Imperial College Graduation 2015!

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This post is long overdue having graduated 2 weeks ago today! However, in between graduate job applications, networking and workshop events, running the Union and looking after 17,000 students, my feet have hardly touched the ground; I’m glad I’ve managed to squeeze in an hour to document Commemoration Day!

For me especially, my graduation was rather unique as I didn’t just go up and skip across the stage of the Royal Albert Hall, in all my gowns and splendour, shake hands with the President of Imperial College and the Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences to officially graduate; but I also got to open the entire ceremony (all 3 for that matter!) as President of Imperial College Union and welcome a total of 12,000 graduands and their loved ones.

Rewind to the morning, an early start for a rehearsal with my fellow Officer Trustees (who acted as Marshals, carrying an Imperial College staff into the Royal Albert Hall). The first ceremony started at 11am for the Faculty of Medicine. Each ceremony was essentially the same so rather than write about all 3, I’ll just give my account of the ceremony I graduated in, the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

Keith and I riding the City and Guilds Union Mascot, Bo
Keith and I riding the City and Guilds Union Mascot, Bo

Before the Natural Sciences ceremony my Uncle Keith and I were invited to a special lunch in the Royal Albert Hall for staff and honorary graduates. Keith is an Imperial alumnus and graduated exactly 50 years to the day that I did (Electrical and Electronic Engineering class of 1965) – this was a fantastic milestone celebration for him too and I felt so blessed that he could see me graduate as well.

Backstage pre-ceremony it was a whirlwind of excitement and bustle. Governors, the President, Provost, academics, Lords, Ladies, honorary graduands (you name it!) were gowning in their brightly coloured robes and assembling ready for the procession. At 2:15pm we were ready for the ceremony to commence, in which I would officially get my BSc (Hons) Biology degree. At this point, I had a bit of time to actually think about what I was about to do and it made me quite emotional. I was fulfilling a childhood dream – speaking to thousands of people in an iconic venue. I was graduating with an honours degree from a world class institution. But most important of all; I was making my family proud.

As we walked down the stairs and reached the entrance point the doors were simultaneously heaved open, ceremonial music started to play and every person rose to their feet to turn and watch the procession walk down the aisle of the Royal Albert Hall and onto the stage.

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When all were assembled, the music stopped and it was my moment. I walked to the platform to speak my proclamation. As everyone spent the first couple of seconds sitting down I had the chance to take in the atmosphere of the hall from the stage, looking around at the thousands of people about to listen to my words as my voice would fill up the Royal Albert Hall. I had goosebumps. As I spoke about the fantastic things each student had done during their time at Imperial and our responsibility as graduates to take mankind forward, I felt an overwhelming surge of pride for all my friends and my boyfriend, Henry. For all those I had gone through my three years, the amazing things so many had achieved; and that we had all come out the other side, together, to become official Imperial College graduates.

Alice Gast, President of Imperial College succeeded my speech with her own telling us all to “Distinguish the genuine from the false, the lasting from the ephemeral, and the important from the trivial. You will need to find the signal amid the noise…You have learned to be analytical, critical thinkers. You have learned not take things at face value, but to question, to challenge and to investigate. Believe in your capabilities and use your talents for the benefit of society.”

It was wonderful to see so many of my friends walk up the stairs and give me a little wave before walking across and graduating; soon it was my turn! It was such a great moment to ‘seal the deal’ of my time at Imperial with a degree, feeling fantastically happy.

The graduations were followed by a musical interlude and select staff members were honoured with an Imperial medal (this took place with relevant staff in all the ceremonies) followed by the honorary graduands; the Director of the Natural History Museum being one such graduate.

Near the end of the ceremony there was a particularly sweet and touching moment when the Provost, James Stirling, asked all the graduates to stand and thank their family and friends. At which point all the graduates stood and gave a huge round of applause and cheers, spotting and waving to their families – it was a truly lovely touch. The ceremony ended with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, which I sang proudly at the top of my lungs!

Here is a video of the full Natural Sciences ceremony (the Engineering one is linked at the bottom of this post; and the Medicine one is yet to be uploaded). My speech starts at 2:00 and I graduate at 36:20:

The rest of the day was a whirlwind of photographs, champagne and time spent with my Mum, Dad, sister, Uncle, Henry and his family, as well as all my lovely friends!

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After some brief celebrations, it was time for the Faculty of Engineering graduation. As we all lined up to repeat the ceremony in a packed hall, it was clear by this point the engineers had already been celebrating a lot that day and were rather more excitable. This was definitely apparent when half way through the graduation, one student pulled a champagne bottle out of his robes, popped it in front of the camera (perfectly timed may I add) to then take a swig. It was such a hilarious and unexpected moment the whole place erupted in laughter and cheers! I would also like to make a special mention to a young man, Henrik Hagemann, who received the outstanding student achievement award. This award is only given to one student a year and having had the pleasure to get to know him myself over the few graduation days; sharing a table at the Commemoration Eve dinner the night before, and again with him and his family at the Royal Albert Hall lunch, I can honestly say he is truly deserving of the award. A fantastic example of an exemplary and inspiring Imperial student.

After all the ceremonies were over, I had a lovely dinner with my family at the Victory Services Club before celebrating with all my friends at the Union until the early hours!

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The whole day was truly wonderful. I never expected to get as emotional as I did, which was especially hard when trying to control myself on stage! I felt incredibly honoured to be in all three graduation ceremonies, having a very unique opportunity to see every single one of my friends graduating this year walk across the stage, be it from medicine, science or engineering.

I would never have been standing on that stage opening Undergraduate Graduation Day 2015 (and subsequently walking across it) had it not been for the love and support from all my family and friends. It sounds cliché but each of my nearest and dearest played such a crucial role in me getting to Imperial, making it through all 3 years of my degree, to come out the other side as President of Imperial College Union. A huge thank you and a lot of love to you all ❤

Gallery: A selection of photos from the day.
Fun fact:
As a bit of background you may have noticed I referred to graduation as Commemoration Day. To quote my speech somewhat:

Imperial’s graduation ceremonies commemorate the visit in 1945 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the College, where they honoured with their presence, the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Royal College of Chemistry, a forerunner of the Imperial College. The Governors resolved that this event be commemorated each year to serve as a mark of gratitude to all those who have helped the College, and as a sign of personal rededication to the pursuit of knowledge in science and engineering and their application for the well-being of mankind.

The Faculty of Medicine ceremony. Speech at 7:15:

The Faculty of Engineering ceremony. Speech at 3:20:

Click on the link below to see a full storify of tweets and photos of the days events from other graduates: https://storify.com/imperialcollege/commemoration-day-2015

– Lucinda
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