A TULLIBODY woman has defied the odds and finished university with a first-class degree – almost 15 years after an event that changed her life forever.

Bernadette Syme, 42, graduated from Queen Margaret University (QMU) last week as a mature student, having successfully completed their BA (Hons) International Hospitality and Tourism Management course.

While achieving a first is a major challenge on its own, Bernadette's accomplishment is even more astounding as she suffered a brain haemorrhage in 2005.

She also has six aneurysms in her brain and stents to treat them – all of which seriously affected her through her studies.

Speaking to the Advertiser about her achievement, she said: "I don't think it's hit me yet.

"It's an amazing achievement, and something I never thought would have been possible."

Even before the aneurysm, Bernadette didn't think that university was a possibility for her.

Having left school at a young age, she had never seriously contemplated higher education.

In 2005, she was working as an assistant manager when she had the aneurysm, and says "everything went downhill" after that.

But Bernadette refused to let her injury rule her life, and fought hard to turn things around.

She said: "I have pushed myself and pushed myself to get better."

As part of her efforts, she signed up to a professional cookery course at Forth Valley College.

From there, she was accepted into QMU as a direct entrant – but found the shift from practical to theoretical education difficult.

However, QMU did all they could to make things as easy as possible for her.

Bernadette said: "They ensured I had everything I needed, like extra time during exams.

"And I suffer from bad migraines because of all the metal in my head.

"I can't stare at computer screens for too long, so I was given software that will read journals out to me."

All that support, coupled with a monumental amount of hard work from Bernadette, led to her completing her course as one of the top students in her class earlier this month.

But far from finishing education, Bernadette says she is just getting started – as she has finally realised what she wants to do with her life.

And she already has plans underway to make her dream a reality.

She said: "I'm going to do a management and leadership masters course at QMU.

"I'm actually looking forward to it, because I know that help is there if I need it.

"I want to be a lecturer – I want to teach. That's my ultimate ambition."

Bernadette also wants to prove to others that anything is possible, and referring to her own achievement she said: "It proves that if you believe and work hard, then you can do absolutely anything."