Graduation: Rubies in the rubble of a news-filled week
22 July 2022
It’s Friday. A scan of the news this week will tell you that the Met Office issued its first ever extreme heat warnings as the UK reported record temperatures; Sri Lanka’s president fled his country, facing accusations of corruption, while its citizens live through fuel and food shortages; a British aid worker captured by Russian-backed separatists died in detention in Ukraine; and COVID cases in the UK jumped up 30%.
In the face of this, we might feel rather downbeat. A single week has reflected the fundamental security threats we face today as a global community: climate change, pandemic illness, and a breakdown in social cohesion caused by political, economic and social polarisation. And there’s still the weekend to go.
But it’s also been a week where I’ve been lucky to find a counterbalance and to be given hope. I have just come out of my daughter’s graduation ceremony at the University of Bath and am so proud of all she has achieved. It’s also just a couple of days after my installation as Chancellor at the University of Reading and presiding over my first three graduation ceremonies, when I got to recognise and celebrate with hundreds of other families, their pride and achievements around their smart, thoughtful, optimistic family members.
And they were the rubies I found shining bright amongst the rubble of a hot and fractured world. Their beauty brought perspective to reflect upon and savour. The spirit of youth and optimism that fizzed at each of those ceremonies trumped the depressing headlines. There is reason to take heart in those graduates’ sense of communal endeavour, common adventure and shared destiny.
Whether I was doffing my hat in Reading, or welling up watching my daughter in Bath, I realised that I was surrounded by a humanity to counter the inhumanity of the news. I could see people that truly loved one another and had helped one another – parents, friends, classmates and academic colleagues - and I felt the energy of community rather than the focus of the individual.
Graduation ceremonies are landmark moments in families’ lives. They obviously recognise students’ successes and hard work; it’s their name on their degree certificate. And they should be rightly proud of that. But they also recognise the fundamental fact that none of us can achieve anything if other people don’t help us, working hard for us so that our tomorrows might be better than our yesterdays.
And that’s when the real beauty of graduation shines ruby bright. When we recognise that it’s a shared experience, each new graduate has given AND received help and love, forming lifelong friendships, achieving success together. They are as much about WE and they are about I.
For me, this week as created memories of two uplifting and seminal moments of my life, sandwiched between seemingly unrelenting bad news. I was the proud parent and I saw proud parents: and it was exactly what I needed. Real people. Real achievements. Real reasons to believe that the future is going to be OK.
Perhaps some of those graduates I met will be the ones to find the solutions to climate change or avert the unhuman consequences of future wars. Maybe some will add another layer of research to the expertise universities have brought in the fight against COVID or pandemics not yet envisaged; and maybe some will become political leaders, in different parts of the world, and serve their people with integrity and dignity. Or it could be that they all live decent lives, build on the values they forged at university, and nudge the world gently into a kinder and more hopeful place.
It’s all those possibilities that are reasons to embrace the spirit of youth, to celebrate graduations with family and friends and to double down in ensuring that universities continue to be communities that enhance their students’ searches for learning, passions and values. Such rubies are priceless, and in valuing them the rubble fades away.