Everyone loves a ‘tell us about yourself’ ice-breaker, don’t they? Ahead of a recent get-together I was asked to bring an item that means something to me.

I took a book: May You Live in Interesting Times by Belfast-born journalist Conor O’Clery, former foreign correspondent with The Irish Times.

I first met Conor during my time as a student at Queen’s University Belfast; I was editor of the Gown newspaper, he was a former editor and then chair of Gown’s advisory Trust.

I gained more than an education at Queen’s. Through studies, running publications and as Vice President at the Students’ Union, I made friends for life.

From Conor O’Clery and others on the Gown Trust I learned the importance of enjoying what you do, the value of mentorship and giving time to others. This book reminds me of Conor’s continuing generosity of spirit, and his sense of adventure.

My time at university was not without its challenges, but at Queen’s they were always outweighed by opportunities. Conor O’Clery has been described as an accidental correspondent; the initial QUB computer science course he applied to was crapped at the last minute, so he chose English instead. He became involved in Gown, later joined The Irish Times and has twice been named Journalist of the Year in Ireland.

The life experiences our universities offer, in addition to world-class standards in academia, cannot be understated.

Beyond the likes of student societies and other organisations providing platforms for personal development, in the absence of widespread integrated schooling here in some cases they provide the first shared spaces for those of different religions, background and perspectives.

Conor’s is one of many exceptional stories of local students going on to achieve great things. We can’t all be Journalist of the Year, but we can make the most of the opportunities that come our way.

Also published on Medium.