Bronagh's Address at Presentation Evening, December 2016

Firstly, I’d like to thank Shimna for inviting me this evening, it is a pleasure to be back at my old school where I’ve had so many great experiences and made many great friends.


I began Shimna in September 2002, after attending St. Patrick’s Primary School, Ballynahinch. I was one of three students from my school who came to Shimna. It felt like a big deal and Newcastle seemed so far away from Ballynahinch back then! I can say that I am very glad I decided to study at Shimna.


Academically, my interests lay in the arts and humanities, which I ultimately pursued as my degree. However, my personal interests lay in the automotive industry. I was, and still am, a girl who loves cars. It was with this that I thought a career in engineering was the route for me. Surely there could be nothing better for a car enthusiast than to build cars? However, after starting AS-levels in maths and physics, I realized that deep down, I wasn’t really a left-brain person and I had made a mistake ignoring the subjects that I enjoyed the most. In the end my A-levels were in English Literature, History and Politics and I decided to read History and Philosophy at Queen’s.


I began my degree at Queen’s in 2010 and like most students, I wanted some part time work. At the time, the economy was still deep in recession and part time jobs were few and far between. I must have applied for about a dozen jobs and nothing came of it. It was one day when walking through St. George’s market that I came across a stall selling greetings cards. I lifted a catalogue and after a bit of reading I discovered that the company was a direct sales company and they were looking for more people to join and sell their products. If you are familiar with Avon and Forever Living, this was exactly the same concept except selling greetings cards and stationary. After contacting the lady who was at St. George’s that day I decided to start my own cards business. If I couldn’t get a job, I would find another way to earn and add value to my cv. For twelve months I went to craft fairs, St. George’s market and hosted coffee mornings alongside my degree. The benefit of the card business was that I could schedule it alongside my studies and it gave me the opportunity to gain business skills and meet like-minded people.


At the beginning of my second year at Queen’s, I decided to make use of the careers service at the Student Guidance Centre. Every week they held events by employers and it was an event held by Apple that got my attention. The lady talked about Apple’s culture and their products and it sounded like the sort of place I would like to work. She had mentioned at the end of the event that the Apple Store in Victoria Square were recruiting and the idea was planted.


At that point I had never thought of applying for work in the Apple store. I had no experience and couldn’t even get a job in a pub or café, I didn’t think I stood a chance. However, I was really inspired by the talk and thought I’d let the careers service look at my cv and take it from there. One Saturday when at a Christmas fair selling my cards I got a phonecall from the manager of the Apple Store inviting me for interview. I was completely shocked. About a week later I was offered a part time job as a Specialist, someone who you speak to when you want to buy something in Apple, and that I’d be starting in the New Year. Again, completely shocked, I couldn’t believe it.


Looking back at this time, I believe the experience in the card business was what helped me stand out from other candidates, I had proactively found a way of earning for myself. As I was working part time at Apple, evenings and weekends around my studies, I had to give up my card business. I was no longer available for the events that sustained the business. This experience taught me how valuable it was to attend events hosted by the university and to use the services they offer. The careers advisor who had helped me with my cv was invaluable and I was able to write a much better cv after speaking to her.


My time in Apple was fantastic, it was a fast-paced and busy environment but it was also so much fun. My confidence soared, and the skills I gained in dealing with the public and the ability to manage my time between working and studying has stayed with me since then.


Towards the end of my degree I faced applying for jobs again. As I said earlier, I love cars, and with my experience working in the public and within technology, I applied for a job with Bavarian BMW as a product genius. They were recruiting in May and looking for someone to start at the end of the month, which was when my finals ended. After two interviews, and a nervous wait, I found out I had the job and was so relieved that I had full time work in place upon completion of my degree. You may wonder how I ended up working in cars with a degree in history, but my dissertation was a case study on women and motoring in 1960s Britain, I managed to combine my historical and automotive interests. The skills I gained as a historian and philosopher provided excellent grounding in critical thinking, skills, which are worthwhile regardless of career path, you pursue. I actually discovered while I was at Queen’s that there are more people in senior management positions in business who have history degrees than those with business degrees.  


My job at Bavarian again was fast paced and exciting. Straight after my graduation I was heading to the airport for my first training course, which happened to be a driving day at an airfield not far from Birmingham, driving BMW’s and competitor vehicles. This was amazing. Over the next year I went on several other courses to BMW’s academy outside Reading and on a factory tour to their BMW I plant, in Leipzig where they build their electric cars. Bavarian was the sole dealer of BMW electric cars in Northern Ireland at that time, so to be the ‘product genius’ of such new and innovative technology was really exciting. The next logical step for a product genius was into the sales team, but this didn’t really interest me, and mindful that I was more right brain than left, I didn’t consider a move into the service side of the business. After eighteen very exciting months, I decided to leave Bavarian and move on to my next challenge.


That was two years ago. Since then my career has taken another few twists and turns. I spent a further eighteen months working in financial services, in two different banks, one that focused on retail banking and one that was an investment bank. This experience was completely different to my previous work and while there were long-term career prospects and job security, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I did talking to customers about products that I loved. Before moving to my current employer I reflected on my experience and thought that doing something that I enjoy was of utmost importance, but that this was also a time to upskill for the future. I looked into different courses, including short courses and Chartered Institute courses and decided that having gained first hand work experience now was the perfect time to begin a Masters.


 So while I left Shimna six years ago, and graduated from Queen’s three years ago, I am now embracing student life again as I complete a Masters in marketing at Ulster University. I am completing my degree part time along side my work in S D Bells tea and coffee company in Belfast and I am also using this time to network and learn from people in industry, by attending events held by organisations such as Women In Business. My hope is that by the end of my degree I will be in a position to work for myself again.  With my Masters degree behind me, and with the experience I have gained, I am confident that I will find the job I will love. 


My message to you is:

  • Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, make the most of them

  • Be self-aware; find out what you like and don’t like – spend more time doing the things you enjoy!

  • Academics are important, but so are the things you do alongside them – spend your time wisely.


I wish you all the very best with your future exams and the choices that lie ahead, many congratulations on all of your hard work. Have a great evening and enjoy a well-earned Christmas break.