A Weymouth College student has collected his award as the Association of Colleges Young Student of the Year for 2022/23 – and has revealed how he overcame disabilities to do it.
Thomas Hepburn is a full-time wheelchair user and has a condition similar to epilepsy that can also erase memories.
He has severe dyslexia but has completed a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Engineering, is studying for an HNC Level 4 qualification in the same subject and has secured an apprenticeship with a defence company.
The Association of Colleges is the national voice for further education, sixth form, tertiary and specialist colleges and recognises the education and training of more than 1.6 million students studying FE courses in the UK.
Its Student of the Year award celebrates those who stand out from the crowd and have gone above and beyond, whether in college or their local community.
Tom said: “My brain can’t connect and control my movement so I’m a full-time wheelchair user.
“My body decides that when it’s under a lot of stress that its best option is to sort of shut down and go into a seizure that presents like epilepsy.
“My body’s got a defence mechanism – as another way of trying to defend it from things that are stressing me out it removes the memories.
“Because of this I’ve often had to re-learn or go back through a lot of the lessons.”
He added: “From a very young age I was diagnosed with fairly severe dyslexia so I always had this thing that people didn’t really expect that I’d achieve too highly.
“It made me want to strive even more so I was always looking at my predicted grades and going: ‘I’m just going to smash that out of the park.”
Chris Bonney, deputy head of engineering at the college, said: “The thing with Tom that impressed me as a lecturer – and inspired the rest of the group as well – was that the level of work and quality that was submitted was absolutely outstanding.”
He added that the college invested in equipment and provided a one-to-one support worker to enable Tom to complete his studies.