Spring is always a good time of year – new growth, warmer weather, more colour. More importantly, it’s when our degree ceremony season starts and when students blossom into graduates and continue to grow into new lives, new careers, new opportunities or maybe even a new qualification.
Last year we saw 8,000 graduates cross the stage at 29 ceremonies in 16 locations. They were joined by 26,000 guests – friends and family who’ve lived through the OU journey every bit as much as the graduates themselves. And I’m very much looking forward to meeting the next wave of graduates, starting at The Barbican in London this weekend.
Here are six reasons why we should all be looking forward to the 2018 degree ceremony season:
1) They’re inspirational
During my time as Vice-Chancellor I have never met anyone who isn’t moved or inspired by our ceremonies – they’re a proud moment for us all – they inspire potential students to make enquiries, give current students a reminder of what they’re aiming for, offer our alumni a chance to reflect on their own great day, and help staff to take pride in their part of the journey.
Graduation is what most students aim for, ultimately. To complete that last TMA, that last exam, and wait for results then graduation day, the day they’re rewarded for all that they’ve put in. Our alumni, each year, continue to inspire, and in many cases support current and new students – sharing tips, words of wisdom, encouragement and swapping stories. So important when the nature of OU study means our students are everywhere and anywhere. Here’s a great example on Twitter of the power of the OU community.
2) Everyone loves a good story
There will always be extraordinary stories like John’s – so consumed by pride at achieving a dream he was told he’d never be able to – he was physically unable to walk across the stage. And many others like him who have overcome misconceptions about their ability, a bad experience with earlier study, or general lack of confidence.
It’s fantastic, as a Vice-Chancellor, to meet the thousands of students who cross the stage each year, each with a unique story or experience. But each story, no matter how big or small, is amazing. Studying is no mean feat and OU students do it around so many other challenges, highs and lows.
Darren finished his degree aged 47, while working full-time. He said: “We are not part-time students, we are amazing students.” And I’m certainly not going to argue with him.
3) There are plenty of laugh out loud moments
Our degree ceremonies are far from stuffy; they are joyous celebrations. We’ve seen cartwheels across the stage, new parents carrying babies, guide dogs accompanying their owners, dancing and even the worm! (It’s worth watching the short video below to the end).
Degree ceremonies make me laugh (and sometimes cry!). They’re a jovial occasion. Andrea says when she graduates she’s going to “swirl that bat cape round and embarrass my daughter as much as possible”. And when I ask what students are most looking forward to about their day, for many it’s to “make it across the stage without tripping and falling on my face” and plenty have confessed to face ache from all the laughing and smiling the day brings.
Many students say having a sense of humour is key to study survival – it’s great to see that continue into the auditorium on graduation day.
4) Education unites us all
Our graduates rarely experience their journey alone – supported by their fellow students and our tutors, of course, but also by their friends, their partners, their parents, their children; people who have seen their journey and are just as proud of them. Our degree ceremonies, we hope, will help inspire the next generation of students – sometimes this is family members catching the ‘OU study bug’, friends deciding to study together, or simply setting a fantastic example for their children. It’s a great thing to see young children tugging on the graduation gowns of their parents, sword fighting with the scroll and clapping with pride as their mum or dad crosses the stage.
You need only take a look at our Instagram page – a virtual window into the lives of our students – to see how OU study impacts lives, including the children of OU students. Some youngsters spur their parents on with motivational pictures in their notepads, others take an interest in their course material or the posters that accompany our TV series like Blue Planet. And sometimes it’s the other way around. Take, for example, Francis, who took a break from his history degree to pull a homework all-nighter for his son’s history project. Education, I think, unites us all.
5) You’ll make friends for life
Matthew achieved his BA (Honours) in English Language and Literature and phrased it nicely when he said: “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.”
And he’s right – OU students and graduates are united – they’ve been there, experienced the highs and lows of studying and revelled in their well-earned success come graduation day. It really is a day to cherish. As a member of our Alumni Association you’ll have friends for life, around two million of them who have studied with The Open University – and we welcome each and every one of them to the club (oh, and we want to stay in touch so don’t forget to update your contact details).
6) It’s not the end
Graduation is not the end, not really. For many it’s the beginning. Of a new career, continued study, or just a new you – with more confidence and more skills. Whatever they decide to do next we’ll hope they’ll continue to spread their student story, inspire new students, help current students and keep pushing to realise their ambitions.
If you’re yet to graduate, keep your eye on the prize – you will get there. And if you’re graduating this Spring, well done and huge congratulations. You did it!