I have been at Birkbeck for 4 ½ years now but this is the last graduation ceremony I will attend as I am heading off to new challenges. My new job at the University of Warwick is exciting, new, and at an institution that competes with the best in the world. But Birkbeck is unique. Graduation marks endings and new beginnings which has put me in a reflective state of mind.
Studying for a degree is demanding for any student as it demands independence of study and a stretching intellectual ideas. At Birkbeck most students tend to have challenges above and beyond other students with jobs and families as well as putting themselves through the trials of studying. Their studies have taken them away from their families, they have studied on a Saturday rather than going out with friends. They have rushed in to lectures straight from work, got up early to work before heading off to work, checked on readings at lunch time and frequently worried whether they were up to it. Their families have looked after children, encouraged, tolerated their essay crises and exam stresses. As staff we have (I hope) been supportive and still demanded extremely high standards from them all through their studies. This is because we have the same belief now as we always have done: it is possible for those returning to education later in life to work academically at just as high a level as those who sailed through school.
Staff tend to stay here for a very long time because they believe in the transforming power of education. They believe in keeping the doors open to encourage anyone in who could benefit from the experience.
I am going to miss all this very much.