Friday, 11 November 2011

Full Stop - the PhD has finished

Yesterday I received my PhD at our Faculty of Arts graduation.I thought I would tell you about what an amazing day it was. It is always a spectacular event. For 3 days Winchester is full of excited graduates in black and purple robes (PhD robes are glorious, they are red and purple). Proud families sit outside the numerous cafes chattering and laughing before going in.

Our graduations always runs like clockwork thanks to all in Registry and it is held in the Cathedral which, and I'm sorry but there is no other word for it, is awesome! A great deal of pomp and circumstance goes on. I was very lucky to have my family there to share the moment (including my three and half month old grandson who was beautifully behaved).

It always starts when the senior management and lecturers plus those receiving honorary degrees (Phillippa Forrester and Tony Palmer, who both gave fantastic and inspirational speeches) process down the aisle to the front where they take their places on the dais. Once there all the students are presented to the Chancellor, Dame Mary Fagan, who congratulates every single one of them.

The PhD students come last. This year there were just the two of us in this particular ceremony. Myself and Graham Spencer, who started his PhD at the same time as me so it seemed fitting we should be together. Debbie Welham who also started with us (but finished earlier as she was full time) was ushering and there was a great deal of reminiscing going on! It had been many years since we used to all be sat together on a Monday night doing Research Training.

Many of my friends from the University managed to be in the cathedral too (if you are on facebook you can see many photos!). Plus Sally Ballet, who is a casual verger at the Cathedral (and yes she is quite offended by the title) and like a family member. She and I have been friends for over 20 years so it seemed fitting that she could be there too.

This was the year I particularly wanted to graduate as it was the first time that I had students graduating who I had taught from the first year through to the end. They were a great group and I was so proud of them.

The usher at the end of our row was also a great friend, Leonie, I was just surrounded by friends. It was wonderful. She gave me the biggest smile ever as she pointed me in the right direction. I waved to my students as I walked by. It is quite an impressive feeling walking up the aisle of the Cathedral to the front where I was my met by my Director of Studies, Andy Melrose, who taught me as an undergrad, then during my MA and finally getting me through my PhD. I am lucky, he has become a great friend along the journey too. He greeted me with one of the biggest grin I have seen from him for a long time. He had to present me to the Chancellor as my name and the title of my thesis is read out. It is all quite formal...

But then it happened, a moment, I will never, ever forget throughout the whole of my life. As I walked (limped) up the stairs so I could hear the clapping start then my children whooping. Suddenly the roof came off the cathedral as the clapping became a crescendo of cheers from my students, friends and colleagues. It was just incredible. The Chancellor said 'Everyone seems very happy about your degree!' When Andy helped me back down the stairs he just said 'Did you hear that?'

Outside I was met by another of my supervisors who happens also to be Senior Pro Vice Chancellor, Professor Liz Stuart, who handed me a feather, which will mean nothing to most of you but to those who know the story of my Mum and feathers will understand how important this was. There were more hugs and photographs and many, many delighted students who came to see me.

The day continued on that sort of a high as I received so many congratulations. Many of my friends joined me for drinks before I took my family for a meal. It was a way of saying thank you as I owe these people so much. They have been great friends and such a support throughout the process.

I was on Cloud 9...and still am.

This has just really been mere details I have found it impossible to explain to you how truly amazing the day was. It seems ironic, I am a writer, yet sometimes words fail to appear when you are trying to describe a perfect moment so am going to end on this song for no other reason than I love it.


  1. Great post Vanessa and congratulations on making it official. Brought back nice memories for me.

  2. Well done, Ness. I was so pleased to be there to share it, and to lend my voice to the roof-raising. You deserved every decibel!

  3. Wonderful post, Ness, and a wonderful moment! I am so delighted that the cathedral roof was literally blown off for you - so very well deserved! x

  4. Thank you everyone. It was a very special moment :-)