Congregations – a time to celebrate

Professor Karen Cox - Canterbury Congregations
  "Professor Karen Cox - Canterbury Congregations 0719" by Matt Wilson/University of Kent.

I have written (too) much recently about the challenges that we face. So, as we near the end of our summer Congregations ceremonies, it’s worth taking a moment to remind ourselves of the fantastic work that goes on at the University day in, day out and why we are here!

In his blog last year, our Chancellor, Gavin Esler, shared his impressions of the smiles of relief and triumph on the faces of our graduands. I completely share his exhilaration. Like Gavin, I take a particular thrill in having the honour of saying ‘congratulations’ and ‘well done’ to our graduates as they process through Canterbury or Rochester Cathedral, and in being the person who presents our doctoral students with their Kent Hood and addresses them as ‘Doctor’. These are such significant achievements.

Congregations is an important celebration for so many – for individuals who have made an enormous investment of time and energy over a sustained period; for members of staff who have supported students throughout their studies and in their broader life at the University; and for families and friends who have provided emotional, social and financial help and encouragement. A big ‘thank you’ then to all those colleagues who have been part of ensuring our ceremonies are celebrative, enjoyable and of course run like clockwork! You do a fantastic job!

Kent students really are amazing. Every year, we are inundated with nominations for the Kent Student Awards, a scheme that recognises the outstanding contribution students make to the Kent student experience. And every year, we hear incredible stories of our students’ achievements, many of which are inspiring, many humbling. This year, the Student of the Year award recognised the contribution made to the local community, with the winner providing free legal assistance to vulnerable people. The Group of the Year award went to the Kent Caribbean Society for running events that share and represent Caribbean culture. Student volunteering adds hugely to the wider community – Kent students have provided nearly 100,000 hours of voluntary work to local charities and organisations.

Universities are here to make a difference and for public benefit, whether it is through providing an education or carrying out research; each informs and enhances the other. It’s something we recognised and celebrated at our Teaching, Research and Innovation Awards ceremony last week. Congratulations again to all our award winners!

The University of Kent values excellence wherever it may be found and the opportunity to celebrate our honorary graduates is particularly uplifting. This summer, we are awarding degrees to 13 individuals who have each made a significant contribution in their respective fields. Our awards this year include: Ellie Goulding, the singer and songwriter (and Kent alumna); Mavis and Ray Nye, campaigners who are promoting awareness of Mesothelioma (and the first married couple to receive honorary degrees together); Patience Agbabi, the poet and performer; and Professor Carl Jones MBE, the conservation biologist and Chief Scientist at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, who was the 500th recipient of an honorary degree from Kent.

Congregations are also an opportunity to remind ourselves what makes us special. We are outward-looking and welcome students and staff not just from the UK, but also from Europe and around the world. Together, we create a large and diverse community that celebrates equality and inclusivity. We generate, disseminate and exchange knowledge, and we transform lives. It is wonderful, inspiring and I am so proud to be part of a university and a community that values and celebrates these things and each other. Thank you.

Professor Karen Cox, Vice-Chancellor and President