He has had a long and winding road through Anglia Ruskin University in the Faculty of Education on the ‘Education Studies’ Course, a face to face three year taught course.
I sat proudly with my parents as Andrew went up onto the stage to collect his degree. 120 other people from Ultralab (1990-2006)’s Ultraversity degree course were also in the Cathedral and took their turn to collect their 100% Online Degrees. It was great to hear the Ultralab (1990-2006) team cheer Andrew as he walked up on stage.
With the closure of Anglia Ruskin’s ‘Ultralab (1990-2006)’ as a department in its own right, I found it really hard to swallow some of the departing Vice Chancellors speech words on how the University is commited to widening participation and providing opportunity for all. Since I’ve been part of this University three of the Universities most fundamentally radical and well respected widening participation units have been closed.
What was refreshing was the words of Bishop Simon Barrington-Ward, who received a honerary doctorate from the University. His speech was really quite special, it was a shame that he was not told by those that asked him to speak that 120 of the graduates before him had never met before, yet had all been a part of the same degree course, and indeed had come from a rich variety of backgrounds and would not have traditionally undertaken University in the traditional University sense.
Ultraversity really is a considerably remarkable degree, delivered by a condiderably remarkable team which has just been considerably downsized too.
I’ve copied here the words of Bishop Simon Barrington-Ward, and indeed congradulate him on some wonderful words of wisdom, and well deserved doctorate:
I would like first and foremost to congratulate most warmly , deeply and heartily all those this day who have received their awards, and to rejoice with them.
Its a very great moment for anyone to arrive at today like this and I do wish them all very well indeed.
After Peter Curtis-Brown’s wonderfully generous and impressive sounding citation, you may well think that I certainly must have a lot to live down. I suppose what I really mean by that is a recital however accurate and kindly in some respects at least accurate of all the things that you’ve done or that have been done to you like those CV’s which we sometimes have to write really are actually a bit static and unreal compared with what one has felt ones self. The reality, your life as you really experience it is always rather different. It has a rhythm about it of always living down, as you might say, and then, being lifted up again. It has a constant sense that someone who’d gone into a monastery asking a monk how he was getting on, heard from him, “oh its alright”, he replied, “its just falling down and getting up again, all the time”.
I think all our lives are a bit more like that, most of us pass through a great many times of being broken, bewildered and then having to be restored and made whole, and to find our bearings again, and its some kind of strange strength from within ourselves, deep within ourselves, I would dare to suggest from beyond ourselves, that lifts us up, and carries us through.
When you come to a time like today, all of us are lifted up onto a higher point from which we can look back over many struggles and can rejoice in this great moment. Wearing our gowns and our hoods in this great company we surely must be made very happy, I certainly am, and those that care about us are made very happy too. We know that this is the very greatest pledge of the kind of fulfillment towards which we will be striving all our future struggles. Its good to have these moments.
Its for that reason, that this honour, being given a place in your ranks, and a way of continuing to belong within the Anglia Ruskin University means so much to me. I have no doubt that many of those graduating here today entered the university quite sure that this was the right place for them, and worked their way through to the point which they have now reached with reasonable confidence although I’m sure everyone will have had their struggles and doubts at times but what has struck me from the moment I first came on to the Chaplaincy Council here was that amongst the students who I met, and many more who I have heard about, especially some of the mature students who contribute so much to the younger participants in their courses, there were quite a large number who never in their life thought it remotely possible that they would never enter upon a University education. Its most important and impressive that this University has provided them with the setting within which they could find a new confidence in their ability a new creativity, and the opening up of a new life.
A document which the University chaplains at the Cambridge and Chelmsford campuses of this University helped to produce moved me deeply when I first read it, and i treasure it still, and re-read it. Its a booklet entitled ‘A New Start’ which was produced, believe it or not, in 2000. After a brilliant introduction by the then Chaplain, Cambridge, Malcolm Guite, the editor, ten students each tell of their own struggle to attain a degree, and in several cases, go on to a postgraduate degree. They speak so effectively and vividly and honestly about the very unpromising situations from which most of them began, and go on to show us how they came through to what was clearly a magnificent achievement for each and for all of them. Several of them had few or no o-levels, perhaps some CSE’s, one had none of any of these, one or two got into an access course in a further education college, or an Open University course. One was 33, married with children and had never thought of further education before, but with seven O-Levels gained in her teens, which she had almost forgotten, was accepted into the then ‘Anglia General Nursing Course’ and went on to midwifery.
Several of them had tremendous obstacles to overcome. Steve Carey after an apprentice training course in Electronics, which enabled him to teach became diabetic and lost his sight. After a terrible Kidney trouble and dialysis he was given a transplant but his description of what it was like to be the first blind student at Anglia to win through largely by talking and listening, he couldn’t read much, and some people read little bits to him, to gaining a 2:1 honours degree using computers with speech, carrying a long cain for mobility, and using a guide dog. He had no proper access to information, no one understood yet what his requirements were, and other younger students were often a bit frightened about talking to him, nobody seemed to do that for the first six weeks, he said. In spite of this he had tremendous motivation and had taught himself to use braille, although there was nothing much written in it in the University then. After graduating he took up the work for the Anglia University of developing the most modern transcriptions scripts centre then in the country, together with recording studios of broadcast quality. This lead to the Cambridge Campus offering training for those with different abilities, which became self funding. He has since done a course in Management and completed a Masters degree. What a story.
