will have made an immeasurable difference to their self-worth and dignity. They will have felt cared for, respected and that they mattered and that is down to Helen.

“With this in mind, USW will be introducing a ‘Helen Atkins Award’ for a Youth and Community Work student who has shown determination, tenacity and compassion on placement- as Helen has herself done. This will be awarded annually and allow us to mark Helen’s achievements and contributions.”

 Since the publication of this story, Helen sadly passed away on 23 December 2021.