Sunderland footballer Duncan Watmore was the star attraction when a South Tyneside school celebrated students’ success at its annual prize-giving awards.
He was on hand to praise youngsters at St Joseph’s Catholic Academy, Hebburn, for raising the learning bar through outstanding academic achievement.
But the striker, a former England under-21 international, also spoke of the importance of achieving academically even if other career dreams are being pursued.
In his own case, that was to gain a first class honours degree in economics and business management while signed professionally to the Black Cats.
Now on the road to recovery from a cruciate ligament knee injury which has kept him side-lined since November, he also spoke of how resilience is another key characteristic.
He presented pupils from Year 7 to Year 13 with shields, engraved with their names, which will remain in school as a reminder that hard work brings rewards.
Brendan Tapping, the Mill Lane school’s executive headteacher, said: “It was wonderful to have Duncan with us for our annual prize-giving evening.
“He spoke about resilience and how he is looking forward to getting back into the first team and helping Sunderland to achieve promotion.
“He also inspired our pupils by talking about achieving a First in his degree whilst being a footballer, and how he followed his dreams through non-league football to Sunderland.
“This included an initial set back when he was released by Manchester United at the age of 12.
“He united Sunderland and Newcastle supporters and both sets of fans are now firmly behind him and looking forward to seeing him back in action.”
Dominic Gardiner, 16, won the Highest Achievement award for attaining nine Grade 9 and one Grade 8 at GCSE level.
Joshua McCulloch and Jack Young, both 18, shared the Highest Achievement award at A Level for gaining A* in maths and further maths, A in physics, and AS Level Maths A.
In all, 76 pupils were acknowledged for 100% attendance throughout the academic year.
Coun Geraldine Kilgour, a former pupil and the chair of directors, was on hand to thank pupils, parents and staff for their support throughout the academic year.
Mr Tapping added: “Our prize-giving evening is a special occasion and one of the highlights of our school calendar.
“It unites the school community and formally recognises and celebrates the achievement and effort of our pupils .
“I am delighted that the progress, attainment, pastoral attitude and sporting prowess of our pupils has been rewarded.
“The evening was packed and an outstanding success - we hope to emulate it next year.”