Graduation Celebrations

Staff and students from the College gathered at Duncansburgh MacIntosh Parish Church in Fort William on Friday September 25 for their annual Graduation Ceremony.

Over 300 guests including past and present students, family, friends, business colleagues 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 Shirley Spear, owner of the award winning Three Chimneys Restaurant and Chair of the Sottish Food Commission.

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 UHI Principal & Chief Executive Lydia Rohmer, Professor Ian Bryden, Vice Principal, Research of the University of the Highlands and Islands, John Hutchison, Chair of West Highland College UHI.

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

Key Note Speaker Shirley Spear encouraged all students to take advantage of the progress which has been made to provide Further and Higher Education opportunities in the Highlands over recent years.  She said “I congratulate and applaud all of you for what you have achieved so far. You are the generation who will be creating the legacy of a successful Scotland – I encourage you to stay and contribute, if not here in the Highlands, then to Scotland and its future.”

Lydia Rohmer, Principal and Chief Executive commented:

"As you would expect of our rapidly growing college, we have more graduands here than ever before: this year over 250 eligible graduates from over 40 different course awards. Over 80 graduands have attended today, together with around 60 of their fellow students from last year’s further education courses. We welcome you all to this celebration of all your achievements.” Ms Rohmer provided an outline of various college and students success over the past year and particularly congratulated the students of the year Mike Martin, Jayne Lear and Cathryn Baillie for their achievements.

Graduates and Honours Students

The Graduation Ceremony included awards to 12 Honours students who have completed the BA (Hons) Adventure Tourism Management Award this year, including Mike Martin who gained a first class award and was named Higher Education Student of the Year for the College.

A further 5 students 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.

Students of the Year

Three students received special recognition during the Ceremony when they received awards for being selected as “Student of the Year.”

Mike Martin is awarded the Higher Education Student of the Year and will be included in the selection for the University of the Highlands and Islands overall Student of the Year, to be announced later in the year.

Jayne Lear from Fort William and Cathryn Baillie from Skye are to be jointly awarded the Further Education Student of the Year.

Cathryn Baillie, Student of the Year – Crofting & Countryside Skills (Broadford, Isle of Skye)

Cathryn Baillie is 31, and was brought up in Eyre, just north of Portree on the Isle of Skye. She spent most of her life working as a chef and was running her own deli for a couple of years. However, she began to feel that it this wasn’t fulfilling enough for her and wanted to learn the skills that would help her lead a more self-sufficient way of life. After hearing about the College’s Crofting and Countryside Skills course in Broadford, she decided to make a complete career change and apply for college. She was nominated for the award by lecturer Heather McNeill who said “During the year she achieved well beyond the required level in all her assessments, written and practical, gave outstanding presentations and took on additional practical volunteering opportunities whenever they came up. Cathryn was a delight to teach and all of her tutors are extremely pleased that she has won this award.

Cathryn explained: “It was touch and go whether I would actually start the course though as my personal circumstances changed just before it was due to start. This last year has been pretty hard and I can honestly say that I don't know where I would be now if it wasn't for college. I am so glad that I decided to go ahead with the course. It has opened up so many opportunities for me and gave me all of the industry awards I needed for my new job as a grounds-person at Dunvegan Castle – which I love. It has inspired me to apply for future courses too and I am genuinely excited about the future.”

“My favourite part of the course was all the fantastic tutors that I met who inspired me in different ways and my favourite activity was probably the day we spent in a blacksmiths workshop in Elgol, but it's a tough call. It was all brilliant. I would highly recommend the course to anyone who is interested.”

Jayne Lear, Student of the Year – NC Early Education and Childcare (Fort William)

Jayne is 20 and lives in Kinlochleven and travels to college in Fort William every day by bus. She started her college career in 2011/12 by completing the NC Child Health and Social Care level 5. She then took a couple of years out and came back to do the NC Early Education and Childcare level 6.

Lecturer Claire Pardoe commended Jayne’s determination to achieve “She was so determined not to miss any of college that she travelled in and out to Fort William with a neighbour at one period, until her student bursary payments were finalised. During this period of hardship, Jayne not only attended every day but remained cheery, bright and encouraging to her fellow classmates. She achieved well in all her assessments and folio submissions and didn’t miss a single deadline.”

Jayne explained “I found last year’s course gave me a real insight into world of nursery education. I love being around children; their own concept of the world around them makes them so interesting to spend time with and I especially enjoy seeing their brilliant imaginations at work. The subject motivated me to do my best and work hard and my tutors Claire, Elaine and Helen were all great in supporting me throughout the year.”

Jayne has now enrolled on the HNC Early Education and Childcare and hasn’t yet decided if she will aim to work or continue to study for a degree if she is successful this year.

Sue Macfarlane, Vice Principal – Academic Affairs congratulated the Further Education Student of the Year winners:

Once again, we have been most impressed by the level of endeavour and achievement of all the students who were nominated for awards by their lecturers. We recognise that for many of our students, successfully completing a course is a major milestone in their careers and we congratulate all of them during our Graduation celebrations each year. However, for some students, that success also brings out a further element of excellence, either in their personal efforts to achieve, or in their level of academic prowess. For Jayne and Cathryn in particular, these elements are part of their story and we are proud to have played a part in helping them achieve success. We wish them all the very best for the future.

Student Vote of Thanks

A vote of thanks on behalf of all the students was given by Brian Curren, a mature student from the USA, who was celebrating gaining his degree along with his parents who had travelled to Scotland especially for the occasion.

Brian eloquently thanked all of the College staff who had helped and supported him and others during their time at college and encouraged other students to make the most of their studies and their success by quoting Hunter S. Thompson: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a ride!”

Musical Finale

During the ceremony, music students from the college performed a moving version of “Greatest Day” by Take That.

Graduation Dinner

The ceremony was followed by a drinks reception for family, staff and students in the Alexandra Hotel and later a Dinner was held at the Moorings 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.