My week - 15 July 2013 - Degree ceremonies, honouring outstanding individuals and gratitude to colleagues

A regular update from Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Arthur.

Professor Michael Arthur

Our degree ceremonies began last week – and what a glorious week it was! I conducted several of the ceremonies and, as usual, was struck by the joyous nature of the occasion as graduands and their parents and friends flocked on to campus to celebrate their achievements.  I always feel that ‘Graduation’ signals the end of the academic year and ‘job well done’ with another cohort of fantastic graduates leaving us to start to make a real difference to the world.

There is a sense of apprehension at the start of every ceremony that turns into complete joy and celebration as events proceed. At the end of each ceremony, we always give the assembled audience the chance for one last big clap and cheer. You should see the faces of our graduates as they receive that applause – it is a truly amazing moment.

This year we also had not one but three honorary degree ceremonies to celebrate. The criteria for awarding Honorary degrees are that they must be given to “individuals of real achievement and eminence in their respective fields…who are distinguished by excellence, originality and the capacity to excite”. I think it’s safe to say that the work and performance of all eight of our chosen recipients meets those standards!

The University awarded honorary Doctorates of Laws to our alumni and Olympic medal-winning triathletes the Brownlee brothers and Paralympic swimmer Claire Cashmore.  Also receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Laws was our outgoing Pro-Chancellor and Chair of the Council, Linda Pollard. During her six years at the University, Linda has made an invaluable contribution to the institution, and has also played a significant role with great public service in Leeds and Yorkshire.

Receiving Doctorates of Letters were the BBC Economics Editor, Stephanie Flanders, and Leeds-born journalist Martin Wainwright, a long-time friend of the University.  At their respective ceremonies each gave acceptance speeches and a vote of thanks on behalf of the graduates that were simply outstanding.  Martin Wainwright took the occasion to return a ‘Bodington Hall’ spoon that his father had ‘borrowed’ some 40 years or so earlier – we will mount it and place it in the University’s silverware cabinet as a permanent memento.  Stephanie Flanders focused on the assembled economics graduates, particularly the women, and gave them every encouragement to succeed. She was articulate and  humorous and I would recommend viewing her speech online - at 55.50.

Alumnus Dr Samuel Kargbo, currently the Director of Reproductive and Child Heath in Sierra Leone, received an Honorary Doctorate of Medicine. His overall contribution to public health has been outstanding , but perhaps most noteworthy was his personal dedication to women’s and children’s health in the midst of a vicious civil war. Completing this group of outstanding individuals was Professor Susan Solomon, who helped make key discoveries about the extent of ozone layer destruction. She received an Honorary Doctorate of Sciences and also gave a vote of thanks that was both highly informative and gracious.

I must also offer my congratulations to Professor John Fisher CBE – our Deputy Vice-Chancellor – who received his own honorary degree this week, when he was awarded a Doctorate of Engineering by Birmingham University.  A Birmingham alumnus, John was recognised for his work as Director of our Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (iMBE) and his investigations into tissue-regeneration technology which could allow people to be as active during the second half-century of their lives as they were in their first.

The last few weeks have seen us welcome literally thousands of visitors to campus. The open days, the International Medieval Congress, the Staff Festival, the Benefactors’ weekend, the Sky Ride event – which alone saw around 8,500 people cycle through campus – and now the degree ceremonies, have all provided us with a great opportunity to show people from far and wide what the University has to offer and give them a taste of life at Leeds.

The campus was visually the best that I have ever seen it, the flower  beds and floral displays were ‘best in show’– there was a real sense of pride and joy evident all round campus – as I frequently say “a World-Class University looks like it, smells like it (the flowers!) and people behave like it” – we scored top marks in all three elements!.  Putting on these events takes a huge amount of planning and effort from a multitude of people across the faculties and the services, and I would like to express my gratitude to everyone for their hard work and commitment to the University.


 Send your comments to

Posted in: