Graduation 2019

Celebrating Graduation 2019

West Highland College UHI held its annual Graduation ceremony last Friday October 11, celebrating the success of its full time students who achieved their qualifications this summer

Around 200 students from all of the college’s 10 centres throughout Skye, Wester Ross and Lochaber were invited to attend and, this year, around 100 students and their families including students who studied for their qualifications outside Fort William, came to celebrate the occasion.

The Ceremony began with an academic procession led by Professor Crichton Lang, Principal and Vice Chancellor (interim) of the University of the Highlands and Islands, the Mace carried by Mace Bearer Myra McCabe, our own Principal and Chief Executive Lydia Rohmer, members of the board of management and other guests lead by Piper Ally Murray who lectures in the college’s music department. 

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

Lydia Rohmer, Principal and Chief Executive welcomed the graduating students and their families and urged students to make the most of their achievements and choices: ”It’s always a privilege to celebrate the efforts and the successes of our students at graduation. Many of you have overcome great barriers to achieve their qualification, and we are delighted to have supported you on your journey. Others are here today to mark the end of a long period of study and an eagerness to step out into the world of work.  Every single one of you are to be congratulated and all of us, every department and team throughout the college, wish you well as they embark on your future careers or to further study.  Your next choices matter – not just to you or your family, but to all of us. We have valued your voice as students throughout your time with us; I hope you will continue to make sure your voice is heard, and that you make your voice count for the many momentous decisions which this country and this world face in the future. Be a voice, not an echo.”

The School of Adventure Studies attracts students from other parts of Scotland, the UK and indeed Europe to study in Fort William.  It uses the fabulous location in the Outdoor Capital of the UK to ensure that students have the best possible opportunities close to lakes, sea and mountains to gain expertise in all areas of adventure and coast tourism.  This year, we are delighted that we will be awarding several first class honours degrees to our students both from the School of Adventure Studies and from the wider UHI partnership. 

Each year, students from the School of Adventure Studies plan and undertake an international expedition to professional standards. These expeditions are the culmination of all the skills and knowledge our students have gained over the first two or three years on their degree, and which they have practiced on the many shorter practical local expeditions throughout their course. This year, four separate groups organised trips to the Adirondacks, the Ardeche, Malta and Namibia.

Lecturer Jose Navarro was one of the staff members who accompanied an all-female 6-strong student team to Namibia. He made a film of the student’s experiences on the trip, “The Line,” which was shown for the first time at the Graduation Ceremony.

The team covered a total of 60km across sandy and gravel plains and mountains, walking an average of 10km of desert terrain per day whilst surveying a boundary fence between Namibrand nature reserve and the Namib Naukluft national park. The data collected will be instrumental in Namibrand’s bid to have the whole 100km fence removed. This would improve the ecology of the area and facilitate the movement of the animals in the Nama-Karoo and Namib deserts. The expedition was supported by the Neil Mackenzie Trust and Quest Solutions.

Guest speaker this year was Kate Forbes MSP who spoke about the impact that the growing number of college students are having in their communities throughout the west highlands by taking advantage of the opportunities to study and develop their careers.  She urged students to take risks, be confident and to reach out for their goals in the full knowledge that confidence is a choice and that each of them already had within them what it takes to succeed.

Students and their guests were treated to delicious traybakes before the ceremony, prepared by NPA Cookery students from Lochaber High School who study at the college one day a week, and then Canapes after the event prepared by NC Professional Cookery students and all served professionally by NC Professional Cookery & Hospitality students. Musical items during the Ceremony came from Ben Price, a current student of the college who performed his own composition “Goodbye.”

This track was part of a chart-topping EP launched just before Christmas by the music students and was performed at the College’s Creative Arts Showcase event in May.  Other musical entertainment came from Rock School students from the college’s club at Lochaber High School who performed “Happy” by Pharrell Williams at the end of the ceremony and ended the proceedings on an appropriately celebratory note.

