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Caeser 1

Caesar 'flunked out' of education in Greece but is now preparing for PhD after College Access course

A former York College student who “flunked out” of education in his home country of Greece is now preparing to study a PhD next year.

Caesar Kommatas, who completed our Access to Higher Education Diploma in Humanities and Social Sciences course in 2020, went on to secure the highest first-class honours grade in his English Literature degree cohort at York St John University.

That distinction earned trained chef Caesar, 33, a Master’s scholarship to study Contemporary Literature at the same institution this year and he is now set to continue his impressive Higher Education journey with a doctorate in Creative Writing.

He is also hoping to find a publisher for his collection of short stories – one of which he read out to his former English Literature tutor Alison Willis’ spellbound class on a recent return to Campus.

Caesar’s achievements are all the more remarkable when considering that English is not his first language and that he had not intended to study Literature on his return to education before Alison spotted his passion for the subject during his interview for the Access course and ultimately unlocked his potential.

He credits College and Alison with playing a “fundamental part” in his Higher Education journey, having seen his studies as a teenager derailed by his parents’ separation.

On those pivotal moments in his life, Caesar said: “Following a mildly traumatic parental divorce, I did very poorly during my High School education and, when it was time to do the equivalent of my GCSEs, I also did very poorly. Even though I just managed to get into an International Studies University, I then flunked out almost immediately.

“There was a distinct lack of interest and passion on my part back then and it took having to work and encounter the difficulties of life for me to gain my appreciation for education and a realisation that I wanted to come back to it. I wanted to keep educating myself and the Access course at York College seemed the best option.

“I was instantly drawn in after visiting the building, seeing the facilities and speaking to a few people. Before meeting Alison, my plan was to study Philosophy and History on the Access course, but she made it apparent to me that I had an interest in English Literature and I ended up doing it instead of Philosophy.

“She is very passionate about her subject and she made me recognise that in myself. The College staff, in particular Alison, are experts in what they do and do it with a passion that is infectious and I can honestly say that York College and Alison played a fundamental part in putting me on the Higher Education pathway I have followed.”

Caesar came to the UK in 2016, combining his studies with work as a chef for the Hilton Hotel Group, having attended Culinary School in Greece for two years to acquire a trade after dropping out of formal education.

His workplace and academic worlds have sometimes collided with some commis chefs even learning a bit of Chaucer’s Middle English when he used to revise it aloud away from College during a shift in the kitchens.

He recognises that his employers have been “very good to me,” although he now regards the profession as supporting him towards a goal “rather than being the goal itself”.

On where he would like the future to take him, Caesar added: “I am seeing a number of paths towards changing career. One is continuing to work enough to make ends meet, while writing and trying to get published.

“Another option would be to pursue an academic career as a lecturer in a field relating to literature. A third option is that having a degree opens up a large field of work, not necessarily related to what you have studied.

“So, I see my future as one of those three. If I’m being very optimistic, it will be having my work published as a full-time writer.

“If I’m being moderately optimistic, I’d work in an academic field but, at the very least, thanks to York College and Higher Education, I will be able to make a better future for myself.”

Caesar’s preferred genre of writing is space fantasy, having been intrigued by H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Dune by Frank Herbert from a young age.

Alongside his studies, he is building a body of work that will eventually include a collection of short stories, a novel and a “toolbox” for aspiring authors to produce their own literary creations.

“The short stories will serve as a companion for my first novel that I’m currently writing,” Caesar explained. “I don’t want it to be a standalone piece of work.

“I want it to be an introduction for a larger mythology and then to follow it with a critical reflection on how to construct a mythology both for myself and anybody else who might be interested. It would be a kind of toolbox from which to conjure other worlds.”

Due to the challenges of finding a publisher and the cost of being self-published, Caesar is also considering trialling excerpts of his work on YouTube.

“I’m in favour of the idea of giving something to get something,” he explained. “So I don’t mind putting some work out for free, as long as people enjoy it.”

On returning to his old classroom and sitting at the front of it for the first time, Caesar said: “It was nostalgic, because it took me back to a period of great change in my life when I moved back into education after stepping away from it.

“It’s a crucial moment for anybody when you do that as it shows a change in character and I came here knowing there was still work to be done in terms of my personal development.”

For more details on our Access to Higher Education Diploma in Humanities and Social Sciences course, please click here

Further information on our degree and higher-level course offering can be found here