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'We expect great things from you' – UHI Inverness students told at graduation

By Erin Miller

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UHI Inverness graduation was at Free North Church in Bank Street.
UHI Inverness graduation was at Free North Church in Bank Street.

More than 300 UHI Inverness students have graduated today.

Graduates celebrated their academic achievements with friends, family and staff when two ceremonies took place at the city's Free North Church in Bank Street.

It marked the first time that UHI Inverness has held its ceremony at the venue, with around 900 people attending.

Students celebrated success in a range of higher education qualifications including Higher National Certificates, Higher National Diplomas, Degrees and Postgraduate programmes.

Students were welcomed beforehand to Inverness Town House for registration, robing and the opportunity to get professional photographs. They then made their way to the church for the graduation ceremony.

Professor Chris O’Neil, principal and chief executive of UHI Inverness, told graduates: “What you have learned and the qualifications you have gained at UHI Inverness will change your lives and open up doors for you.

“The friends you’ve made and the lecturers who’ve inspired and influenced you will have a lasting effect. You are now equipped with knowledge, skills and a sense of purpose that will serve as the foundation for your future. We expect great things from you."

The morning guest speaker Sarah Rankin, a MasterChef finalist and a marketing agency owner, told the gathering: “Continuing to learn means you continue to grow as a person. Because when you focus on you – challenging yourself to be better and do better – you become a better person. And that’s better for everyone. So today, celebrate the learning you have done, and the learning that’s still to come.”

Amongst the graduates was public health expert and distinguished academic Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam. As deputy chief medical officer he became well-known for the role he played throughout the course of the Covid-19 pandemic and his no-nonsense communication from No. 10 Downing Street.

Today, Sir Jonathan graduated with a Postgraduate Certificate in leadership and management after having enrolled as a part-time online student in 2016.

He was also the guest speaker at this afternoon’s graduation ceremony. He addressed his fellow students saying: “Today is a very special ceremony for you, and for me. In my case I was a bona fide member of the UHI Inverness student body and today I join an ever-growing, global alumni community; I am also profoundly honoured to have been bestowed an Honorary Doctoral degree [in recognition of his leadership, communication and service during the pandemic]. This all means so much to me.”

When he became interested in furthering the leadership aspect of his career, Sir Jonathan looked around for an online qualification and chose UHI Inverness because it offered a flexible workload.

He said: “It felt like the right place, and it hasn’t disappointed me in any way. I have been the world’s worst student. One year after I enrolled in 2016, I was seconded to the Department of Health and Social Care as Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England. The hours were long; the daily commute from Lincolnshire was arduous on top, and studying became very difficult. I had to suspend my studies. I didn’t know when I could return to them.

“Next came the pandemic, 16-hour days, seven-day weeks. I lost hope of finishing my course. In early 2022, when I finally stepped down as Deputy Chief Medical Officer, I was exhausted, and reluctantly and regretfully handed in my resignation from the course at UHI Inverness.

“This was defeat – I had never quit before. Nicola MacDonald and her team here at UHI Inverness were having none of it! ‘Yes, you can finish, and you can still complete a Postgraduate Certificate. Just do one more module…you can succeed.’ I agreed with some trepidation. But my lecturer David Jack made a difficult subject deeply engaging, and here I am now.”

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