During the ceremony, various special awards were presented:

Eleanor Barrie and Sandra Palicka with the quaich

Higher Education Student of the Year is Sandra Palicka (HNC Social Services)

Sandra (19) is from Fort William.  She was nominated for this award having studied with the college for three years from level 5 to level 7 courses. Her lecturer Andy Gibb commented “During this time, I have seen Sandra develop and mature as both a student and professional. This year alone I have seen her progress at a considerable rate through her commitment to learning and her work at a local company supporting adults with considerable and complex needs. I have received very encouraging feedback about the positive impact she has on her clients’ lives. Sandra has battled with anxiety throughout her time at college but has developed ways to cope with this and maintained a fantastic, positive attitude throughout her studies. She is an extremely conscientious student who has provided consistently high quality work and who regularly goes ‘the extra mile.’

In addition to being announced as Higher Education Student of the Year, Sandra was also presented with a Quaich as winner of the Ina Maciver Award for NHS Highland Integrated Health & Social Care 18/19 created in memory of the university’s former subject network leader for health and social care, who was devoted to learning, teaching and to students’ personal development. Sponsored by NHS Highland, the award is presented to a University of the Highlands and Islands’ health or social care student each year. This year the award was presented by Eleanor Barrie, Lochaber NHS Integrated Adult Health and Social Care Team Leader

Sandra was delighted and said “I was in complete shock when I had found out I had won these awards - it definitely wasn't something I expected! The lecturers on this course have been incredibly supportive and it is this support that has increased my passion for working in Social Care. They have also helped me make a firm plan for my career and I am excited to be taking the first steps towards reaching my long term goals.”

Linda Mackenzie and West Highland College UHI Principal Lydia Rohmer

Further Education Student of the Year is Linda Mackenzie (NC Shipping and Maritime Studies)

Linda is a mature student from Mallaig. For some time, Linda had felt she had lost focus in her life and was having a very difficult time personally. She came to the College Centre in Mallaig to see what might be available for her and when asked what her dream job would be and she replied “working for CALMAC, but that will never happen.” Our NC Maritime Skills was suggested and after a great deal of encouragement from the team Mallaig, she enrolled.

In spite of the many on-going pressures and challenges in her personal life, she soon settled in and worked conscientiously and diligently and with the support of the college staff and her class mates she passed her Level 5 Maritime Skills with flying colours and applied to carry on with Level 6 Shipping Operations. Over the last year Linda has been described by her lecturers as a model student, “Linda was always punctual and met every deadline.”

“She was extremely supportive of the younger students giving help and advice. For example, although she “hated water” when she joined the course on Level 5, she bravely overcame her fears and completed her Personal Survival Technique course in the swimming pool. This year, she insisted on helping the nervous Level 5 students, and accompanied them up to the pool, jumping into the water first as an example of how fear could be overcome.”

After receiving her award Linda said  “The course has given me the qualifications for my dream job at Calmac - I am now freight assistant and accompany the freight from Mallaig out to Small Isles -weather permitting! I’m really glad to be here today I’d recommend the courses in Mallaig to anyone.”

Highland Society of London Annual Prize

Awarded to the Amanda Dailly from Kinlochleven. Amanda’s dissertation was judged to be the best of the year in the Humanities and Gaelic subject network on a Highlands and Islands theme. It’s title was “The Meaning of Querns: A study of Quern Deposition in the Iron Age at Windwick Bay, Orkney”.

University of the Highlands and Islands Departmental Prize, BA (Hons) Culture and Heritage

Each year the Culture and Heritage department award a prize to the best graduating student. This year a Quaich and Certificate were presented to Rory Green from Strontian for being the best Graduating Student on his course by Institute for Northern Studies, Kirkwall

The number of HNC students studying with the college continues to increase each year reflecting how important these qualifications are to students seeking to secure employment in fast growing areas. The college is particularly pleased that these close links with industry are reflected in the growing number of Awards sponsored by organisations such as Springboard, Strathmore Hotels, Calmac and Mallaig Harbour Authority.

