Emma celebrates Queen's graduation after battle with illness
Graduations are always special, but today will be particularly so for a Queen's University maths student who overcame the odds battling a neurological illness and being a mother to her young daughter - all while completing her studies.
Emma Carson from Ballyclare managed to undertake her degree while raising her five-year-old daughter Amy, as well as coping with paralysis and problems with her vision and speech.
In her second year Emma became seriously ill and was hospitalised, with doctors suggesting she could be suffering from multiple sclerosis, strokes or another neurological illness, but she didn't let it stop her from achieving her goals.
Speaking ahead of the Queen's University summer graduations today - which will also see Irish-American philanthropist Loretta Brennan Glucksman become an honorary graduate - Emma said she hoped to become a teacher.
She added that her department had been like "one big family".
"Queen's University and my lecturers couldn't have done more to help and support me through this difficult stage of my life," she explained.
"If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have been able to come this far.
"Exploring my subject further, being able to share my enthusiasm and thoughts with other peers, and gaining further knowledge and understanding of maths is what I enjoyed most of all.
"It's like one big family who all understand each other and want to help each other succeed."
Even though she has now graduated, life remains very busy for Emma, who is currently juggling job applications with wedding planning and house hunting as she prepares to get married next year.
She said she hoped to someday undertake a PGCE and go into teaching.
Emma added: "I have applied for graduate programmes and mathematical-based jobs, although it is hard to find the time to look with my five-year-old daughter Amy wanting my attention, looking at buying a new house and planning my wedding for next July.
"Having a positive university experience has encouraged my thoughts in some day returning to education and furthering my learning at Queen's."
Also among the graduates at Queen's today will be Ms Brennan Glucksman, who has served as chair of The Ireland Funds America since 1995, raising millions for projects on the island and supporting peace and reconciliation, arts and culture, education and community development.
She will receive an honorary degree for her services to business and commerce.
Earlier in her career she was a producer for news and public affairs with PBS-TV. She was also a lecturer in English literature at several universities.
She was named an Honorary Commander of the British Empire by the Queen, the highest honour for a non-British citizen, for her work towards peace in Northern Ireland.
Commenting on the degree, she said: "It is a privilege to be recognised by Queen's University in this manner.
"I have a great love for the island of Ireland and the people here.
"I also have great respect for Queen's and the work that is being done at the university."
Meanwhile, it will be a double celebration for Andrew McNeill from Ballyclare today as he graduates and prepares to jet off to the US to track down "killer asteroids".
Andrew came to Queen's in 2009 and has since completed a Masters and now a PhD in solar system astronomy.
"I will be continuing my research in Northern Arizona University where I will be working as part of a research team with experts in near-Earth asteroids and potentially hazardous asteroids. As part of this group, I will help determine the orbits and properties of thousands of these potentially killer asteroids," he said.
And high-flying Lauren Cuddy (above) is among today's graduates with her degree in actuarial science and risk management from Queen's Management School.
Lauren came first in The Tab Belfast Power List and 69th in The Tab Future 100 for her charitable and volunteering work. The list, which is voted for by 215,841 students, highlights women at UK universities who are set to achieve incredible things.
The Dungannon woman has worked with her church and a number of charities, including Fields of Life, travelling to Uganda last year to work on various projects within schools and communities, as well as raising money to provide safe drinking water in many different regions across the country.
"I have had a great time at Queen's and gained invaluable experience," she said.
"I have met so many different people and made many great friendships, despite all the studying.
"A time that particularly stands out was when I was awarded a two-week scholarship through the Queen's City Scholarship Programme to gain work experience at JP Morgan in New York."
Following her graduation, Lauren plans to travel to Tanzania to work on various charitable projects including improving children's access to education. When she returns home, she plans to move to Dublin to sit her professional exams in actuary and take up a position with VHI Healthcare as an actuarial analyst, where she previously completed her placement year.
The Queen's University graduations will continue tomorrow with students from the School of Law, Institute of Theology, School of Behavioural Sciences and School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work.