When her father went bankrupt after his new business venture went bust, Miss Lyna Farhanah Mohamed Foat, then just 14, had to grow up in a hurry.

Already not doing well in school, the eldest of five children decided to drop out to help the family cope financially.

She said: "We needed money and my parents had to support my younger siblings as well. I had also lost my motivation to stay in school."

She found a job at a fast-food outlet, where she worked for two years.She then sat her O levels as a private candidate and did well enough to get into a polytechnic.

From there, she secured a place in the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), where she studied information engineering and media.

Her graduation on Aug 1 was her, and her family's, proudest moment.

Miss Lyna Farhanah, now 26, is the only member in her extended family, of which there are about 13 cousins, to get a degree.

Her mother was extremely emotional and broke down in tears at the graduation ceremony.

Looking back at herself 12 years ago, Miss Lyna Farhanah can hardly believe where she is now.

Back then, the family could not even pay their utility bills after her father, the sole breadwinner, was declared bankrupt.

They had to move out of their four-room HDB flat in Pasir Ris after creditors seized and sold all their furniture and possessions.

The family of seven squeezed into her late grandmother's rented one-room flat in Marine Parade.

"Everything was gone, nothing worked... it was a terrible time for us," she recalled.

Miss Lyna Farhanah left school and decided to work.

She took her mother, Madam Ramlah Haron, 49, along with her to her first job interview, and felt proud when she got her first pay cheque of $300.

Earning $3.20 per hour working at fast-food joints, she managed to add to the family's income.

Over time, the family saved enough money to move back to their own place again. But Miss Lyna Farhanah never saw the need to return to school until she learnt that a younger cousin had just passed her N levels. MOCKED

Her colleagues and neighbours also mocked her for not even having an O-level certificate.

Miss Lyna Farhanah decided to continue working while studying in a private institution for her O levels.

She graduated with a full certificate and made it to Nanyang Polytechnic, where she pursued a course in Multimedia Infocommunications and Technology because her grades were not good enough to get her into the course in early childhood studies that she wanted.

"I had no idea what this course was about, but I was glad I made it to a polytechnic," she said.

The first semester in polytechnic was difficult, and her grades were disappointing.

But she pulled up her socks and eventually got into the Director's list for all the consecutive semesters.

Graduating with a diploma with merit, Miss Lyna Farhanah then secured a place at NTU.

Again, juggling university work and giving tuition to earn extra cash was hard.

"She cried almost every single day during the examination period in her first year at university," recalled Madam Haron.

Now that she has graduated, Miss Lyna Farhanah is eager to find a job to help out her younger brother, an ITE graduate, who is the sole breadwinner for the family after their father retired.

She said: "Maybe I will be able to help him study further in the future, because he supported me during my time as a student."

HER INSPIRATION

Her cousin

"When I heard that she had gotten her GCE N-level certificate, it made me want to get back into studies.

"I realised that I should at least get my O-level certificate and then try to make it into a polytechnic."

Her mother

"She was my sole emotional support. She's my best friend, and whenever I feel really sad or on the verge of giving up, I always rush home just to look at her face and talk to her. It makes me feel better straightaway.

"I tell her everything and she tells me never to give up on what I'm doing."

Her father

"Every week, my father will have a special time for us, to give us advice on life and religious values.

"He always made sure he instilled the good values of religion in us, so he helped me become the patient and determined person that I am."