MESSAGE TO THE CLASS OF 2021 – Use your education to change your world

Congratulations on achieving your qualification! I am so very proud of you and know that your success will inspire others.

To the children watching the ceremony – be inspired by your mum, dad, sister, brother, cousin or other relative you are supporting. There is a reason they are wearing capes today – they are all super students, super heroes, and I hope you follow their example and become future graduates.

This graduation ceremony rounds off the most unusual and difficult college year we’ve ever had. When I spoke at last year’s virtual graduation, I said that students had faced the worst year ever. Incredibly, the year that followed was even worse and that was the year you studied for the qualification you’re graduating with today.

Despite being the worst year imaginable, more of our students achieved their qualifications than ever before! Looking out at this audience of graduates gives me great confidence and hope.

I see future nurses, social workers, cares and early years practitioners who will look after us throughout our lives. I see future hair, beauty, art, cookery and sports professionals who will create things of beauty and help us feel better about ourselves. I see scientists, engineers and software developers who will contribute to improving the way we work and live our lives.

I know you are all going to make a difference to people’s lives, to the communities you live in, and to the organisations you’ll work in.

I graduated 30 years ago. After being away from education for a while I started my course with a new baby, a low income and a fear that I just wasn’t clever enough to achieve my qualification. What got me through was the kindness and support from my lecturers, my husband, and my doctor as I struggled with post-natal depression in my first year.

When I walked nervously across the stage to receive my graduation scroll, inside I was screaming ‘I did it!’ and thinking about all those who helped me. I know that for many of you a big part of sticking with college and achieving your qualification in such a hard year was the help you got from people around you – your lecturers, family, friends and other students.

I want to say a bit more about the lecturers and other staff who helped you make it through the year. Lecturers worked so hard to deliver your courses in different ways using digital technology. When you were on campus, they made the most of their time with you to help you get through your practical work. And, during the winter lockdown, some even delivered material to your door so you could practice your skills at home.

Our wonderful support staff provided funding in many crisis situations, including preventing evictions. They helped students struggling with isolation and dips in their mental health. They gave out laptops and helped students get online so they could access their learning. And they helped lift your spirits when you were on campus.

I’ve always been impressed by the staff in this college and how much they care for our students. The way they stepped up last year was phenomenal, almost super-human, our own college super heroes.

Lockdown was hard and saw another complete shift to online delivery. On top of that, many of you had to home school children or care for relatives while trying to get on with your own learning. But, you did it! So, very well done!

Many of you are now continuing your education at university or college. Some of you have already moved onto jobs to begin your career. If things haven’t yet worked out as you’d planned, don’t worry. Your qualification and skills are valuable and they will count.

If you’re ever struggling, remember that you were one of a generation of students who kept going through a pandemic that turned the world upside down. So, be very proud of yourself and of that precious qualification you have.

And, while others may have supported you over the year, don’t forget that you were the main reason for your success. You did the hard work to achieve your qualification. You kept going when times got tough.

You have shown you can stick with it in the most difficult times. Use the determination and grit to succeed in whatever you do next – no matter what challenges you face.

My advice in this next phase of your life is to stay interested in whatever you do, keep learning and don’t be afraid of change. Invest time in keeping yourself mentally well to so you can cope with any knocks you face and come out stronger. And, whatever you do in life, be kind, be fair and treat people the way you want to be treated yourself.

When I was a student, I read a lot on the long bus journeys to and from college. One of my favourite authors was Maya Angelou who said something that has stuck with me for many years. She said:

“People might forget what you said, people might forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

That is so true. Every day in college I hear students talk about staff who made them feel valued, confident in themselves and respected.

Your graduation takes place during Black History Month. Nelson Mandela was elected as the first black President of South Africa after spending nearly 30 years in prison for opposing a racist regime. Despite facing terrible injustice, he believed that education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.

Education is powerful. Use your education to change your world. If you can, use your education to change other people’s worlds for the better in the jobs that you are or you will be doing. Use your education to change the world!

Thank you for choosing West Lothian College. It has been a great privilege to be a part of your journey towards a happy and successful future. And remember – we regard you as part of our college family, so please keep in touch, let us know how you’re getting on, and come back and visit us.

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