Triumph over adversity as Mackie pupil scoops top French award

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A FORMER Mackie Academy pupil has become the first candidate from a state school to be awarded a top language prize.

Sam Dickinson (18), is the recipient of the 2010 Lansdowne Prize, presented annually by the Franco-Scottish Society for the highest mark achieved by a pupil sitting the Advanced Higher French exam.

And Sam’s achievement is made even more outstanding by the fact that he had to study and sit the exam from his hospital bed, after he broke his neck in a horrific car accident in December 2009.

Sam was still on a ventilator as 2010 dawned, but his determination to get better was so strong that just five months later he managed to sit not only Advanced Higher French, but also Advanced Higher Maths – and achieved As in both.

Tutoring in both subjects came in the form of snatched moments from his mum Sarah and dad James, when Sam had the energy and was not busy with physiotherapy, while Mackie Academy teachers Sue Smith (head of modern languages) and Iain Macdonald (head of maths) travelled down to Glasgow to scribe for him during the exams themselves.

Sam, who has won a place to study philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University’s Merton College, achieved 95 per cent in the Advanced Higher French exam, beating students across Scotland to the award.

A special lunch was held at the school last week to present the award and was attended by the vice-president of the Franco-Scottish Society Janine Adamson and the secretary of the Aberdeen branch of the society, Rhona Bean.

Ms Adamson said: “Our aim is to encourage and promote knowledge of French culture and French language.

“Lord Lansdowne, who was president of the Perth branch for many, many years, was very enthusiastic about the education of the young and in particular the use and the teaching of modern languages and that is why he founded the Lansdowne Prize.

“The Lansdowne Prize has been awarded for over 25 years and we have had winners from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth before, but never from Stonehaven, never from Mackie Academy and never from a state school before, so it is really a first.

“It is even more exceptional because of the really very serious problems Sam has had to deal with – it is an extraordinary pleasure for us to come and present this award today.”

Mackie Academy rector Andrew Griffiths said: “Sam has done remarkably well to get this prize because it is a prize people do not tend to get in a state school and obviously he has gone through an awful lot.

“The resilience and strength that he has shown makes him a role model to everyone. The whole school is very proud of Sam and we wish him every success in the future.”

Mr Griffiths added: “Mrs Smith and her colleagues do a fantastic job in this department, so well done to her as well.”

Sam, who deferred his place at Oxford for a year to build up his strength more, has been helping out in French and Maths classes at the school, while also studying Higher Italian, which he had been due to sit in his 6th year.

He said: “It is a slow process, but I am getting stronger. I’m slowly improving. I’m really looking forward to going to university, although I think it might be a bit of a shock to be back in full-time education. I did consider doing a languages degree, but I thought I’d like to try something I hadn’t done at school. We’ve got a lot of French friends though, so it will continue to be used, definitely.”

Described as a “natural linguist” by Mackie’s head of modern languages Sue Smith, he added: “The modern languages department here is excellent and Mrs Smith is an amazing teacher so I’d like to pay tribute to her - I absolutely would not be getting this prize without her five or six years of hard work.”

Sam’s mum Sarah said: “We are very proud of him, very much so. This was achieved under extraordinary circumstances – he really is remarkable.”