21 September 2021

For some former students of the University of East London, the wait was long – over a year. For others, it was just a few weeks, but together the Classes of 2020 and 2021 finally donned their cloaks and squared their caps for their Graduation ceremonies.

To ensure nobody missed out, the University hosted 17 ceremonies over seven days from 9-17 September, with more than 4,000 graduates crossing the stage at a purpose-built venue on the Royal Docks, neighbouring the University's own campus. 

The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown had kept many students away from face-to-face contact with their friends, so a sense of a grand reunion added a layer of joy amid the celebration of academic achievement. 

Professor Amanda Broderick, vice-chancellor and president of UEL, told graduates, "There are many inspiring emotions swirling around our campus today. Pride is chief among them, and fully deserved. Joy, another, and a treat to behold. Excitement is a third, creating a vibrancy here at Docklands that we have so missed.

"But, among those emotions, I'm reserving a special place for one that we all sense, whether we are graduating or supporting: a feeling of relief.

"We are back. We have made it. In particular, you have made it. And, more than that, you have made it together in a collective act of determination that has proved an endless inspiration to your colleagues and teachers."

The University also recognised eight accomplished individuals with honorary doctorates. BBC presenter and former international footballer Alex Scott; former director of West Ham's famous youth academy Tony Carr and elite BMX cyclist Bethany Shriever, who took gold at the Tokyo Olympics represented the sporting contingent.

Believe in dreams

Ms Shriever told graduands, "What I achieved hopefully proves to the world that you should keep believing in your dreams. We all have good and bad days. Whatever you want to achieve after today, stick at it, work hard, and it can come."

Also receiving doctorates were African dance pioneer Mercy Nabirye; conservationist and civil engineer Anusha Shah; and director of community affairs at Canary Wharf Group Zakir Khan.

And, reflecting the trials and triumphs of Covid, chief nurse for Barts Health NHS Trust Caroline Alexander and Jason Strelitz, director of public health at Newham Borough Council, were also recognised in a milestone year which saw the University's first nursing graduates accepting their degrees.

Many of the 62-strong cohort worked on the frontline of the battle against Covid-19 during their studies, and most will now move on to permanent positions in the east London healthcare community.

Nursing graduate Donnette Murphy said, "The pandemic has not been easy for any of us. But we're here today and I'm proud of us for that. We met the demands of our studies and personal circumstances in unprecedented times and soldiered through to a successful finish on an unforgettable journey."

Law postgraduate Olubunmi Onafuwa summed up the feeling of many when she said, "It has been a great journey of hard work, resilience, tears, frustration and hope. However, we found our footing, we journeyed on and here we are today - victorious."

A virtual graduation was held for 2020 graduates last year, but most chose to return for the in-person ceremonies. The events took place in keeping with the Covid-Secure Campus protocols which have protected the University and its community over the past 18 months. 

A well-ventilated purpose-built marquee ensured that attendees could remain socially distanced and the ceremony itself reflected this caution with graduates "doffing their caps" rather than shaking hands.  

The University set up a testing centre and required all students and guests to have a negative Covid test before admission. 

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