Mother who gave birth as teenager graduates holding daughter’s hand

A young mother, nominated for an inspirational individual award, who was forced to leave her school as a pregnant 15-year-old held her daughter’s hand as she graduated from university six years later.

After struggling down a “very dark path” in her younger years, Rachael Campey’s dream came true on Wednesday when she donned robes to receive a counselling psychology degree.

The 21-year-old said it was “overwhelming” to graduate from Leeds Trinity University alongside her daughter, Lily-Rose Campey, who she gave birth to as a teenager.

She told the PA news agency that the ceremony itself was “really emotional”, especially after battling anxiety and the stress of balancing a degree, job and the responsibilities of being a single mother for three years.

“I saw Lily-Rose’s face as I put my gown and my cap on when I was getting ready for the ceremony, and it just made it all feel so worthwhile,” she said.

“I just felt a lot of completion throughout the day. I felt overwhelming love and pride from my family, and from myself, as well as my daughter.”

Miss Campey said her daughter, aged six, was slightly overawed by the ceremony but that she was “smiling all day long”.

She told PA: “When I was writing my dissertation, she was doing homework at the side of me, so she gets how long a process it has been.

“They accidentally pronounced my surname wrong when I went onto the stage to collect my degree, and I heard her correct them and say ‘that’s my mummy’.”

The graduate, who lives in Cross Gates, Leeds, said she had had to leave her school months after she became pregnant at the age of 14, as they could not support her.

From there, she went to a range of educational establishments, before eventually going to York College and on to university from there.

Miss Campey told PA that having her daughter spurred her on to work towards getting a degree in order to give the youngster the best possible future.

The mother said her daughter helped change her life (Rachael Campey/PA)
Rachael Campey said having her daughter helped change her life (Rachael Campey/PA)

She said: “If I hadn’t had Lily-Rose, because I was struggling with my mental health, I don’t think I would be here now.

“She changed my whole perception. I was on a very dark path before I had her, and she brightened it all up.”

The mother said she faced bullying in the years before starting her degree, and at one stage nearly dropped out of university entirely.

“I had so many moments in first year where I didn’t think I could do it, I was walking down the hall crying my eyes out going to drop out of university, thinking ‘this is such a mess, why have I put myself in this situation’,” she said.

“But the whole environment at Leeds Trinity was amazing – it was the first time I really felt supported in what I wanted to do.”

She added: “If you’re a young parent and you’ve suffered with mental health issues, it doesn’t mean the end of your goals. You can still work towards them whenever you’re ready.

“Just because somebody says you can’t do it doesn’t mean you can’t actually do it, because you can if you really want to.”

Miss Campey has been nominated for the inspirational individual award at the 2020 Yorkshire Choice awards, and hopes to continue studying or become a public speaker, having earned third-class honours in her degree.

She is also an ambassador for MindMate, an NHS organisation which supports young people and professionals.

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