Graduation Celebration for West Highland College UHI

Staff and students gathered at Duncansburgh MacIntosh Parish Church in Fort William on Friday September 19 for their annual Graduation Ceremony.

Around 250 guests including past and present students, family, friends and staff from the college celebrated as students received a wide range of vocational, further and higher education awards and to hear an address from award winning media broadcaster, writer and journalist Muriel Gray.

The Ceremony was preceded by the Academic Procession of college staff, board members and guests through the Parade and into the church including West Highland College Principal Lydia Rohmer, Professor Clive Mulholland, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands, Dr Michael Foxley, former Chair of West Highland College UHI and the Reverend Adrian Varwell.

Greetings from the HRH The Princess Royal, Chancellor of the University of the Highlands, and Islands were included in the programme for the event.

Speakers

Dr Michael Foxley, former Chair of the Board of Management of West Highland College UHI and now Chair of the University of the Highlands and Islands Further Education Regional Board congratulated students and staff, commenting on the success of the college in doubling the number of Further Education Students and quadrupling the number of Higher Education students in the last four years.

“The future is very bright for students studying with West Highland College UHI as evidenced by the numbers of our students who go straight into employment after studying with us. The college is having a major impact on the economy of the region, not just because of its own £4million annual budget, but also in providing a clear pathway for the 3,400 students that enrolled with us last year, starting in High School and going right through to degree and postgraduate level study and into employment. All of these students are part of the future of our region and we congratulate them on their achievements to date and encourage them in whatever they choose to do next.”

Lydia Rohmer, Principal and Chief Executive commended all students for their achievements, but in particular those who had made the longest learning journey and for whom their college experience has had the most dramatic impact on their lives: “Students are at the heart of all we do. Their future success is our total focus and we as a college will be measured by their success.” She went on to comment on the graduation ceremony being the day after the Scottish Referendum vote:

“Graduating today, you are not just successful academics, but active and contributing citizens who are equipped to work together to build a better and fairer society for all. It is now more important than ever that you go out there and achieve this. Whatever you have decided to do next, always remember that you are individual, special and unique. What you have learned during your time at the College will benefit you as you go through life and we wish you the very best success in all that you do in going forward.”

Ms Rohmer ended by quoting a poem specially composed for Scotland on September 19th called “The Morning After” by Christine de Luca.

The keynote speaker for the ceremony was Murial Gray, award winning broadcaster and author who addressed the students urging them "not to self-censor their ambitions but to show the world how very special they are". She also amused the guests and gathered students with a first for West Highland College UHI - a Graduation Selfie!

Professor Clive Mulholland, Principal and Vice-Chancellor said: “This special occasion marks the successful completion of our graduands’ academic studies. We hope they have enjoyed their time here and that the skills, knowledge and experience they have gained will help them to achieve their ambitions and make positive contributions to the world.”

Special Awards

The ceremony included the presentation of several special recognition awards:

  • Individual Course Students of the Year
  • Industry award presentations from Strathmore Hotels and Springboard Scotland
  • Overall West Highland College UHI Further Education Student of the Year Award - Lesley Boath
  • Overall West Highland College UHI Higher Education Student of the Year Award - Donna Calder
  • A number of college staff, who have achieved various continuous professional development awards over the course of the past year, were also recognised at the event, including Matt Groves, programme leader for the Adventure Tourism Management degree programme from the School of Adventure Studies, who has achieved a Masters in Sustainable Mountain Development

Graduates and Honours Students

The Graduation Ceremony included awards to 4 Honours students who have completed the BA (Hons) Adventure Tourism Management Award this year, including Keiran Laureston who gained a first class award. A further 5 students, including Daniel Timmis who gained a BA with distinction, also achieved their degrees from the successful School of Adventure Studies programme.

Several other hosted students, studying various degrees from the University of the Highlands and Islands portfolio, were also awarded at the ceremony. In all, almost 200 students were eligible to attend the ceremony this year from throughout the 10 college centres which comprise the college and from other academic partners of the Highlands and Islands.

First Class Award – for the first time

Kieran Laureston from Torquay has been studying for a BA (Hons) Adventure Tourism Management with the college, based in Fort William. Kieran was awarded the very first First Class award for a student from the School of Adventure Studies at West Highland College UHI. Kieran has managed to juggle his studies with traveling home regularly to spend time with his partner Dana and their baby son Phoenix. Kieran's mum, dad and granny travelled up to celebrate with him in Fort William.

Honorary Fellows of the University of the Highlands and Islands

Alistair Dodds CBE and Dr Roger Gibbins both received Honorary Fellowships of the University of the Highlands and Islands. The citation, delivered by Martin Wright, Marketing Director of the University of the Highland and Islands, recognised the achievements of both as CEOs of The Highland Council and NHS Highland respectively in leading their organisations through a process of major change to achieve the integration of health and social care in the region. This has now been held up as a model of good practice and resulted in government legislation to ensure other health and care partnerships throughout Scotland adopt this good practice.

The Mace Bearer

The Mace Bearer for the procession was Georgina Morrison, Assistant Principal, Curriculum and Student Services. Georgina will be retiring soon in order to move to Dundee and to spend more time with her family and it was felt a most fitting tribute to honour her in this way. Georgina has championed the concept of UHI since its inception, gaining her first degree in Tourism with distinction at Perth College in 2001 as a mature student and mother of three.

In 2001 she was chosen as one of three students to represent Scotland at the Global Student Conference Education without Borders in Abu Dhabi, presenting to an international audience a paper on from the student perspective on Education Technology. She has held posts of increasing responsibility since her early lecturing days with Perth College, and has been actively involved in contributing to the establishment of Lochaber College and its subsequent merger to become West Highland College UHI.

Georgina has led the successful growth and development of an increasingly wide range of qualifications from school–link to vocational and degree programmes and has been the major driving force behind the college’s ambitious curriculum plans for the future. Always a champion of the student, the huge increase in student numbers for the college as a result of this wider, increasingly attractive curriculum, resulted in Georgina leading the development of an expanded Student Services division across all 10 college centres. She has also driven the creation of a successful employability unit, providing support to individuals trying to move towards employment.

Vote of Thanks

Lesley Benfield, Chief Executive of Lochaber Chamber of Commerce, congratulated the successful students and gave a vote of thanks on behalf of the communities of Skye Lochalsh and Wester Ross and the business communities of the region for the work of the college.

Musical Interludes

During the ceremony, music students from the college performed two items and Rachel Walker, music tutor and well known traditional music artist, performed a Gaelic song “The Highest Apple.”

Graduation Dinner

The ceremony was followed by a drinks reception for family, staff and students and later a Dinner was held at the Ben Nevis Hotel in Fort William which had been partly financed by generous sponsorship from local company Easydrive Car and Van Rental and by fundraising by students themselves. Afterwards, a local venue The Basement generously provided a venue for the student themed “Oscars after party” which was hailed a great success.