Honorary graduates recognised in week of ceremonies

20 October 2023
Time to read
7 minute read
Cathy Ryan dressed in graduation robes having her hat adjusted
Cathy Ryan MBE

Five honorary graduates with strong Suffolk roots have been recognised for their extraordinary achievements in this year’s graduation ceremonies.

Classic FM broadcaster and author of the Gaspard the Fox children’s book series, Zeb Soanes, was the first to pick up his honorary degree in a ceremony at Great Yarmouth Minster alongside University of Suffolk at East Coast College students.

The Lowestoft born-and-raised broadcaster, who has also been a newsreader and presenter on BBC television and radio, was joined by his parents for the ceremony on Friday afternoon.

Zeb said: “It means the most coming from Suffolk. Suffolk is very much at the heart of who I am, and even though work has been, by necessity, in London for the past quarter of a century, Suffolk is an essential part of me.”

He told students: “Never forget where you are from – it grounds you, keeps you authentic. And particularly now in an online world where appearance is everything, don’t emulate other people – originate, be yourself.”

Zeb is set to launch his new book soon, Peter’s Little Book of Big Words, and is also continuing to help raise funds for a statue of Benjamin Britten to be erected in Lowestoft.

Cathy Ryan MBE, picked up her honorary doctorate almost 50 years to the day since she studied as a student at what was then the civic college.

A state registered nurse since 1978 where she started at Ipswich Hospital, Cathy has also embarked on a host of charity projects, including helping improve care for those with dementia and needing end-of-life care, healthcare in Aboriginal communities and education for orphans in Africa.

Current charitable projects she is involved in include work with her local rotary club to feed children and provide winter coats, as well as helping organise the Southwold Christmas Day dip, the Women Who Inspire supper for International Women’s Day and the May Starlight Walk for people with dementia.

Cathy said: “It’s a huge honour for me to come back now in this role. I’ve been a student, a contractor of education from here, I’ve been a senior lecturer, an associate dean and now I come back as an honorary doctorate. I’m overwhelmed, it’s a really wonderful honour to have.”

“My sister actually in the late 50s was one of the very first students to come when it was the civic college, and I came in the early 70s. I feel like a very proud grandmother having watched the family grow in stature as well as progression – it’s a lovely, lovely feeling.”

Cathy advised this week’s nursing graduates to “go into it with passion and your eyes wide open and you will receive what you give”.

On Wednesday, Suffolk dialect expert and author Charlie Haylock was awarded an honorary doctorate.

Renowned for his humour-packed talks, Charlie entertained the ceremony with his acceptance speech, all about the many uses of the word ‘up’.

He said: “I’m very honoured, overwhelmed, privileged, and have a feeling of both humble and very proud. Lots of famous people have had this award, and because lots of famous people have had this award I feel very humble that my name is now amongst them. It’s lovely to know that what I have done has been recognised.”

Charlie credits his work on 2021 Netflix movie The Dig, where he helped Ralph Fiennes perfect a Suffolk accent for the story about the Sutton Hoo excavation, as one of his proudest achievements.

“I have taken over 170 bookings to talk about The Dig and how for the first time ever we have had a Suffolk accent on the big screen, it’s never been done before,” he said.

“I think that was the catalyst which is why I am sitting here today. Apart from today, Ralph Fiennes asking me to do that was the cherry on the icing on the cake. I think because there was so much publicity about that, I think it was a catalyst for today. Today is very, very special.”

Also on Wednesday, Ipswich equality and education champion Hamil Clarke MBE was honoured.

The two-time mayor, whose community roles include more than 20 years as an Ipswich Borough councillor, co-founder and longest serving chair of the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) and board positions with Ipswich School and ASSET Education, has a long association with the university stretching back to its earliest days.

He said: “It is very, very exciting because I went to what was then the civic college. I was with this college on the board all the way through until we got a university, so it is a long time. I started on the advisory panel of the old college and stayed with it all the way through.”

Addressing students, he added: “To the graduates today, I would like to say that many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up. No matter what goals you set, be true to yourselves and persevere until you achieve them.”

Rural Coffee Caravan chief executive Ann Osborn closed the week’s honorary degree celebrations.

“It’s such an honour, and very exciting, although I was very nervous I have to say,” she said.

The Rural Coffee Caravan travels across Suffolk to help those in some of the most isolated communities to combat loneliness and foster community cohesion.

Ann said what makes her proudest about the project is “the connections that we have made, the relationships we have helped people build, the communities that we have helped to strengthen”.

Ann, who also established the 500 Suffolk Reasons initiative where people gift £1 a week to help those in financial crisis, added: “We have provided a route into services that so many people didn’t even know existed but needed.”

Ann advised students to “be kind, always, and look out for each other – that’s the most important thing. Just look up, be present and offer assistance. Even just a hello, smile at someone or say good morning.”

Rounding up the week, Professor Helen Langton MBE, Vice-Chancellor and CEO of the University of Suffolk, said: “Graduation week has been a truly special occasion across campus, as we came together to celebrate the achievements of our new graduates. We had some inspirational speeches from our five honorary graduates, and our graduating students delivering the vote of thanks in their ceremonies.

“We are tremendously proud of all of their hard work during their time at the University of Suffolk, and we look forward to seeing them thrive in their future careers.”

Find out more about previous years’ honorary graduates on the university webpage here: Honorary Graduates and Fellows | University of Suffolk (uos.ac.uk)

Charlie Haylock standing outside a University of Suffolk sign wearing graduation robes
Charlie Haylock
Hamil Clarke standing by a window and looking out, dressed in graduation robes
Hamil Clarke MBE
Ann Osborn dressed in graduation robes standing outside the university smiling
Ann Osborn
Zeb Soanes dressed in graduation robes making a thumbs up gesture and smiling
Zeb Soanes

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