Cardiff University graduate Nia Phillips admits she was shocked when she found out her degree result.
"I’ve always been pretty confident academically, but this year was different," said the 22-year-old from Ammanford, South Wales. "I was genuinely surprised when I got my grade and that I’d be able to achieve that despite the difficulties of the past year."
In autumn 2019, aged 20, Nia suffered a stroke. Then a third-year student at Royal Holloway University, it began with vomiting, migraines and severe sensitivity to light, which got so serious that her mum came to get her and bring her back to the family home.
It was in Wales that she was told she had a clot on her brain, spending two weeks in hospital, forcing her to pull out of her studies.
"It was hard to process what the doctors told me," said Nia. "As soon as they told me, I thought, ’what does this mean, am I at risk of dying, is there anything in my brain that’s been affected’. I think I was just mostly scared."
The next few months of recovery were difficult for Nia, with even the simplest of tasks taking their toll on her.
"Daily living was the hardest part really at that point," she said. "Even coming down and making a cup of tea, or the food shop with my mum, would leave me feeling exhausted.
"But at one point there was a change in my mentality. I thought, ’yes, this has been traumatic, but I’ve been one of the luckier ones’. It made me more determined to succeed."
Nia chose to gain her Psychology degree at Cardiff University as she was closer to home, leaving Royal Holloway with a Diploma in Higher Education.
"Because I was starting at Cardiff in my third year, 100% of my degree was relying on my marks for this year. I was definitely nervous too because of the way studying had changed because of the pandemic.
"I just had this attitude thinking, ’I have got to give this everything I’ve got, then at least I know I’ve given it a go’."
Nia, who still suffers with headaches and eye pain, had to take regular breaks throughout the day in a dark room to shut off sensory input.
After such a tough year, she was delighted to discover the work had paid off.
"I did have a shock when I saw my transcript," she said. "I’m really proud of myself. I think it shows you have got to have faith in yourself and be tenacious. It was hard but it was worth it in the end. I’m also lucky that I’ve had a good group of supportive people around me."
Now that Nia has finished her degree, she plans to pursue her passion for music.
"I’ve always loved singing and it’s my dream to be able to perform for a living," she said. "Once I’ve had a bit of a break over the summer, it will be full steam ahead. I always felt it was an unrealistic ambition and it was safer to get the qualifications, but the last two years have taught me that you should grab every opportunity and experience that you can."
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