Guest blog: Kente cloth, kilts and fake news

Our congregation ceremonies are wonderful occasions.

I first experienced graduation when I received my degree from Kent in a ceremony in Rutherford Dining Hall and now, as Chancellor, I have the great privilege of personally congratulating our students in both Canterbury and Rochester Cathedrals. Rutherford does serve the best-cooked breakfast on campus, but the Cathedrals are now the spectacular (and preferred) setting for the thousands of people with whom we share this very special day.

From the dais, where I stand to greet each graduand, I see smiles of relief and triumph – it is always smiles. For those who have worked for many years to achieve their doctorate I have the honour of being the first person to address them as Doctor. This event is such an important celebration of an individual’s hard work and a recognition of the support given by the staff, families and friends upon whom graduates depend.

This year, in a first for Kent – and we believe for any University in the UK – we have welcomed back our very first students who graduated in Eliot dining hall in 1968. They join us on the 50th anniversary of their graduation to celebrate their lifetime relationships with Kent as alumni. It was a poignant moment as members of our ‘First 500’ students processed together with our graduands.

In this era of ‘fake news’ our graduates have an important responsibility. Around the world facts and expertise are being challenged by those who substitute strongly held opinions and aggressively presented assertions instead of evidence. Our graduates stand for Enlightenment values: facts, science, honest inquiry, critical thinking, debate, and tolerance. Through their work and careers every day our graduates, staff and students demonstrate the value of expertise. All alumni of Kent are privileged to have studied at this great institution, to gain the skills and knowledge to successfully play an important part in society.

In a world full of talk, it is important that the people doing the talking know what they are talking about. Sadly, this is not always the case. But there is hope.

The most beautiful moment for me is looking out on all our graduands and seeing such diversity: people wearing Kente cloth, others in Kilts; Norwegian students in traditional dress and people in the highest of high heels. It is impossible not to be optimistic. Each generation of graduates promises both a generation of personal successes but also a better world.

Gavin Esler, Chancellor