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“Summer term in Chester ends with the Valedictory and Awards Ceremony, which recognises students’ achievements and successes across a wide range of themes. The prizes and awards presented are related to academic excellence, community service and volunteering activities, and participation in various areas of University life. This year, as last, Valedictory will of necessity be online. Before the pandemic, this event was held in St. Thomas’ Church, across the road from the University Chapel; Chapel is too small to welcome the recipients of more than 100 awards and their guests!

“Until a few years ago, the Valedictory invited a visitor from outside the University to give a ‘motivational speech’, hopefully inspiring award-winners to even greater achievements. Just before I arrived in the University, one such speaker was Terry Waite, former envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the 1980s, he negotiated the release of hostages in the Middle East until he himself was held captive in Lebanon for almost five years. His story is truly remarkable and inspirational. I have often heard the tale of Terry Waite’s visit to the University and how at the end of his speech, as he came down the (admittedly slightly awkward) steps from the pulpit in St Thomas’, he slipped! Fortunately, he was unscathed, but I have heard from several people that their hearts were in their mouths for a few seconds…

“In more recent years, we have changed tack in the content of the Valedictory. Instead of seeking inspirational and motivational talks from someone outside the University, we have heard from student award recipients themselves. Over the years we have heard from…

  • A dentist from India who had founded an organisation to make dental treatment available to those unable to pay for it. He had realised that he needed new skills to run the organisation effectively and came to Chester to study for an MBA. He was then returning to expand the work of his dental team.
  • An undergraduate student who deferred a University exam so she could take part in an international gymnastics competition.
  • A postgraduate student whose talk had to be read on his behalf by the University’s Director of Sports. At short notice, the student had received an invitation to fly to Germany for a trial with a professional basketball team.
  • A mature student in modern languages who had been awarded an academic prize. She also was unable to deliver her talk in person as Valedictory clashed with her last exam. Her speech was read by her 15-year old son, who very obviously has as much self-confidence in public speaking as we knew his mother had!
  • A law student who had clocked up a very impressive number of volunteering hours. She had used the specialist modules which she had taken throughout her University career as the basis for giving her time and expertise to help others with legal guidance, representation and advocacy.
  • A student from Africa who had survived a terrorist attack in her home country. Subsequently she had used opportunities in media appearances to campaign for reconciliation and cooperation between different ethnic groups.
  • A student who had already visited Everest Base Camp and had her sights set on one day returning and attempting the summit. No-one can aim higher than that!

“Each year Valedictory gives us a reminder of the enormous talent, experience and commitment of students. It is fascinating and humbling to hear from just a few of them… and perhaps disappointing that we do not have time to hear from all of them, as everyone has a story to tell! When students reflect on their University experience as they prepare to graduate, they often remark on how much they have received from their time in Chester. They talk about gaining confidence; about achieving what they thought was beyond them; and about the ways in which University has prepared them for the excitement of what lies ahead, whether that is the summit of Everest or an ambition at slightly lower altitude. If anyone doubts the value of Higher Education, they need to attend a Valedictory!”

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