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Congratulations to everyone celebrating at Graduation 2017

John Spence and Peter Horrocks, VC

Ahead of our Cardiff graduation ceremony this week we pay tribute to the hard work and determination of all of our students and highlight the inspirational story of one of our recent graduates.

This Friday brings the highlight of the year for all of us at The Open University in Wales. 364 graduates and over 1,000 family and friends will join us at the Wales Millennium Centre for this year’s graduation ceremony. Every OU graduation – and we hold many across the UK – is unique and full of incredible individuals each with their own story.  This year’s ceremony in Torquay saw three generations of the same family graduate together, we’ve awarded degrees to people aged from 16 to 90, and to those who’ve studied intensively as well as those who have taken over twenty years to achieve their goals.

For every story we hear at the ceremony there will be a combination of things that made it possible: hard work and determination; support from family, friends and employers; and access to affordable, flexible, supported higher education. Studying part-time is not an easy choice, it requires an immense personal commitment. Three quarters of our students are in work when they study with us – they learn and earn. Others have caring responsibilities or significant personal challenges to overcome just to get started on their learning journey. Every single graduate benefits from their study experience, perhaps through a promotion, a new job, or increased confidence and self-esteem. But so does Wales.  Wales benefits by keeping people learning where they live, upskilling the workforce, supporting people into work, and enabling people to achieve their potential.   

The student support team at the OU in Wales work day in, day out helping our students from Colwyn Bay to Caerphilly (and everywhere in between) to manage the competing pressures of their course and their daily lives. Understanding that no two students are the same and that flexible approaches to study are essential for those who need our support. One such student is John Spence from Cardiff who has recently achieved his dream of a BSc Honours degree. As a result of his disabilities and severe dyslexia, John was mocked at school and told he would “amount to nothing and did not deserve to be taught with others.” He left school and joined the armed forces seeing active service in Iraq and Afghanistan and subsequently he worked as an ocean paramedic. As a result of his studies with us he is now a lead medical officer on-board a ship, undertaking sea rescues, travelling worldwide and supporting over 150 people medically.  He has had an extraordinary life - full of adventure and bravery but it's his personal battle with previous educational experience, his dyslexia and other conditions that we have found the most inspiring. John said: “When I was down and struggling, my lecturers and support staff reached out to me and told me that I can do this, that I was just as intelligent, which at once lifted my destroyed spirit to continue. I thank them for rebuilding me and giving me the education and my confidence back that no teacher in school said I was going to have".

John can’t join us at our ceremony this week as he is currently away at sea so instead he graduated a few weeks ago at our London event. As he approached the stage he was shaking and unable to walk so our Vice-Chancellor, Peter Horrocks, approached him and asked him if he would like some help.  He replied that he was ok but was simply overcome with the emotion of the event.  He whispered

This is just the most extraordinary moment of my life. I was told when I was sixteen, thirty years ago, that I would never achieve anything educationally.

This is so important to me.

The team here are so proud of John and what he has achieved and we can’t wait to meet more students like him at our Cardiff ceremony.

If you’re graduating with us this week, please accept our heartfelt congratulations and enjoy every moment – you’ve earnt it!

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