On Saturday 13th of July 2019, I graduated from De Montfort University (DMU) with a 2:1 BA Hons in Creative Writing and Journalism.
When I first started at university, three years prior, I didn’t think I would graduate let alone with a 2:1 grade. I moved through each year just concentrating on each moment not considering the bigger picture that was forming with each essay and piece of work.
There were a few doubts, especially at the beginning of my third year as to if and when I would finish university, so I was beyond shocked when I got the official email to reserve my graduation date and time. I would like to talk about the preparation that went into celebrating this achievement and the graduation ceremony itself because it all rounded my university experience over the last three years.
Once I had got my date and time I confirmed this with my dad before confirming my attendance. This then led to me being contacted by the university as part of a procedure to ensure disabled student needs were met on the day.
For me, this meant ensuring wheelchair accessibility before and during the ceremony. Due to me being in an electric wheelchair and only having the use of one hand it was arranged that my PA Melody would be with me on the day and come with me on to the stage to help me receive my certificate so I was able to shake the hand of the vice-chancellor.
As well as this I also needed to confirm toilet facilities would be available for me to use on the day (specifically one with a hoist), as the usual facilities would be closed on a Friday evening with graduation happening the next day.
As Melody had graduated from DMU a few years prior with a BA, she was able to advise me as to the style of gown I would be required to wear for the ceremony.
The academic gown was black in colour; for others, it was mid-calf length but due to being in a chair I would be given a shorter one. It had elbow-length sleeves and would be worn with a gold and blue stash and black cap.
With this gown in mind, I went to find a dress. Managing to narrow my selection to two blue dresses.
I ultimately selected an elegant, simple, oxford blue dress, made of a sheen type material. Having now chosen my dress I coordinated the rest of my outfit around it and selected cream dolly shoes covered in gems.
I decided to match this with a pair of silver heart earrings and on the day of my ceremony was surprised by Melody with a silver chain necklace with two interconnecting hearts, one in silver and one in rose gold which I also wore.
I decided I wanted to get my nails done for the ceremony so arranged a visit to a local salon. I settled on a deep pink to stand out against my dress.
In the meantime, after confirming my attendance I was given the opportunity to purchase two guest tickets which I gave to my dad and other PA Sabrina who would not be on stage with like Melody. Further on I had the chance to purchase extra tickets.
Although unlimited guests could come to the graduation, without the tickets they would not be able to attend the ceremony itself and would instead watch from a screen in the marquee positioned outside the graduation building. After confirming with my family friends whether they wished to attend the ceremony itself as well, I ensured I was up for 9am when the first tickets would be going online.
Unbeknownst to me, the tickets were actually being released on a staggered basis so I could not actually purchase the two extra tickets for my ceremony until 09:45am. Luckily I was successful in securing the two extra tickets.
While the first two were posted to my house, these extra tickets had to be collected on the day at the marquee.
Having done all that could be done before the day of the graduation the waiting began. The realisation that I had finished university and would be graduating had finally caught up to me and I was very excited and very emotional not knowing what the future may hold. So many people had been telling me that it was such a big occasion and I built it into my head and began to worry about ruining “my moment”.
I also wanted to make sure that I had seen my friends and course mates before or after the ceremony to catch up with them and have photo’s as this was probably the last time I’d see some of them.
On the day of my graduation, I woke up at 08:00am so I and Melody would have enough time to get ready together. We also needed to make sure that we had enough time to get ready to get out and get there, collecting my robes and such like, as well as spending some time relaxing before the ceremony.
First Melody did my makeup. I opted for a simple, elegant look with pink-ish eye shadow to compliment my nails. After this, we curled my hair, which took a lot of time and a lot of hairsprays to make them stick! Finally getting dressed, the look was complete and we set off for Leicester.
To ensure that I would be able to use a toilet with hoisting facilities, I arranged with my previous Halls manager to use my old accommodation room for the day so I could utilise its facilities. I had lived in this room for all three years of my university experience.
Because I have always stayed in that room for the three years I had been able to leave stuff over there in the summer.
This time, however, the room was entirely stripped and was no longer my room, which made it hit home to me more that this was the last time I’d feel like a student at the university. Having used the facilities, we headed over to the Campus Centre.
Throughout the day, particularly in the Campus Centre we were guided and directed as to where we needed to be or go at specific times.
The first thing we needed to do was to collect the robes. To do this we went into a room on the upper floor of the Campus Centre that was full of robes.
As requested via my robe booking I got a shorter robe than the rest of my fellow graduates so I would be able to sit in it comfortably during the ceremony, but still, I needed assistance to put it on.
I gave my code to the woman in charge of handing out our robes and was let past in order to go put it on. Dad was denied access initially and was told he needed to wait elsewhere.
Once explained that I could not put the robe on alone, Dad and Melody were allowed past to assist me. Upon putting the robe over my dress we went into a room where a group of people helped us, readjusted our robes and made sure they sat correctly and we were properly presented.
