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Published: 04 August 2022

This July, St George’s held its first in person graduation ceremonies in three years. Seven ceremonies took place over four days on 12, 27, 28 and 29 July at the Barbican centre. These memorable events saw over 2,000 graduates cross the stage to formalise the successful completion of their course.

Over the course of the ceremonies, graduates from 2020, 2021 and 2022 celebrated their achievements with friends, family and staff. It was a joyful and long-awaited celebration for all who attended.

Becky Kemp Arnold, 2021-22 Students’ Union President opened the ceremonies for 2021 and 2022 graduates, saying, ‘I am here today to wish the biggest of congratulations to every single one of our graduates, for persevering through the many successes and occasional failures that have led you to where you are today. When I look around this room, I see exceptional individuals who have overcome unimaginable challenges. Undoubtedly, you have had to adapt to the uncertainty of living through a pandemic, as well as managing the everyday trials of student life. The last two years have truly shown that life can be unpredictable and challenging, but you survived it, and built skills in resilience and adaptability that will stay with you for life.’

Speaking to the graduating class of 2020, SU President 2018-2020, Muhammad Omar Hijazi, said, ‘I am standing here today in front of students who have undergone the most rigorous academic courses and challenges and have done so to dedicate their life to serving others. You had to face challenges in the form of political unrest, wars, protests, climate change, and of course the pandemic, all on top of the existing obstacles that students face daily. You showed everyone what you are capable of as you did it.

And so today, the truly inspiring story is yours, each and every single one of you here today are heroes and champions in your right in your own story, you are the inspiration and the epitome of what can be done with the George’s spirit.

- Omar Hijazi, SU President 2018-2020 -

‘Let’s look at this as the beginning of even more successful, even more exciting and even more amazing years ahead.’

Honorary graduates

Over the seven ceremonies there were five honorary graduates who received an award for their distinguished service to St George’s, or to science communication.

Professor Paul Jones, world-leading chest physician, was made an Honorary Fellow of St George’s. During his long career at St George’s, he held various posts including Medical Director and Head of Division. He is an expert in the quantification of symptoms and health status in lung disease and several of the questionnaires he designed (including one named after St George’s) are still used in routine clinical practice worldwide.

Dr Lucy Mathen is a journalist turned ophthalmologist who studied at St George’s. In 2000 she founded the charity Second Sight which works with community eye hospitals in India, offering on-site clinical training and raising funds for free cataract surgery. Second Sight has restored the sight of more than half a million people and helped prevent countless others from going blind. She received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Medicine.

Dr Aggrey Burke is a retired transcultural psychiatrist and academic, who has been a leading campaigner against discrimination in healthcare throughout his 40-year career. Dr Burke spent the majority of his career at St George’s and became highly regarded for his extensive research on racism and mental illness. His research into racism and sexual discrimination in London medical schools in 1986 prompted positive changes in admissions processes at St George’s. He received an honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

Bill Bryson is one of the most recognisable names in publishing. His books have sold over 25 million copies and been translated into more than 40 languages. He is currently patron of the Love Hearts Appeal at the Great Ormond Street Hospital, which aims to raise funds for new facilities for transplant patients, and to increase awareness of the need for organ donations. He received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Medicine for services to science communication.

Although unable to attend in-person owing to ill-health, Bill Bryson's acceptance speech was delivered by Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise), Professor Jon Friedland, who shared Bill’s ten simple rules for a good life. These included the importance of being compassionate - ‘Be more than good. Be compassionate. Be kind. And particularly, be kind to people who are worse off than you, which you will find is most people.’

He also encouraged those listening to appreciate small pleasures -

If you think about it, most of every life is a long, steady, pleasing accumulation of little things, of lovely skies, interesting landscapes, pleasant meals, amusing conversation, stimulating challenges, long walks, good books, contented weekends, hot baths and clean sheets, unexpectedly pleasant encounters, warm embraces, little jokes, soft young children, slobbery pets and a million things more. Life is mostly good stuff, most of it small and fleeting, much of it barely noticed, but nearly all of it quite splendid. Learn to appreciate those little things.'

- Bill Bryson -

Professor David Strachan is an Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology. He led the development of population health at St George’s from 2004 to 2016 and served on the University’s Council. His prize winning paediatric respiratory research informed legislation in several countries to ban smoking in cars when children are present. He received an Honorary Fellowship of St George’s.

Professor David Strachan said, 'Celebrate your difference; do something different; and make a difference - aspirations that are, I suggest, as fitting for St George’s in its new-found status as an independent university as they are for individual graduands. I have been privileged to have spent 32 fulfilling years working at St George’s, and I am grateful for the opportunity, through this fellowship, to continue my association with an institution which has thrived on being distinct, distinctive and distinguished.'

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