Development & Alumni Relations Office 

CLASS ACT – CELEBRATING THE GRADUATES OF 2020Graduates from the Class of 2020 (image compilation)

29 July 2020

With the virtual graduation summer season drawing to close, we look back at some of the amazing individuals who completed their studies and graduated during the exceptional circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among those to graduate this summer was Robyn McCue from Newtownabbey, County Antrim, for whom graduating with a PhD in Psychology (Friday, 10 July) was bitter sweet, having lost both her parents during her studies at Queen’s.

With her mum passing away in January 2015, the day before her final undergraduate exam and her father dying suddenly just one month after she started her PhD in September the same year, Robyn has had to overcome the most devastating of odds.

During her PhD, Robyn (pictured above 2nd from right, bottom row) was the chair of a student-led mental health campaign, Mind Your Mood, which helped her to cope with her grief. Looking to the future, Robyn starts training to become a clinical psychologist in London in September.

Graduating virtually with a BA in Film Studies and Production from the School of Arts, English and Languages (Thursday 16 July), Shauna Lawson from Derry~Londonderry describes her experience of Queen’s as ‘not without its hurdles’.

When she started her degree in 2017 Shauna (2nd from left, top row) was a single parent living in a family homeless hostel in Belfast. Then, just before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and in the final months of her degree, Shauna was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Just four months after her mastectomy, she is looking forward to starting a Master’s. “We won't be graduating on stage at Queen’s how I imagined, but we are celebrating together the success of our three years of hard work and dedication. I'm incredibly proud of myself, and of everyone graduating, as none of us were without hurdles.”

Joseph McGreevy from Belfast – who in his spare time is a successful eSports athlete – graduated with a BSc in Computer Science from the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (Friday 17 July).

Also known as electronic sports, eSports is competitive computer gaming and is a huge global industry. Joseph joined the eSports society when he came to Queen’s, taking a year out from his studies after third year, to pursue a professional career as an eSports player.

“Queen’s gave me the fantastic opportunity to join my first team which was a critical part of my success and overall ambition,” said Joseph (2nd from left, bottom row), adding “I’m hoping to return to the streaming career now that I've graduated but I'm also looking into jobs as either a software developer or as a data analyst/scientist.”

Celebrating her graduation with a 2:1 LLB from Queen’s School of Law was Bríd McNally from Portadown, County Armagh (Monday, 20 July).

Though she initially started at Queen’s when she was 18 straight out of school Bríd (2nd from right, top row) soon realised she wasn’t ready for University. A job as a receptionist in a local law firm before moving on to become a legal secretary gave her the confidence to go back to get her degree.

Looking forward to spending time with family, friends and her dog Sonny, it’s not quite the end of her Queen’s experience for Bríd. “It feels really surreal to be graduating, and such a lovely accomplishment. It is something I will always have,” she said.

“I’m really thankful to Queen’s for everything, to the point that I’m going back to do my Master’s degree. I don’t want to leave!”

Gabrielle McMaster graduated from the Institute of Theology (Tuesday, 21 July) with a BA in Theology and History and is already looking forward to her next chapter.

From Killyleagh in County Down, Gabrielle (right, middle row) is the author of Not Always Blu Skyes, her debut novel published in May 2020 after she secured a two-book deal with Zenith Publishing whilst still a student at Queen’s.

Commenting on her graduation Gabrielle said: “It is great to be celebrating all of the hard work I have put in to my degree for three years. I can’t wait to celebrate with my family from home. It’s a huge milestone and it makes me excited to begin my Master’s in History at Queen’s in September.

Stephen Conn from Portadown in County Armagh received his MEng in Chemical Engineering from Queen’s, having endured a rocky journey of illness (Wednesday, 22 July).

Suffering from Crohn’s disease, Stephen (pictured top right) was admitted to hospital for an operation just weeks before his degree at Queen’s was scheduled to finish. In all, he spent seven months in hospital, had three surgeries, sepsis, countless infections and treatments.

Though his recovery is still ongoing, Stephen looks to the future with remarkable positivity. “I’d always thought I would go and work in the energy industry; however after my experience I would love to go into a career in pharmaceuticals.

“If I could play just a small part in helping deliver lifesaving drugs to those that need it most that would be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling career.”

Hadeel Abdellatif earned a PhD from Queen’s Management School (Friday, 24 July). While her husband remained in Jordan for work, Hadeel came to Belfast in 2015 to start her PhD journey with sons Riad (then aged 5) and Amir (1). The family were reunited when Hadeel’s husband, Dr Fadi Shahroury, subsequently took up a post at the School of Electronic, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Queen’s.  

Hadeel (centre, top row) is now Assistant Professor at the Applied Science University’s Management School in Jordan. Celebrating her virtual graduation with her family she said: “I am very honoured to be graduating from Queen’s, one of the top universities in the world. I am very proud of what I have achieved and how much I have learnt and grown…it is a very special time for us as a family.”

Michael Dallat from Coleraine, one of the first cohort of Lloyds Scholars at Queen’s, was honoured as a social mobility student champion, when he graduated with a BA in Film and Theatre Making (Monday, 27 July).

A contender in the Lloyds Scholars Champion Award 2020, Michael (bottom right) was nominated alongside several others from leading universities across the UK and scooped the £1,000 runner up prize in recognition of his work championing the social mobility programme to future applicants.

On the same day, Aine McGill from Lavey in County Derry~Londonderry, graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Biomedical Science. Having secured a PhD place in Professor Ken Mills’ laboratory with Professor Kevin Prise to research drug repurposing in paediatric cancers Aine now has a very promising career in the field of biomedical research ahead of her. Her doctorate will be funded by a legacy from Ena Quirk and Leukaemia Lymphoma NI.

Speaking about her University experience Aine (pictured bottom left) said: “I enjoyed my time at Queen's so much I will be returning in September to complete my PhD to study radiotherapy and chemotherapy combinations for paediatric cancers, with the aim to research treatments that will reduce side-effects for paediatric cancer patients in later life.

“I always wanted to use my experience and knowledge to help others and am so excited to get started.”

Sandra Isirima graduated with an MSc in Leadership for Sustainable Development from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s (Tuesday, 28 July).

Originally from Nigeria, she lives in Belfast with her four young boys Mike (6), Micah (4) and twin boys Mitchy and Myron (2). Just three months after Sandra (top left) started her Master’s at Queen’s in September 2018 her husband Michael was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, aged just 34. About to finish his PhD when he got the diagnosis he was given a limited time to live. Sadly, Michael passed away on 22 November 2019.

"Michael was so encouraging and supportive of me that he asked me to never give up on my dreams of getting my Master’s,” said Sandra. “He supported me in the little ways he could and always encouraged me not to drop out of school because of his illness. I found courage, hope and strength, and I finally decided to go back to school to complete my Master’s degree.”

One of the University’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic saw frontline final year and graduating students in the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences (MHLS) and in the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work (SSESW), in the Faculty of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, leave Queen’s early to join the healthcare front line.

Marking this selfless commitment to the community, the announcement conferring the 2019-20 AIB NI Queen’s Student of the Year Award to a group of over 700 students (class representatives pictured centre, bottom row) across a range of the University’s faculties, schools and departments, came earlier this week (Monday, 27 July). The prestigious Graduate and Student of the Year Awards, now in their 22nd year, are presented in the name of the Queen's Graduates' Association with support from AIB NI, and recognise the extensive contributions of Queen's alumni and students both to the University community and to wider society. 

All 19 summer graduation ceremonies – including those still to take place – can be viewed online.

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit a graduate news item, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen’s University Belfast.


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