Birkenhead Sixth Form College’s record-breaking Class of 2017 celebrated all their hard work in style last night at a glittering graduation ceremony at New Brighton’s Floral Pavilion.

Wirral’s Olympic Gold Medallist and TV star, Sam Quek MBE, was the guest of honour at a night full of awards, as the students now head for university or employment having achieved best-ever A Level & BTEC results this summer.

Among those winning awards were the College’s two ‘Scholars of the Year’, Sam Pelan and Millie Sherlicker, who both attained three A* grades at A Level. The two prizes were sponsored by local solicitors’ firm, Carpenters, and national lawyers, Weightmans, while Wirral’s Elysium Chambers sponsored the ‘Team of the Year’ award. Scooping that honour were the cast of the play ‘Bored’, which was written by the students themselves in conjunction with Merseyside Police. The production was aimed at highlighting the consequences of antisocial behaviour to younger schoolchildren, and was watched by over 800 secondary school pupils across the region to great acclaim earlier this year.

Scholar of the Year, Sam Pelan, and his proud parents

The Denise Roberts ‘Student of the Year’ Award was won by Sarah Watts, who has overcome a number of challenges to excel in her subjects, particularly foreign languages, and was praised for embodying the College’s core values of positivity, ambition, resilience and thoughtfulness. The award is named in memory of Wirral Councillor for Claughton and long-term Birkenhead Sixth Form College governor, Denise Roberts, who passed away in February this year at the age of 74.

Student of the Year, Sarah Watts, receives her award from Sam Quek

Guest speaker, Sam Quek, gave a heartfelt and passionate talk, explaining her own hard-fought journey to her ‘champagne moment’ in Rio in 2016 with the GB Women’s Hockey team, who came through a nail-biting penalty shootout against the Netherlands in the Olympic Final to claim gold.

Having been part of the preliminary squads for the previous two Olympic Games and missed the final cut, including 2012 in London, the ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!’ star inspired the audience with her candid story of nearly giving up on her dream before finding the motivation to succeed in her ultimate goal.

Sam Quek addresses the audience

After the show, the 28-year-old from Heswall handed around her precious gold medal for students to wear and said: “Huge congratulations to all the award winners. From what I’ve heard tonight, it seems like everyone here has had their own journey to this point, so I loved coming here tonight as a local girl to share my own.

“I didn’t realise I could be an Olympian until I was around the age of the students here tonight, and I’m sure some of the students out there won’t have realised or decided what they want to be just yet. It’s about not giving up, always believing in yourself and realising that you are going to come across obstacles in your way.

“Whichever way the wind blows, it’s how you react that matters most.”

Offering advice to the leaving students on their next step, Sam drew on her own extensive experience and said: “I always go back to a lesson that I learned: whatever I can control then I make sure I control it 100% by being totally prepared and knowing everything about it. Don’t let things that you can’t control take over your thoughts.

“Whether it’s academically or in a job or a sport, part of your head is always going to say that you can’t succeed, but you can train yourself and you can learn to be the best in that field. That’s what I did with hockey. As a defender, I was never going to take on ten players and score a goal but I swotted up on every team that we played; I made sure I was the fittest and the strongest. I played to my strengths and I controlled what I could control.”

More photos from the evening: