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Graduation Class of 2020 told to dream big and enjoy the journey

Posted 11 July

"Everyone studying during this historic chapter gained additional skills and a maturity which makes them even more valuable citizens, at work and in their communities.”

“You’ve got to dream big, you’ve got to stay positive, you must work hard, but most of all, you do have to enjoy the journey.”

That was the message to Graduates of Harper Adams University in the Class of 2020. They were the first to take part in a series of Graduation Celebration Ceremonies this week.

Today’s ceremonies, which ran in both the morning and afternoon, were for students who completed their courses in the 2019-2020 academic year.

Theday was the first of two which marked the achievements and successes of those graduates whose ceremonies were delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the ceremony for the Class of 2020-21 on Wednesday.

It was also the first at which Harper Adams Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ken Sloan, addressed the congregation.

He said: “This year’s degree ceremonies have even greater significance.

“Remarkably, the last time a degree congregation convened in this place was three years ago back in 2019. None of us could have known at that point that Covid-19 would cast its shadow across every aspect of our life and create additional challenges across three academic years.

“Thanks to the resilience and inventiveness of our students and employees we were able to maintain teaching, research and our Future Farm throughout the pandemic.

“Of course, we needed to adapt, to find new ways to work, teach and maintain the sense of community which is central to universities like ours.

“Things didn’t always go to plan but I believe that everyone studying during this historic chapter gained additional skills and a maturity which makes them even more valuable citizens, at work and in their communities.”

Meanwhile, Students’ Union President for 2019-2020, Thomas Oatey, told his fellow graduates how words of advice given to him by his father at the start of his studies still rang true.

He said: “On my first day of Harper, my dad said to me: ‘If your University days are not the best days of your life, then you are in for one hell of a life.’

“Well, I can honestly say that the years I spent here were some of the best days of my life – and I hope you all feel the same.

“I am so proud to be stood here before you as a former president of HASU. Although my time as President has technically come to an end, I am still so pleased to be given the opportunity to be stood here today and to celebrate this momentous occasion with you all.

“While we may not have had the most traditional route to graduation it doesn’t make it and less important or memorable.”

Graduates also heard from two Harper Adams alumni during the ceremonies (Read all about them here).

The morning ceremony was addressed by Dr Rebecca Mclean, a Senior Postdoctoral Researcher working on developing multi-valent livestock vaccines against new emerging pandemic viruses.

Meanwhile, the afternoon ceremony was addressed by Jonathan Glen, Senior Operations Manager of leading manufacturers of specialist road-rail machinery Rail-Ability.

Rebecca told the graduates, their families and guests how since finishing her degree at Harper Adams, she had begun a career in research with a PhD, before then taking up a post at the Pirbright Institute as a Postdoctoral Project Manager and Researcher – working on a vaccine to prevent pigs contracting the deadly Nipah virus which they could then pass on to humans.

However, in early 2020, Rebecca’s research took an unexpected turn.

She told the crowd: “This research left me in a very desirable position when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Pigs are known to be a very good model for humans, as they have the same immune systems and are a similar size.

I led a team who firstly tested the Oxford vaccine, and we actually discovered as much as they solely believed this vaccine would be fantastic after a single immunisation, when we gave pigs a second booster, their immune response was massively magnified, and that’s how they realised a booster after twelve weeks was actually very good.

I honestly never thought, that when I left Harper that I would be in a position to help in a global pandemic, let alone lead a team to find very important information in a tiny, tiny time frame.

“So, I just want to finish off by sharing something with you that I thoroughly believe in, and have stuck by for many years, and that is - you’ve got to dream big, you’ve got to stay positive, you must work hard, but most of all, you really do have to enjoy the journey.”

And Jonathan explained how his role as Operations Manager meant he had to draw upon a myriad of skills – from accountancy, to HR, to plumbing, to a moment when he had to advise on the legal points of a multi-million-pound contract.

He added: “Now, it’s fair to say that an Engineering degree doesn’t teach you the tricks of the plumbing trade. And it certainly doesn’t qualify you to practice commercial law – but I was very grateful to Harper Adams on that day.

“Because what it did teach me – something which I use every day – is how to learn. How to learn quickly and effectively. How to decipher information, good from bad. How to learn about people, and myriad other topics.

“I was never particularly good at learning at school – simply because no one had ever shown me how.

“So, I have Harper Adams University to thank. You taught me how to learn, and now I am a passionate and eager student of everything. This means as each day presents a new challenge I don’t know the answers to, I simply – learn.

“I was once told the words of Reginald Kenney, a former Principal of Harper Adams College, which have stuck with me – and I will share those with you.

“He said that, upon graduating, you probably think you are God’s gift to the agricultural industry – but it is only now that you begin to learn.

“Whatever you do from here on in, never stop being a student. I wish you every success in your future careers.”

Rewatch the ceremonies here.

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