The robe sat nicely on me although we did have to use a few pins to make sure the robe and the cap stayed in place. The robes sat very heavy on me and the cap felt like I had two heads but I really enjoyed the outfit still due to what it represented.
As previously arranged I went to go and have professional graduation photographs taken of just myself which I would receive copies of later on in the post.
It took a while to get positioned correctly in front of the camera in my chair, but the camerawoman was very patient with me. Usually, you’re only allowed three attempts with a photograph but the woman allowed me to have a few extra tries to ensure I could get the best angle.
Pleased with how my photo’s turned out, I moved to the venue where my graduation would be held and signed in. After registering, I received my extra tickets and went out to join the other graduates.
There was a decent amount of space outside and around the venue for graduates and their families to socialise with each other and take photos. As well as having a number of photographs with my dad and my loved ones, I was able to see and have photographs with two of my greatest friends from my course.
When it was time to go in, someone was very kindly sent out to come and direct me to where I need to go.
Now in the venue, we were led to a massive Hall which held chairs positioned in the centre to seat all the graduates . There was seated stands, both at the far left and right of the hall to seat our guests. Immediately, it felt quite intimate in contrast to some ceremonies I have attended previously. However whether that was because it was a smaller venue or my own ceremony, I am not sure.
Members of graduation staff helped me to my seat and encouraged me to call out to them if I needed any extra support during the ceremony itself, and they reassured me that someone would come and get me and direct me to where I needed to go before I was called upon to the stage.
As we had to be seated half an hour before the ceremony started we had the opportunity to centre ourselves in preparation for the ceremony.
To start, the Dean and the vice-Chancellor came onto the stage and announced that this was number four of twenty-two graduations that would be taking place over eight days.
Immediately they put us at ease by encouraging us to be as loud as we wanted, this included a mini-competition as to who could shout the loudest between us and the previous graduation ceremony.
It wasn’t a rigid or formal ceremony like those I have attended before. Straight away and throughout the ceremony, it was proof that it was quite student-based and focused on what they wanted this day to be.
An academic procession of both students and lecturers proceeded this along the stage. This was followed by the national anthem sung by a chamber choir quartet. Even though the graduation felt quite personal the rituals were upheld.
I think all of this added to the overall importance of the day.
The actual ceremony began in a manner I could only compare to a concert, complete with lights, loud music and video which was very fun and upbeat.
On screens around the hall, photos of graduates and their families before entering the ceremony were displayed. It was very nice to see all of the other graduates and their families enjoying the day. As well as the photos, quotes from fellow students who were graduating in that ceremony were also shown on screen.
These were very touching and heart-warming and I regretted not sending one in myself. After this, there was an actual video feed which included current third-year students sharing their experience of DMU and how much they loved particular parts of the university and what they had learned over the three years.
I only wish that I had participated in one myself.
This led back to speeches from the Dean and vice-chancellor discussing our achievements and the loved ones who supported us in achieving our qualifications. The Dean and the vice-chancellor encouraged us to stay in touch as we went into the professional world.
During this speech, there were mentions of former students and the achievements they had made since graduation from DMU. Although we would have our own lives they encouraged us to stay connected via the hashtag #DMUFORLIFE. This encouraged me more that DMU was all about the students and the family of the university.
The format of a show continued with a performance from the DMU gospel choir. This performance in itself seemed beyond professional and was a standout performance of the day. Unfortunately, I only saw part of the performance as was called up during this time to line up around the back to prepare to take the stage and collect my certificate.
Luckily I could still hear them at least!
A very emotional part hit next, as a particular student was awarded a posthumous BA as she passed away during her studies before official completion.
Following this I watched three students take the stage to receive their certificates. Finally, it was my time to go up, they had already set up a ramp for me to go up and luckily I had Melody to give me that extra push. As I moved across the stage I was literally shaking, when I took my certificate and shook hands with the vice-chancellor. While I was on stage I could vaguely hear the cheers of my dad, who was filming me (when he wasn’t dropping the camera to clap).
Reclaiming my seat I watched my course mates and fellow graduates take the stage as they collected their certificates.
Although I was pleased I did mine first I felt slightly envious that I didn’t take more time collecting my certificate and didn’t do any extra thing which extended my moment. Although I didn’t do it myself, it was fun to watch other students dancing across the stage or taking selfies.
My graduation ceremony was rounded off by another upbeat speech from the vice-chancellor announcing that we were all graduates of class 2019. A final very loud cheer echoed this achievement for us all and gave way to one of my favourite songs.
This is Me! as featured in The Greatest Showman.
I was encouraged to take the stage first and have my photo taken with the Dean and Vice-Chancellor before the stage was swapped with other students.
This was again a very emotional part for me and I was all captured on my dad’s camera. Flooding outside the graduates relocated their families and had more sentimental photographs taken. Personally, I got very emotional at this point because I had been able to share this very special day with some very special people in my life.