I was honoured to attend the 2017 Graduation ceremony for University of East London’s Sir John Cass School of Education and Communities on 1st November 2017. The ceremony granted UEL degrees in Early Childhood Studies, Education Studies, Social Work , Special Education and Youth and Community Work to over 500 graduates, many of whom were former NewVIc students and some who were parents of NewVIc students. It was a real privilege to share this day with them and to see so many of our alumni complete the next phase of their education and get one step closer to achieving their goal to work in education – the best job in the world!
I was accepting a UEL honorary doctorate and was particularly excited to be receiving it in the same year as democracy and accountability campaigner Gina Miller and the actor and disability advocate Sally Phillips.
What I said in my acceptance speech:
I need to start by saying that I’m not really that keen on honours. In fact, I didn’t attend my own graduation in 1982. At that time, I thought it was very un-cool. But after attending graduation ceremonies for some of my own children and hosting many awards evenings as a college principal over the years, I think I’ve come to value the symbolic importance of these occasions. And on this occasion, I am deeply honoured to accept this honorary doctorate.
I’m honoured for at least two reasons: first, because of where it’s coming from and second, because of what it’s for.
Firstly, it’s coming from a great East London institution. A university deeply rooted in its community which reflects and celebrates that community while also having national and global impact. A university which aims to put its human, intellectual and cultural resources at the service of the people of our diverse and cosmopolitan city and helps them to achieve wonderful things. A university which has worked in partnership with our college throughout its 25-year history; providing outstanding governors for our corporation, sponsoring our sports teams and helping to mentor our students and develop their skills in challenging hate speech, managing money and undertaking research projects amongst many other things.
So I am very proud of our association with the University of East London and very excited about the new East London Skills and Employment Federation which we are both part of.
Secondly, I think this is a recognition of the work we do and have been doing at NewVIc for 25 years: stretching, challenging, broadening horizons, raising participation, achievement and progression for 16-19 year olds in East London. A full-spectrum college which is designed to offer the full range of courses and refuses to be defined by others as either academic or vocational, either specialist or selective. I see this as a celebration of our democratic and egalitarian vision of the comprehensive college which wants to share the benefits of education as widely as possible.
I think that UEL and NewVIc share the same values and beliefs. One way of putting this is that we want to educate with purpose. At a time when we could easily become more ignorant, more fearful, more selfish more self-absorbed, we need places which build knowledge, skill, understanding, community and wisdom. So I am delighted to be able to honour our shared values and our shared purpose; to develop active, critical, inquisitive citizens rather than passive, silent, acquisitive consumers – people who do rather than simply being done to and who do what they do with a real care and respect for others. We need all our educational institutions to be ‘wisdom’s workshops’ with a common mission to share and prepare, to train and transmit, to renew and re-invent our world and make it fit for human flourishing.
This is important work and I want to congratulate everyone here who has made a commitment to work in education.
To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, being an educator requires us to ‘love the world enough’ to take responsibility for it. I guess that means that there’s a lot of love in this place today!
You’ll forgive me for closing with something many of you will already have heard me say, because it’s what I say to all our leavers at ceremonies like this:
As you stand on the threshold of the next phase of your life and look back as well as forward – be proud. Be proud of all you have achieved, be proud of you family, your culture, your language, your beliefs and all your achievements. You are someone and you’ve achieved something. But don’t stop there. Look forward and make sure you become what you are capable of becoming, which is so much more.
NewVIc class of 2017 progress to university (October 2017)
Newham’s outstanding record of widening participation (August 2017)
Investing in East London’s future (December 2014)