When Rachel Pugh graduates with a first class honours at Cardiff Metropolitan University's graduation ceremony this week, it will be a bittersweet celebration for her.
English and Contemporary Media graduate Rachel will be joined by mum Sian, cousin Danielle, Auntie Gloria, Uncle Simon and grandparents Wendy and Colyn; but there will be a big void left by her dad Roger, who passed away on New Year's Day.
Roger, a Chief Biomedical Scientist, lost his six-week battle with pancreatic cancer aged 66, but remained a guiding inspiration to Rachel in her studies to the bitter end. Twenty one year old Rachel, from Tonyrefail, dedicated her dissertation to her father and he will be sorely missed next week.
He passed away at the time Rachel was handing in her final assessments and his funeral was on January 16th, just before she returned to University after the Christmas break.
Rachel said: "Dad was really encouraging from the time I began my degree. He also loved reading and literature and was really inspiring. I don't think I would have got through my course if he hadn't been so strong. He had hoped to have chemotherapy in order to be at my graduation, but the cancer was too advanced.
"While he was having palliative care in hospital, he kept telling all the hospital staff that I was going to get a first.
"It was very hard studying, especially a subject like English, because the flow of your writing can be affected if you have something on your mind, which I obviously did have constantly. I initially couldn't believe that I got a first. "
During her final year, Rachel also set up an online Just Giving account to combine donations from her Dad's funeral with money raised at his local club and through the website. £1,900 was raised for Amser Justin Time, a Welsh pancreatic cancer charity established by singer Shan Cothi.
Rachel said: "Pancreatic cancer is so under researched and under funded and our fundraising is ongoing through https://www.justgiving.com/RogerPugh/."
Like her father, Rachel has always loved English and chose the course after studying both English and Media at GCSE level followed by English A level at Y Pant Comprehensive School in Pontyclun.
She now plans on travelling in Australia and Asia in September, before deciding on a career path, although as a swimming teacher, she would love to invest in her own swimming school and is also considering studying towards a Masters in Business and Entrepreneurship at Cardiff University.
She said: "The course was great and combining media with English really suited me – I think the pairing gives me a bit of an edge, as I have plenty of social media experience, and event wrote my dissertation on the effects of social media in society and culture. This is a big part of many job specs now. My course felt very current and relevant in relation to the jobs market.
"My tutors really helped me through a very difficult time and always had an open door if I had any concerns. Or if I emailed, they would get back to me straight away. They highlighted the terms of mitigating circumstances for me in terms of my degree, although I didn't cite these in the end.
"The University's counselling service was also brilliant. I have really enjoyed meeting new friends, from all walks of like and from a variety of faiths. I joined the water polo society for my first year, which added an extra dimension to my degree in terms of social life and making new friends. My time at university will obviously always be tinged by sadness, but it has also been a very happy experience."