Holly Dempster-Edwards, 22, of Gobowen near Oswestry, has recently graduated from the University of Oxford with a First-Class Honours Degree in Modern Languages, achieving spoken Distinctions in both French and Spanish. This is a reality which, ten years ago, Holly herself could hardly have dared believe possible. Growing up in a single-parent household, money was not abundant, but Holly’s mother and grandmother always believed in the value of books and gave Holly and her sister, Lauren, the opportunity to learn wherever possible.

At secondary school, Holly was put on the ‘gifted and talented’ register, and luckily, her mother spotted an advert offering scholarships to Moreton Hall. They applied and Holly’s education started to take flight!

Holly’s aptitude for languages quickly became obvious. In her first term, Mr Forster, the Principal at the time, made it possible for her to study Latin and later Ancient Greek, important founding stones for Modern Languages. She remained at Moreton for five years, gaining 11 A*s and 1 A at GCSE. She continued with languages at A Level, gaining 3 A*s in Spanish, French and Latin and also 2 AS qualifications, in Chinese and Ancient Greek.

Holly’s teachers encouraged her to apply to Oxford and after a great deal of hard work and preparation she gained a place at St Hilda’s College in 2015. She was awarded a scholarship from the University which made it possible for her to take up her place. In her second year she was made a College Exhibitioner, an award given for outstanding performance in her first-year exams. She spent her third year teaching English in Paris for eight months and then working as a translator in Spain for three months, both of which were only made possible by her scholarship funding.

During her time at Oxford, Holly felt it was important to show her gratitude for the help she had received, and volunteered for many outreach programmes, such as a University initiative which involved taking local, disadvantaged primary-school children around Oxford’s many museums, giving free English lessons for Oxford-based charity FELLOW (Free English Language Lessons for Overseas Workers), and acting as a College Ambassador to Sixth-Formers visiting St Hilda’s.

“Throughout my studies I realised that I have a real passion for education,” says Holly, now a teacher of French and Spanish at Concord College, near Shrewsbury. “I would encourage anyone who loves learning to look into pursuing their favourite subject at university level. Being from a low-income background should never be an obstacle to reaching your goals. It really is worth researching the funding available, both at local private schools and universities. I will be forever grateful to my family, my teachers at Moreton Hall and my tutors at Oxford, who taught me that as long as you work hard and believe in yourself, then you really can achieve your dreams.”