‘I’M DISAPPOINTED,” Jacqueline said, “I didn’t hear any whooping when it was my turn.”
She was joking. She knew that our family outing to her Open University awards ceremony would be clapping fast and hard while she crossed the Usher Hall stage, but whoops and hollers would be beyond our ingrained reserve.
They weren’t for some family and friend groups at a packed ceremony, and I envied their uninhibited response, which usually got a winning-goal clenched fist or wave from the award winner.
Because that’s what they were – every one a winner, every degree and diploma a triumph of will, effort, long hours after work, before work and during what should have been holidays – essays and assignments completed around children, family commitments, house moves, job changes, births and sometimes deaths.
Jacqueline, as I might have mentioned before because it was a great effort, completed her Master of Education degree with the OU over three years that included a pregnancy, house and town move, two job changes and coping with two children under five.
And like, I suspect, most other graduates there, she got full backing from the family, especially husband Nolan. That support was recognised by one of the most moving parts of the ceremony, when the graduates stood to applaud the families and friends who had made the journey with them.
With my usual resistance to pomp and circumstance, I was wary of the Usher Hall set-up, the organ getting laldy as we took our seats, a mace-led procession in gowns taking the stage, the bowing and formality and titles such as Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research, Scholarship and Quality).
But the dignified simplicity of the awards and obvious evidence of how much it meant to each individual – “This has been hard work and, my word, I’ve earned it” – blew away my reservations.
Dame Elish Angiolini QC helped. Scotland’s first woman Solicitor General, then Lord Advocate, now head of an Oxford college, she was awarded an honorary doctorate and made a thoughtful, lucid speech aimed directly at the graduates.
Acting as a photographer for the day, with results that would reduce my newspaper snapper colleagues to tears, and without a notebook, I can’t quote her directly. But anyone who can start a speech with Socrates and end with Dr Seuss of Cat In The Hat fame, inspiring listeners and making compelling sense in between gets my vote.
As does the essence of what she said: “You can be all that you want to be.”