President of the National Union of Students (NUS), Shakira Martin, came to London South East Colleges’ Bromley Campus last Friday (15 September) to give a very special presentation and motivational speech to over 200 keen students.

With a mission to increase student union activity and participation nationwide, Shakira arrived with a number of messages, recommendations and lots of advice about getting involved at college and in the shaping of their own lives.

Only three months into the job, Shakira is herself, a very successful product of the further education system. She is a native south-east Londoner who by her own admission, has had a rather chequered past. “It was without any doubt,” she said, “that further education got me out of a hole and gave me the tools and skills to rebuild my life after I almost went to prison.”

After leaving school, Shakira enrolled at several different colleges to study courses that she would ultimately fail to complete. In a couple of cases, she enrolled and turned up for class just twice before deciding not to return. This lead to her taking dead-end, manual jobs with low wages and no prospects.

She continued: “It wasn’t long before I fell in with a crowd of people who were doing drugs, buying and selling and making money the wrong way. When the roof to this little enterprise came crashing in, I escaped going inside by the skin of my teeth. It’s something that I am not proud of.

“I was left with nothing, I was living in a sheltered home for abused women due to an abusive relationship, I was broke and had a child. Things looked bleak for a while before I decided to give college another go. In fact, it was the only option open to me. I enrolled onto a Leadership and Management diploma and took it from there.

“I suppose, the rest is history. I completed my diploma and learned how to use my entrepreneurial skills to do good things rather than bad. I was shown the way by my tutors and given positivity and encouragement from the start. I also got involved with my student union and became women’s officer. From there, I built and grew stronger, I learned how to work as part of a team and most of all, I became respected and people began listening to me. Last year, I graduated with my diploma and picked up my certificates with my two children at my side.”

Shakira brought with her a whole package of good advice to give to our students. Her main messages were as follows:

  • Don’t be tempted to make easy money too early in your life. Remember this; it is far better to have a small budget to work with at the age of 16-17 than to be broke and have zero prospects by the time you are 29.
  • Get out of any negative or abusive relationships that you find yourself in; they will only get worse, not better.
  • Offload those so-called friends who want you to fail; you are only as good as the company you keep. Surround yourself with people who want to succeed and who believe that the only way to do so is by putting in hard work.
  • Open yourself up to having a broader range of friendships; don’t just stick with the same type of friends. There are many good people out there who can help you and will feed your positivity and ambitions. 
  • Be independent and grow up. Act like an adult if you want to be treated like one.
  • Be respectful to your tutors; they are not doing this job for the money, they are doing it because they want to help you be a success and lead you to a full and happy life.
  • Set yourself realistic but difficult targets and have a vision of what you can become. 
  • Get involved in all the extracurricular activities that the College puts on for you. Take part in sports, book clubs, performing arts and debating societies. 
  • Be aware of the great opportunity that you have simply by being enrolled onto your course. There are millions of people around the world who will never have the same opportunity as what you have.
  • Try and be better than what has come before you. If no one in your family has ever made it to university, don’t be afraid to be the first.
  • Learn from your own and other people’s mistakes and ensure you don’t go on to make the same ones again.
  • Most importantly, love yourself! If you don’t, you can’t expect anyone else to do so.
  • This could be the best and most important year of your life. Put yourself in a healthy mindset and always remember what you have come to college to achieve.

Shakira has a huge ambition to become a college principal one day. She says: “I appreciate what my educators have done for me and the work they put in to make me what I am today. When I am no longer President of the NUS, I will work to become a principal and give something back to the system that saved my life. I’m determined, now that I am a public figure, to keep going and become something much bigger. The world, as they say, is my oyster!”

Before leaving, Shakira played her audience a very poignant track (I Need) from one of her favourite artists – George The Poet. Click here to listen to the track on Youtube.

The Colleges’ new Student Liaison Officer and former higher education student, Destin Poungui, is a member of the team who secured Shakira’s visit last week. His success on the Business BSC (Hons) degree course with a stunning 2:1 grade can be attributed to a college education. He said: “I am brimming with pride this afternoon and, after watching Shakira’s marvellous presentation, can honestly say, I am truly inspired. It is my job over the next three terms to bring about a greater student union presence on each campus and to encourage students to become more involved with the running of their enrichment activities, the content of their courses and their everyday environments whilst on course. Shakira’s words have made this task a whole lot easier.”

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