Sunderland couple celebrate double dream as they graduate together after studying as mature students

The Harris family on graduation day (left to right): Emily, Daniel, Simon, Andrea and Thomas.
The Harris family on graduation day (left to right): Emily, Daniel, Simon, Andrea and Thomas.
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A Wearside couple are celebrating a dream double after returning to the world of education – and graduating from university on the same day.

Andrea and Simon Harris, of Washington, gave up their jobs to pursue their dreams of working in healthcare.

Andrea and Simon Harris on graduation day.

Andrea and Simon Harris on graduation day.

They realised those ambitions when they each received a BSc degree from Northumbria University, with Andrea earning hers in nursing studies (children), and Simon earning his in nursing studies (mental health).

It was a long process for the couple, though, who had to go through ‘desperate times’ financially as they continued to bring up their three teenage children: Thomas, 17, Daniel, 16, and Emily, 13.

However, they are both now back in full-time work, with Andrea working at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI), in Newcastle, on the children’s ward, and Simon a psychiatric liaison nurse at Sunderland Royal Hospital.

Andrea, 40, who has been married to Simon for 18 years, said: “I had worked with children for many years, and used to work for Sunderland Council at Sure Start.

When I saw my dad, I burst out crying. I couldn’t believe I had actually done it.

Andrea Harris

“I wanted to do something even more rewarding and go into nursing, but I had to leave my job to go to college full-time, and get the qualifications I needed.

“During my time studying, first at college and then at university, I got a job with the NHS working as a healthcare assistant, but with three teenage children we knew it was going to be desperate times for us financially for three years while we did our degree courses.

“Personally, though, I knew it was what I wanted and I loved the experience. We struggled for three years financially, but came out the other side.”

Simon had been a full-time taxi driver with his own taxi, before becoming interested in mental health.

As a self-employed taxi driver, he gave up much of his time behind the wheel, and volunteered for Sunderland Carers during his time at university.

Andrea – who first stepped back into education 11 years ago – admits neither her or Simon were model pupils at school, having met there when they were 15.

She added: “Both of us left school and hadn’t done very well at all. We didn’t even have English and maths, so had to start from the beginning.

“We had to almost start again when we went back, but it was so worth it, and I’m still very emotional when I think about the graduation ceremony. It was amazing. When we put our cap and gowns on, I thought of my mam, Sheila, who passed away while I was doing my training. I had always said I wanted my mam and my sister, also called Sheila, to be there at the graduation, but my mam couldn’t be there.

“When I saw my dad, Syd, I burst out crying. I couldn’t believe I had actually done it. I’m sure my mam would have been looking down on me at that moment.

“My best friend Maria Humble was also at the ceremony, and we’ve been friends since we were 11.

“She has been there through the good and bad times, and she was over the moon that I asked her if she would stand in for my mam.

“Now two of our children are studying for their A Levels and seem very keen to go to university themselves. They have told us how proud they are.”