|Nottingham Trent University's Alumna of the Year 2015
||[Dec. 1st, 2015|08:45 am]
Saturday was more than a little surreal. Twelve years after I graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a degree in Criminology, I was back in gowns and back on the stage. But this time it was for a very different reason.|
When NTU found out about my MBE they invited me back to the University to speak and as part of this I was then asked to be involved in supporting the School of Social Sciences developing their students, to which I agreed. A couple of months ago I then received a letter advising me that the Vice Chancellor wished me to accept the award of Alumna of the Year, as a result of these activities and the work that led to my honour of the MBE. To say this was a shock is an understatement. The alumni of NTU number over 100,000 and include notable figures and people that achieved incredible things. To be picked out of all of them, for this award in 2015, is quite the thing.
Having accepted I then started to receive more information about the event of receiving the award, and this would take place as part of the November graduation ceremony. The organisation, and communication prior to the event, were breathtakingly impressive (and I consider myself good at that kind of thing).
Having arrived on Friday night, Serena and I were met in the hotel reception to be escorted to the University. There was time for meeting and greeting, being introduced to the great and good of the University and soaking up the celebratory atmosphere of the undergraduates. I say "soaking up", more accurately at this point I was almost physically shaking with nerves. The senior academics and executives of NTU all went out of their way to make both Serena and I feel special and welcomed, hugely intelligent people conversing with us as equals was quite an experience. After a while I was called to be gowned and then for official photos (these and others of the day are available online). Then Serena was whisked off to her VIP seat and I was lined up as part of the procession. We left the University and entered the Royal Concert Hall where the ceremony was to take place. I knew what to expect, I'd received a detailed written brief before the event, the MC had talked me through with visual aids on my arrival and a number of key other individuals had given their perspectives over coffee. This all amounted to theory. As we entered the hall to the processional music with a mace bearer and I saw the stage, my legs went weak. Luckily the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research Yvonne Barnett was next to me encouraging and reassuring, and I made my way onto the stage where I was positioned on the front row. The ceremony began and after the Vice Chancellor had awarded his teaching award the first batch of students started to cross the stage, and it occurred to me my positioning meant I would be in almost every photo of their congratulatory handshake. Needless to say I clapped like it was going out of fashion.
As student after student received their degrees I reflected on how my life had played out in the intervening twelve years since I had been in their position. I wondered about what I'd have done differently if I'd had the chance. And you know? Professionally I wouldn't have changed a thing. I might have tweaked a little here and there but decisions I'd made, places I'd been, people I'd worked with, had all led me to this point. And it seemed to me a pretty good point to be.
I noticed that the line of he first half of students was coming to an end and that meant I was up next. I swigged (elegantly) some water and glanced at Serena for reassurance. Luckily what I also got was a gesture that my hood was slipping off my shoulder. This rectified I was ready and found myself being announced. Standing on the X on the stage, slightly ahead of the lectern, my citation was read out. Gosh that's an awkward thing. Standing at the front of the stage, alone, looking out at 3,000 people, none of whom know you (and probably aren't that interested anyway) whilst a senior academic reads a 3-4minute piece about all the wonderful things you've done. Eek. Once the citation was complete I was then formally handed my award, a rather sizeable and very impressive sculpture, "took my applause" (as per the briefing) and then stood at the lectern to "make my response" (a University term for saying thanks and appropriate other words). It was a chance to express my surprise and privilege at having been selected but also to try and say something motivational, that resonated with those students in front of me. I'd made five bullet points of things I didn't want to forget to say but the rest came straight from me...so honestly, I have little idea what I said. There will be a video online in the next few days and I look forward to being able to review my performance.
Moments later my bottom hit my seat again and I relaxed, enjoyed the second half of the ceremony as more students received their degrees including doctorates in the School of Science which had research titles that sounded like they were in another language. The procession led out and we were back in the holding room where people said some very lovely things about my speech, including the 2014 winner of the Award, and then we were treated to a two course lunch at the Vice Chancellor's table, joined also by the Dean of my school, Social a Sciences, who is simply a lovely woman. The formalities concluded and the bulk of the processional party had to head off to do it all again, I collected my replica award and printed/framed professional photo and memory stick (gosh, what a use of technology) and set off into the cold Midlands air for an afternoon of relaxing, marvelling at the wonders of the day and the invigorated sense I had about me. Planning, and wondering, for the future.