Over 500 students graduated from West Lothian College this year.

Hundreds of new graduates with the skills, qualifications and knowledge that will make a difference to people’s lives, to communities, and to the economy at a local, regional and national level.

Here’s my Principal’s message to our Class of 2020.

Graduation is special, although it was very different this year. I loved sharing this celebration with you — even though I didn’t see you walk across the stage or shake your hand like I normally do.

Congratulations on achieving your qualification in the most difficult year that all of us have ever experienced. You made it through and should be very proud of yourself!

Sticking in at college and achieving your qualification was possible for many of you due to the support of those around you — lecturers and other staff at the college, family, friends, fellow students and your Student Association. I would like to acknowledge all those who supported you over the year.

However, you were the main reason for your success. You did the hard work to achieve your qualification. You kept going when times got tough.

And, times got tough when the college and the whole country went into lockdown at a crucial time during your studies!

So, well done you!

Allow yourself time to reflect on how well you did in the most difficult of times. Be very proud of yourself and that qualification you now have.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, and we’re all learning as we go as we live through this global crisis that none of us was prepared for.

It’s likely that the pandemic has disrupted your plans this year.

While some of you have moved onto university, it’s probably not what you expected.

Many of you have come back to college to study at a higher level and are having a very different start to your course.

Some of you are in jobs, hopefully building towards the career you’re aiming for.

However, some of you might not yet be doing what you’d hoped for.

The year ahead is going to be a tough one for a lot of people and I want to share a little bit of my own experience when the odds were stacked against me.

I was out of work for a long time in the 1980s during a period of mass youth unemployment. After applying for hundreds of jobs without success, I channelled my energy into campaigning against injustice. This helped me cope with the soul-destroying effect of signing on the dole every week and receiving countless job rejections.

Although I wasn’t earning, I picked up skills from this experience that have helped me throughout my career including in my current job as Principal of West Lothian College. Skills like communication, managing with limited finances, and resilience.

When I look back over my career, every twist and turn and even the occasional dead-end led to new skills and insights into what drove me. And those insights led me to my next step which eventually led to this job.

My message is this.

Don’t despair if things don’t work out as you planned. Your education and skills are valuable and will count. You might hear politicians and the media talking about a lost generation, the Covid generation. Whatever you do, don’t give into this. You are not a lost generation!

You are part of the generation of students that kept going through a worldwide pandemic and a lockdown that closed society as we knew it. Overnight, you coped with a complete shift from face-to-face teaching to remote online learning! You achieved your qualification during the most difficult period that any of us has ever had to deal with.

So, if your plans don’t work out right away, build on your education by volunteering for something you care about, campaigning for something you’re passionate about, or learning new skills.

You’ve already demonstrated you can stick with it in the most difficult of times. You’ve shown that you’re able to adapt to unprecedented and dramatic change. That took some doing and I respect you for that. In fact, I can hardly find the words to express how proud I am of you.

Your determination and achievement should give you confidence in your ability to succeed in whatever you do next.

I’ll finish with a few words of advice.

Stay interested in whatever you do, keep learning and don’t be afraid of change. This will help you get the most out of your career in this fast-moving, ever-changing world. Change will happen – be ready for it!

Build your networks. Connect with experts on social media to keep up-to-date with your specialism, seek advice and get yourself noticed.

Build your resilience. Sometimes in life and work things go wrong, so make time to keep yourself mentally strong. This will help you cope with any challenges you face so that you come out stronger.

Finally, in whatever you do in life, be kind, be fair and treat people the way you want to be treated yourself. This will make you a better student, a better employee and a better person.

Thank you for choosing West Lothian College. Everyone at the college wishes you success, fulfilment and happiness for your future, and we are all proud that you are a graduate of our college.

Principal Jackie Galbraith, Guest speaker Aidan Martin, and College Chair Alex Linkston

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