Special Awards from Industry

Benjamin Orr: Springboard Bowl - Achievement in Professional Cookery

Presented on behalf of Springboard Scotland by Emma-Rose Milligan from Inverlochy Castle.

Benjamin is from Glenuig.  Throughout his first year he has displayed a keen interest in the hospitality industry and has made excellent progress to successfully complete his studies.  He is staying at college to study NC level 5 Professional Cookery.

Leona Symes: Strathmore Bowl - Achievement in Hospitality

Presented on behalf of Strathmore Hotels by Maggie McCartney, General Manager at the Alexandra Hotel.  Leona was nominated by her lecturing team after being a student with us for 3 years.  She has now successfully gained levels 4 5 6 of her Professional Cookery Award.  Her lecturers were impressed not only by her diligence in study but also at her exceptional commitment in travelling all the way to Fort William from Appin to complete her studies.

Robert Mattinson: Mallaig Harbour Authority Award kindly donated a trophy and cheque to be presented annually for Student Endeavour on a Maritime Course.  This new Trophy and cheque was awarded for the first time this year to Robert Mattinson who had travelled regularly from Glasgow to complete the NC Shipping and Maritime Operations course at Mallaig.  Robert’s success meant he was able to successfully apply for a cadetship at nautical college.  He was unable to be present at the ceremony because of his studies but the award was accepted on his behalf by Dr Michael Foxley in his capacity as member of the Mallaig Harbour Authority Board. 

Stephen Hardie: Calmac award for student making the most progress.

Calmac kindly donated vouchers for an annual award for the first time this year for the student making most progress on maritime courses.  Stephen Hardie is from Fort William, but travelled daily to Mallaig was selected by his lecturers as having made great strides during this year of study to improve and complete his work to a high level. 

Maira Keil: Scottish Qualification Authority Local College Award

The winner of this Award is selected by our Student Support team for a student who has stood out above other students for them during the year. 

Maria began her studies with us in 2017 as a student on the Access to Further Education course, Maria then progressed to the NC Child, Health & Social Care Course in 2018.  As a mature student, Maria’s enthusiasm and participation in all aspects of college life has made her a role model for her peers. Her high attendance and dedication despite many personal issues and hurdles, together with her exceptional contributions as class representative and as a member of the Health and Safety Committee, has made her an obvious choice for this award.  

HISA Awards

Organised by the Highlands and Islands Students’ Association, the HISA Awards give students a chance to thank the academic staff, support staff and students who have inspired and supported them. The annual awards are judged by a student panel and winners are selected on the quality of the nomination. This year, we are delighted at the large number of category nominations for our staff and students – and of course that a number of West Highland College UHI staff, two of our students and a sports club based here have won awards and been highly commended. The following awards were presented by Andrew Bowie, HISA Vice President - Higher Education

Most Inspiring Lecturer                 Marina Finlayson, Lecturer – Psychology

Best Support Staff                          Christine Blyth – Learning Support Co-ordinator, Fort William

Best Class Representative             Solomon Azulay – NC Art & Design Portfolio, Portree

Mace Bearer

Myra McCabe recently retired as the Head of Student Support at West Highland College UHI, having made a significant contribution over the last 3 years to the leadership and development of student services in the College and to the continuing success of our students.  She joined the College in 2016, bringing with her a wealth of experience from previous roles as Head of Student Services at Edinburgh College and leading service teams in the Health and Social Care sector in Edinburgh. As a graduate with an MA in History and Jurisprudence and a Postgraduate Diploma in secondary teaching in History and Modern Studies, she also brought an understanding of how learners engage with their learning and was key to helping implement the College’s holistic approach to support for learning for our students. 

Vote of Thanks

During the ceremony a Vote of Thanks to college staff and the students' families was given on behalf of the students by Katie Wrigglesworth, Depute President, HISA.

Closing Remarks

The ceremony was brought to a close by John Hutchison, Chair of the Board of Management.


Photographs available from The Write Image –