The celebratory event featured moving speeches by postgraduate students Emma Pearce and Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai. Emma, who was awarded a Masters in Understanding and Securing Human Rights, spoke of additional challenges faced by students because of the pandemic. Emmanuel spoke of his journey from Freetown, Sierra Leone to his graduating as a Doctor of Philosophy.
BAFTA-winning actor Chiwetel Ejiofor was awarded an honorary degree recognising over 25 years’ dedication to the dramatic arts across both stage and screen.
Since first stepping into the spotlight in school plays at age 13, Ejiofor has continually reshaped the arts through his intense character portrayals spanning Shakespearean figures to Marvel heroes. Following early acclaim in productions of Othello and Macbeth, his breakout role in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad launched a prolific career bringing visibility to often unseen human stories.
Professor Clare Lees, Vice Dean of the School of Advanced Study and Director of the Institute of English Studies, said: “Chiwetel brings to us the different stories and characters we need to imagine and reimagine so that we can better understand what it means to be human; stories of freedom and slavery, immigration and poverty, race and education, fantasy and possibility, sexuality, identity and the family.
“There can be no more important time, in this onslaught of cuts to the arts and the theatre, to education and culture, to speak for and about the arts and the humanities, and to insist on their value to us all. For, as Chiwetel reminds us, with the many stories and selves that an actor embodies, comes deeper knowledge, greater empathy and better self-understanding.”
In his acceptance speech, Chiwetel talked about his lifelong love of London – a city, he said, that demonstrates the benefit of co-operation rather than conflict. Chiwetel went on to thank the University of London for his award and to congratulate his fellow graduates.
The graduates were attended by more than 200 guests at the ceremony, which was opened by Vice-Chancellor, Professor Wendy Thomson CBE and Professor Jo Fox, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean, School of Advanced Study.
Professor Fox said:
“We need graduates in the humanities and social sciences more now than ever before. The challenges we face as a modern society are complex; and the solutions to them will be equally complex, in need of the kinds of explanation, analysis and creativity that the graduates of our programmes bring. We need graduates who understand the human dimensions to societal problems.
“To confront climate change, global mobility, social injustice, human rights, poverty, we will need to understand people. In these troubled times, we will need to reaffirm the values we hold, and determine – together - what kind of society we want to be. These profound – and urgent – questions require insight into the human condition from multiple perspectives.
“Our studies are about making a difference to the world; but to study the humanities and social sciences is also about making sense of our own existence.”