September is my favourite month of the year – buzzing with activity and excitement. It marks both the beginning of a new academic year as we welcome our new students and the end of the past year as we graduate the class of 2013. And before we do all that, we celebrate enterprise in action with our VC Enterprise Awards, which were truly amazing this year – best ever.
So, new year, new blog!
Presiding at the graduation ceremonies is an absolute privilege. Doffing caps and welcoming new graduates to our University family always makes me think about when I was here back in the ’80′s graduating from Plymouth myself. That excitement about pulling on the gown and mortar board and worrying about falling over on stage as we crossed in front of our lecturers – all looking like extras from the latest Harry Potter film. Catching up with friends and finding out about what they’ve been up to since we last met. Happy times. Back then, the ceremonies were in the Guildhall in the city centre – nice, but no match on the natural amphitheatre that is the Hoe and that inspirational view out to sea we now enjoy – beautiful even when it’s a tad wet and blustery!
Up on stage, we see the seamless organisation of our events team and the smiling faces of the graduates with their proud families and friends around them. Each one has their special moment and each one takes that moment in their own way. Some swagger across the stage, others clip-clip in enormous heels, some hi-five, others look close to throwing up! And in the graduation hall there’s applause for all, with whoops and cheers for many – the nurses and art students being the loudest with the computer scientists and engineers the quietest. It’s wonderful to see so many nationalities and all ages graduate with Plymouth. As each student graduates, it really brings to life what we do here – transforming lives through education and research. And I was delighted to see so many of our staff graduate this year too – wonderful.
We also welcomed a cohort of honorary doctors and sporting colours to our family as part of Graduation. For IBM’s master inventor Amanda Chessell, and Stephen Ball, CEO of Lockheed Martin, it was a true home-coming for a pair of Plymouth graduates who’ve gone on to achieve remarkable success in their professions. For others it was a return to the city in which they were born, or spent the early part of their lives or careers. Gilbert and George led the way on the Monday, revealing the ‘Ten Commandments’ by which they live their lives and make their art – and they’ve promised to come back and run a special session for our arts students. Michael Ball lit up Friday with his enthusiasm and charisma – and you could see how much the occasion meant to him. In fact, that was the overwhelming impression from all of our honorary cohort – from Lord Kenneth Baker to Benjamin Mee, Kate Adie to Adam Boulton; Tonia Couch to Sir Kenneth Grange – they were all genuinely thrilled to receive a doctorate and stand alongside our graduating students.
We also saw traffic grid-lock across Plymouth on arrivals weekend, with trolleys dashing to and fro as our new students arrived and settled into new homes, starting their own voyage of discovery. They had sunny Plymouth and rainy, stormy Plymouth all within 24 hours of arriving in the city. When I see broken brollies in the street, I always think of Plymouth! This year, for the first time ever, we’ve been able to guarantee each first year and every international student University-managed accommodation – with two new buildings opened, one on the site of old Architecture studios near the Hoe. From here, they can see our students graduate and I hope it’ll spur them on to work hard so that it’ll be them in a couple of years wearing gowns and caps.
Our students and graduates really are our best ambassadors and they inspire me. One of our students, April Watson worked tirelessly, whilst recovering from emergency surgery for a brain tumour, to raise an astonishing £10,000. April’s aim is to establish a charity to help the relatives of students who need emergency care, with travel and accommodation costs. April’s tenacity and pioneering spirit is a real inspiration to us all and our team is now working with her to ensure the cash she raised gets to those who need it most.
September 2013 also marks a huge milestone for our University, with the announcement of our first-ever Chancellor, the Lord Jonathan Kestenbaum. Our Chancellor will play an important role in supporting our mission to transform lives and I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to welcome him to our academic community. Its 21 years since we secured university title and with the installation of our Chancellor later this year, it feels we’re coming of age and taking up our place among the modern global elite.
So, as September begins in earnest and the term gets underway, let me wish you a happy new year 2013/14 and encourage you to Explore, Dream and Discover with Plymouth University.