My name is Cassie Hunt and I was born in an extremely disadvantaged area of North Dublin called Darndale. With Darndale as an address many residents already face a stigma which would result in fewer job and education opportunities. However, I had the added stigma and disadvantage of being the child of drug addicts. Both of my parents were heroin addicts years before I was born. My father was in prison. This all meant that my story seemed to be mapped out for me already.
Education was an escape in my younger years, I enjoyed primary school. My good performance equalled positive attention from adults, which I craved, but, unfortunately this didn’t travel to second level with me. In secondary school I was encouraged not to attend by my mother, and I began acting out. This was the first time in my life I was a bad student. This led me to realize that my life would never be more than what had been decided by statistics for me when I was born if I didn’t make some choices about the direction of my life and how I wanted to live.
Luckily enough for me, my secondary school was linked heavily with DCU. While in 4th year I was involved in the UniTY programme. I met various members of the Access service who reassured me that college was achievable for someone like me. Until this point in my life college was a completely foreign concept. Not a single member of my family (both immediate and extended) had ever attended college, nor had anyone from my area. The realization that grants, scholarships and bursaries were available to me completely changed my mindset. From this point on I decided that college was how I would break the possible cycle of teenage pregnancy, addiction and poverty within my life.
This goal was something I kept close to my heart until sixth year. This was when I finally opened up to my guidance counsellor about what I was dealing with and experiencing at home. My guidance counsellor arranged a meeting with my principal. They helped create smaller goals for me that would help me achieve a place in college.
Due to my mother’s addiction simple things like homework were made difficult for me as my home was constantly chaotic. I was in a constant state of worry for her wellbeing. I was extremely lucky to have had such one-on-one care from the staff at my school and I sat the best Leaving Cert that I possibly could have at the time. Unfortunately, I did not reach the minimum results for university.
Instead of dwelling on this I took it in my stride and accepted that my route of higher education would not be as straight forward as I had hoped. I spent a year doing a PLC [post-leaving certificate course] before I finally got my long-awaited place in DCU.
Before beginning lectures, I met with my Access worker and I found out that the supports available to me were much more than financial. They included emotional and academic supports, which have been critical to my success in college. My experience within college has been turbulent and has included both highs and lows. The Access service has been by my side the entire time.
I have been fortunate enough to have been awarded the opportunity to become an Access ambassador. This puts me in the shoes of the people who gifted me with the tools and knowledge that I too could reach college. This experience has been profound and the experience of giving back has been so rewarding.
Right now, I am entering my final year and am far from the neglected child I once was. I live completely independently and have removed myself from the toxic parts of my family. I did all of this by taking control of my own future [starting] with the small step of making choices for myself and the guiding light of my guidance counsellor and the Access service of DCU.
After my degree I plan on doing a Master of Education, and I hope to become the person I needed when I was younger. I hope that my situation and how I changed my future through college education can help give hope to someone else that college is achievable and accessible to anyone regardless of socio-economic background.