Our 2017 degree ceremony schedule drew to a close a couple of weeks ago at Gateshead, and what better note to end on than this photo of Matthew who was so happy he could fly!
Matthew, a steelworker and now proud owner of a BA (Honours) in English Language and Literature, said: “When I left college and went in to full time work I felt that I had wasted my chance at academic study as I hadn't taken my A Levels seriously and therefore couldn't attend a university with my peers. When I found out about the OU I enrolled.
"Worried and not sure what to expect, I was placed in a tutor group full of people that were worried and didn't know what to expect."
That is the great thing about the OU, it throws together people of all ages and from all walks of life and I must admit that on the day of my degree ceremony, in my robes, I felt that I was part of a special club.
“I studied purely because I wanted to prove to myself that I could possibly gain a degree but the discipline that the course instilled in me and the confidence I gained from completing it have shown that the possibilities are endless from both a work and academic point of view.”
8,000 graduates, 29 ceremonies, 16 locations
More than 8,000 students crossed the stage to become graduates and I am immensely proud of each and every one of them.
This year we celebrated with more than 8,000 graduates at 29 ceremonies in 16 locations. Those 8,000 were joined by almost 26,000 guests – supportive friends and family who cheered, clapped, whistled and whooped during each event. And we conferred 34 honorary degrees. It’s been memorable.
Graduation ceremonies never cease to produce memorable moments for me, which last far beyond the ceremony itself. I’ve said it before, but one of the best things about being a Vice-Chancellor is meeting our new graduates and talking to them about their stories.
I don’t get people falling at my feet very often but when one graduate at the Milton Keynes ceremony dropped to his knees with pride as he travelled across the stage, it felt right to ‘knight’ him with a scroll. That’s a moment that will stay with me for years to come.
I also helped John cross the stage when nervous pride glued him to the spot, overcome by what the day meant to him. And it was a pleasure to catch up with him after the ceremony find out why.
More than a qualification
As well as attending many of this year’s ceremonies I’ve also enjoyed the memories shared on social media – from the excitement of receiving results, to pre-graduation nerves, to the ceremony photos and celebrations with loved ones.
Jo (pictured) posted on Instagram on the day of her graduation with a fantastic message for those who are still working towards their goals.
“So today, as I stepped on that stage, I thought of those dear to me no longer here and those who have supported me throughout and realised that my degree is so much more than just a qualification on a piece of paper.
"It gave me a focus when times were tough. It gave me confidence to believe in myself. And it made me realise that whatever obstacle life throws at me; I am stronger for it. So follow your dreams, keep fighting and don’t doubt yourself as one day it'll all be worth it.”
For some it’s the realisation of a dream. Aimee graduated in Torquay and said: “The idea of attending a brick uni never appealed to me so I thought it would always remain a dream. Until I met The Open University, of course.”
For some, it’s been a long time coming, like Cheryl. She said: “I loved every second of my graduation. It’s taken me 20 years to finish my degree and my graduation was a wonderful day. I was so lucky my family, two young daughters and husband got to share it with me! I laughed! I cried! It was fabulous! Thank you OU!”
'Emotional, inspiring, amazing'
For others, it’s achieving their dreams despite the odds: Like Carl: “I remember being really emotional! Dad died after long illness last year, and despite being a largely sole carer in his final months (as well as working full-time), I managed to complete my second year with flying colours.
"I finished my final year in June and was thrilled with my 2:1. The graduation made the struggle worth it; it was a joyous day and it was great to see so many OU colleagues celebrating their magical day too. The ceremony really reinforced the importance the OU and the great work the university does across the world. I know dad would have been proud!”
What’s unique about our students is what goes on around them as they work towards their qualifications. Sitting in the ceremony there’s a huge sense of shared achievement – that they did the work, passed the assignments and exams and got the certificate. And, perhaps more importantly, that they did it while working, raising a family, caring for loved ones or managing ill health. They got a degree and something else to boot – maybe confidence, proof of their ability, self pride. Our degree ceremonies are bursting with it.
Andrea achieved her degree in three years while battling cancer and remembers talking to our Chancellor Martha Lane Fox on her graduation day. She said her memorable moment was: “Our wonderful Chancellor telling me it was inspiring to meet me after I told her my story of completing my degree in three years while recovering from cancer.”
Rachel graduated this autumn and described her day as emotional, inspiring and amazing:
The nerves really start when the ceremony does but the positive energy in the room makes it one of the best days of my life. I'm still buzzing.
And for Katie, making friends on the day, was memorable for her: “One of the highlights was sitting next to two lovely ladies both called Annette - I'd never met either of them before but they made the ceremony great fun and it was a fantastic atmosphere.”
It's just the beginning
Take my word for it, as Vice-Chancellor, that OU degree ceremonies are enjoyable for all who have the pleasure of attending them.
Music lecturer Martin Clarke was part of the academic procession at the Gateshead ceremony, the last of our 2017 series, and said OU degree ceremonies were hugely motivating. “It was my first time as part of the academic procession and wonderful to be reunited with a former student afterwards.”
Our students are the best inspiration, motivation and living proof of what can be achieved when you set your mind to something and it’s a privilege to share in these special moments and to follow stories as students continue to achieve beyond their degrees – with their families, with new careers, with postgraduate qualifications. Their stories don’t end at the OU, it’s just the beginning.
To our current students, keep working towards that goal and I look forward to shaking your hand at your graduation. And to those who have already crossed the stage, huge congratulations and thanks for sharing your stories and memorable moments. I am a very proud Vice-Chancellor.