Vice-Chancellor's Blog

Honorary award recipient, Darren Henley

Vice-Chancellor's Blog: week ending 12 July

I am writing this week’s blog as we come to the end of the summer academic awards’ ceremonies. As well as being very special for our graduates and their families, it has been a ‘first’ for me too – the first time that I have attended graduation outdoors at the Stadium of Light.

Of course, a lot of local and national publicity has focused on the installation of our new Chancellor, Emeli Sandé. That certainly was a highlight, rounded off with that great moment when Emeli presented degrees to her mum and dad. The roar then was as good as you would hear when Sunderland score a goal! You can read more HERE.

We had a chance as well to say farewell to our previous Chancellor, Steve Cram, after eleven years of service. Right up until the very end, Steve was the true professional, treating everyone with respect and sharing some inspirational words.

But I am sure that both Emeli and Steve would agree that the real heroes of the week were our students. Their excitement was palpable and it was such a privilege to see them walk across the stage and receive their awards.

Some are nervous and some are bubbling with excitement but, almost without exception, you can see what it means to our students to have come to the end of their academic journey.

There were other highlights for me too. We heard some brilliant ‘vote of thanks’ speeches from students. What a job they did, standing in front of such a large crowd, sharing their personal stories and expressing gratitude on behalf of their peers.

I also noted the number of students who tried to catch the eye of a member of staff on the platform, demonstrating the closeness of the relationship between teacher and taught. Or the parents and friends whose exuberant celebrations brought a smile to the face of every person in the stadium.

There were amusing moments too, from Steve Cram’s first fist-bump from a student in all his time as Chancellor, through to me forgetting to say the formal words to confer the honorary degree on Darren Henley (I did it afterwards in the Riverview restaurant at the stadium), to my ‘boomerang’ picture with Emeli (and no, I didn’t know what that was until it was explained to me!).

On Thursday and Friday, I was in charge of proceedings as our Chancellor was unable to be present (I know, just imagine thinking that Emeli might be there and you get me instead……..). However, in my final words to our students, I sought to capture some of the wisdom that both Emeli and Steve shared earlier in the week:

Let me return to those of you who are graduating. Congratulations on reaching this important milestone. But today also represents a new beginning as you embark on the next phase of life.

And in whatever you choose to do, I would ask you to be open in your thinking, outward looking in your attitude, generous in spirit and always alive to the needs of others. That might be harder than it sounds as there are siren voices out there and those who want to pull us apart, rather than bring us together.

Yet, I hope that your time at the University of Sunderland has taught you the power of working in a collaborative and collective manner, where your own interests and the interests of those around you are in harmony.

So as you leave us, take with you a sense of solidarity with others and a burning desire to leave the world a better place as a result of your presence. At the same time, keep a place in your heart for the University of Sunderland and talk proudly of your time with us.