Student who couldn’t read until age 13 graduates from Bristol with top honours

He is now studying a PhD at the University of California

William Carter has graduated with high first class honours in politics and international relations from Bristol Uni, despite not learning to read until he was age 13. 

Growing up in school, he felt as though he was a “second class learner”. As a pupil on the free school meals scheme and with “learning differences” he felt judged by “the more affluent parents” and other students.

William is now studying a PhD in political geography at the University of California, Berkeley. He not only received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the institution, but was given the Alumni Award, the highest honour of the Fulbright commission. 

For years William felt his role at school was to stay quiet and let the “more intelligent” pupils learn.

He said: “Mindsets can be as important as structures and institutions when it comes to young people struggling with specific learning differences and disabilities.

“I remember being a young child and trying to scrub the pigment off my skin, as I desperately tried to work out what was causing this alienation, what was causing my seeming inability to learn and understand the world.”

William views his official diagnoses of severe dyslexia and dyspraxia as a life-changing moment, saying it “made me who I am today”. This was a gateway for extra support, which allowed him to learn how to read and write. 

“Learning how to read and write,” he said, “made the world more intelligible to me and, ultimately, made me more intelligible to the world.”

He went on to leave school with some of the best A-level results they had seen, for which he received the London Schools and the Black Child Outstanding Achievement Award at the Houses of Parliament. 

During his time at Bristol Uni, he attended numerous international conferences, spoke at the European Parliament, was a paid keynote motivational speaker at a major EU symposium and received several university awards for his academic performance.

William believes the systems in our society should change, saying: “The fact that I, through luck and the support of others, ‘made it’ in-spite of social-economic barriers shouldn’t justify our system and society. Instead, it should challenge its core assumption – the false idea that those few who succeed are examples of a system working rather than a system in disrepair.

“I think above all, being an underrepresented demographic has made me aware of one thing: when you are really struggling you are a problem, or rather part of the ‘rule’, whereas when you have made it you are an inspiration, or ‘an exception to the rule’.”

Now studying at the University of California, Berkeley, he is investigating the origins of racialisation in the transatlantic slave trade. Once William finishes his research, he hopes to become a professor of political theory and black geographies before pursuing a career in politics, to turn his “observations into actionable policies and politics” for underrepresented groups. 

William has paid tribute to Bristol Uni staff, including his academic advisors Ashley Dodsworth, Jonathan Floyd and Terrell Carver; student support service staff Tanisha Barrett, Philip Bolton and Elizabeth Back; specialist dyslexia tutor Angharad Jones and Mary and the Library Support team at the Arts and Social Sciences library.

Featured image: William Carter in San Francisco, USA

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