Two or three of the women were strongly discouraged in childhood and youth and had a very low self image. The parents of one said infatically to her “Only posh people go to University, you cant go” another had been remorselessly told she was unintelligent and she believed it all her life until a friend almost pushed her into a college where she had no difficulty in getting GCSE’s and A Levels.
ut the most powerful stories of all were those of two men Stuart Homes and James Hows. Stuart grew up on a remote farm with the least possible schooling but he learned instinctively to relate to plants and animals and developed a passion for the natural world and for rural people. Eventually he got himself out to Canada where he related deeply to the CRE Indians but eventually, trying to take a small boat along the Hudson Bay he crashed into the Harbour key and eventually was so damaged he was in hospital for a year. Eventually he was relatively healed and after a years Open University course got into a department of the Anglia University called ‘UCANA’. I’m afraid I haven t found out quite what that is, I should have, but it must have been an amazing institution because he was encouraged to design a course covering his own interests in Ecology and Conservation. He’s clearly a profoundly spiritual man in the fullest sense and being at University convinced him, he said in that we need a revolution in human kind. He was working for transformation, and still is. His research involved mapping pollution levels close to roads, Malcolm Gite the Chaplain pictured him as he studied the plants along the margins of Motorways so that stressed out commuters on the M11 might have seen an unlikely figure crouching at the roadside, studying plants that would absorb pollutants into themselves and their routes, and cleansing the soil and the air.
James House, the other, had a terrible upbringing, seen as illegitimate, rejected by his birth mothers family, adopted into a Nunnery where a Sister was kind to him for a bit, going on briefly into a warm and welcoming Irish Family, alas he was then snatched away by his birth mother to a dreadful life in an English town where he clashed with her strange new husband, and was so harshly treated that he was rescued by social services, and adopted by two people who at last really loved him and became his Mum and Dad. But he suffered from a tough secondary school where he learned nothing, became in fights with other drop outs only escaping to continue the art which he had withdrawn since he was a small child, and in which he won his only O Level. Also he enjoyed studying and working with a kindly local archaeologist. He drifted into underpaid jobs, went out to Spain with a friend and again involved in fights tried to sell drugs to get his fare back to the UK. He was arrested, imprisoned indefinatly, had a kind of break down and at last returned to the UK where he became involved with a bullying older woman, for a couple of years at least. And then through Huntington Regional College he managed to do an access course in English and Art and won his way into Anglia, still supported by his long suffering adoptive parents. He describes as several of the other story tellers do, having to dig very deep inside. I’m sure there will be some people here today who recognise that description, to find the strength, that is, he said, that is in everybody, with the support of friends and his home. Gradually he won through to becoming a truly remarkable sculptor, a bit of a genius, using glass and other translucent materials. Malcolm Guite the then Chaplain then helped him immensely James said and James now beautiful abstract geometric form which he saw as a celebration of life of being able to move out of the darkness in my life into light. It’s notable greatly how members of Anglia Staff and the Chaplaincy, Cambridge and Chelmsford helped these Students to rise above their circumstances, overcome their self doubt and be carried through to fulfillment.
One of the women, Jo Clarke describes what a brilliant experience Anglia University became for her and describes going on one of Ivor Moody’s Chelmsford Chaplaincy expeditions to Croatia to work in a Children s hospital painting and decorating, there may be some here who have done something similar. It was an amazing experience, she said, which really changed my life.
She went back twice afterwards and it meant so much to her. Another man John Day describes vividly what Peter Chapman, then in the English Department did to help him transform his essays over a summer holiday. He gave him a structure to apply, made him more confident to put his ideas into a more acceptable format. He encouraged him at times when he thought his personal strength and resources were running out.
What stories these are.
Ivor Moody, the Chaplain I mentioned taking expeditions to Croatia, which he is still doing has a stock of this booklet ‘A New Start’, and he’s laid them on the table at the back. I do suggest that anyone who likes might take them, I can assure you will find the stories moving and exciting.
It was turned afterwards into a kind of 3D show by taking groups of live students to places to talk about their experiences. One or two presentations having being held the intention then became, and still is to prepare a DVD of students who might share their own experience in the way their predecessors did.
They don’t all have to be as dramatic as that, but they all can be stories about how even the most confident of us helped and recreated in many ways by our experience in this University. I’ve laboured this theme, because I feel so profoundly convinced that this University with its openness to all kinds of people, its capacity to give them encouragement to grow, and to change and its immense creativity has so much to offer. If I’ve seen the Chaplaincy of both Chelmsford and Cambridge being at the heart of this process, which is still going on over the whole University which is beyond any one centre, it is because the chaplains have been outstanding people to this day and indeed the staff in such a place with its own constant movement and change drawing in everyone in this process of breaking down and remaking, having themselves being drawn to a frequent experience of disorientation and reorientation within an institution which like most new Universities particularly, seems itself constantly on the move.
To cope with such an experience these also need what the students and their stories describe, to draw on deep laid resources which can carry you through dieing to the old and being raised up to the new, a continuous resurrection. Obviously you wont be amazed, especially standing here, that I cant help seeing this as the characteristic movement of the spirit of God in Christ, a wounded being along side us, and with us, always lifting us up, raising us into wholeness again and again.
So todays graduation for all of us is not just a grand finale which it certainly is, all trumpets blowing, it also has to be a beginning, a new beginining, as we’re sent out, all of us, into an endless adventure. And the energy, the courage and the faith in which we have experienced in some of those around us here has found ourselves in crucial moments much to our surprise will keep leading us on into further transformations. We must truly trust to that.
Perhaps what this brings out in all of us is a touch of Robert Brownings self description out of another heartier, and more heroic age;
“One who never turned his back but marched breast forward, Never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph, Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, Sleep to wake”.