My week - 1 July 2014 - increasing knowledge and opportunity

This is a time of celebration in the City and University as we prepare for the Grand Départ of the Tour de France at the end of this week and, later in the month, our own graduation ceremonies.

Sir Alan Langlands

Graduation is a special time, an occasion to look back and look forward at one and the same time.

Seamus Heaney – an honorary graduate of Leeds who sadly died last summer – talked of graduation as a moment when:  “Memory and meaning are poised in the balance.  The familiar world of home and school and university is being exchanged for a world of unknown opportunity and possible risk”.

Heaney went on to say that: “What we feel when we attend a graduation ceremony is well expressed by T S Eliot (someone with an even stronger Leeds connection) in his poem Little Gidding”, where he writes:

See, now they vanish
The faces and places, with the self, which as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern

With thirty eight graduation ceremonies this summer, we have the great privilege of looking in on our new graduates as they balance memory and meaning – well educated people ready to make a new pattern of their experience and to enter on the lifelong process of maintaining continuity and accommodating change.

The central mission of the University is to provide students with an outstanding education and opportunities for all round personal growth, a life-changing experience.  By helping to shape their own academic experience and co-curricular opportunities, our students graduate as rounded citizens equipped to take their place and develop their careers in a fast changing world.

If you are in any doubt about this have a look at the latest edition of i LEEDS, our alumni magazine.  It traces the work of our alumni and their achievements: stimulating community transformation in rural South Africa through sport; tackling the combined threat of heart disease and diabetes; developing a new transport system in the Saudi capital, Riyadh; winning the School of Music’s first Grammy; restoring the Tetley Brewery as a hub for contemporary art and learning; casting light on the problems of flooding in rural communities; and overseeing fashion in the iconic Parisian department store Galleries Lafayette.

At a time when Government and funders are obsessed with the impact of research, graduation is a good time to reflect on the economic, social and cultural impact that our students will have as they forge their careers alongside hundreds of thousands of Leeds alumni worldwide.

And as we look ahead, there can be no greater motivation for holding to our purpose of increasing knowledge and opportunity through our research, and through our students.  The sheer scale and breadth of the University also means that we can work successfully across the indivisible continuum of arts, humanities and social sciences through to the biological, environmental, engineering and physical sciences, providing interest and opportunities for education and research where disciplines intersect.

Like our graduating students we, in the wider University community, can make a new pattern of our collective experience, maintaining continuity and accommodating change as we strive to provide a forward-looking environment for education and a step change in the range and volume of the world leading research carried out at Leeds.

As we move into July, I take this opportunity to say thank you to the students and staff of the University who have guided me through my first academic year at Leeds as Vice-Chancellor.   I hope that you will all find some time for rest and relaxation over the summer period and I look forward to academic year 2014/15 with enthusiasm and excitement about what we can achieve.

Sir Alan Langlands_signature

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