Determined Rebecca blazes academic trail for teen mums as she graduates from Queen's
A young mother has told of her pride at sharing her graduation day with her son as she looks towards the future - and urges others to aim high and reach their full potential.
When she started her theology degree course at Queen's University Belfast three years ago, all teenage mother Rebecca Finlay could think was: "I've got to survive this."
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But yesterday, basking in the glorious sunshine of graduation day, she said: "Looking back, I'm proud to say I've more than survived."
Aged 18, the Castledawson woman had just left Rainey Endowed School in Magherafelt and was aiming to go to university, but to her shock discovered she was pregnant.
Two years later she finally made it to Queen's with son Reuben in tow. Now, three years following that, she's celebrating the end of a wonderful journey.
That journey included writing an inspirational online blog called 'Maverick Mum', documenting the trials of student life as a young mother, in which Reuben heavily featured.
"I wanted the blog to encourage other teen mums, and also go some way to getting rid of the stigma which still surrounds young women who have children during their teenage years.
"I suppose it's kind of cheesy, but I hope I can now stand up and say: 'Look, I've done it, there's no reason why anyone else can't'. I was absolutely devastated when I found out I was pregnant. I know that sounds horrible to say, as every pregnancy should be a gift, but it was like my life had ended. But it hadn't.
"That was my time to be a mum.
"I hadn't got the A-level results I needed to get into university and everyone was saying to me: 'What will you do now, you will hardly get to uni now?, because I had the baby. I think that gave me more of an incentive to go and prove them wrong. I had to resit my A-levels twice to get the grades. I did, I went to Queen's and I've got my degree.
"I can't really believe it's all over," she said as she headed to the north coast for a celebration dinner with her parents.
"I was actually surprised to find myself a bit nervous ahead of the day.
"A graduation ceremony isn't an ideal day out for a four-year-old, but Reuben's been with me all the way through this and there was no way he was going to miss out."
Now it's off to the world of work, with Reuben almost ready for school and the days at Queen's creche behind him.
"I've already been working for the past month," Rebecca, now aged 23, said, having taken up a position as women's worker at West Kirk Presbyterian Church on the Shankill Road.
"I can't help thinking this is what God intended me to do and I love it. Women's ministry appealed to me all the way through my degree course," she added.