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Resilience & Diversity Celebrated at UHI Orkney Graduation

Outside the weather couldn’t be more different but inside St Magnus Cathedral the two graduation ceremonies for 3 cohorts (2020, 2021, 2022) of students from Orkney’s University of the Highlands and Islands shared the same theme – a celebration of resilience.

For students who were unable to have an in-person graduation in 2020 and 2021 due to the measures put in place to limit the spread of Covid-19, a ceremony was held on the evening of Thursday 29th of September. It was a beautiful night and inside the applause for the staff and the students filled the cathedral.

The University of the Highlands and Islands is a world leader at online learning, enabling students to access courses wherever they live. But lockdown in 2020 meant that even UHI had to adapt courses for going completely online. Staff were commended at the graduation for achieving this and for the way the students continued their learning despite the loss of in-person meetings.

It was a wild and wet day when the 2022 cohort arrived for their graduation ceremony on Friday 30th of September. St Magnus Cathedral again rang with the applause of parents, friends and families for the achievements of the students and staff.

Before both graduation ceremonies those assembled were treated to the wonderful playing of Ellen Grieve, Alumni Ambassador.

Orkney College UHI Student of the Year 2022

Francesca Meneghetti, who has just begun the fourth year of her degree with the UHI Archaeology Institute, described becoming part of Orkney College UHI as “life-changing” and among the hardest and yet most natural processes she has undertaken.

The Principal of Orkney College Professor Edward Abbott-Halpin congratulating Orkney College student of the year Francesca Meneghetti

She said:

After being highly discouraged from studying archaeology back in Italy, I took my chance and moved abroad to pursue my dream. I came to Orkney straight out of high school at 18, and I did so out of pure intuition and hope, without allowing much logical reasoning to come in my way. The Scotland I knew was the one I had seen in movies and heard songs about and appeared to me as a land of promises and opportunities, a place I could call home. Looking back on my approach to this kind of decision-making, I would say that whilst not being the most reliable, it enabled me to dare to shape my future with intention and trust in myself.

“I came to Orkney UHI without many expectations of my performance as a student here, in order not to be heartbroken in case I would not make it. I did not unpack my suitcase for the first four weeks on the island, ready to go back home. Unexpectedly, feeling significant pressure in not wanting to fail those who had invested their time and resources in me, I rediscovered my strength 2500 km away from family and friends, and took refuge in studying. I fell in love with articles and books I would be reading for my courses, and slowly started finding myself the happiest I had ever been up at night, reading and writing essays.

“My immense gratitude goes to the entirety of the Archaeology Department for enabling this, as well as the wider UHI Orkney staff. Here, I found an outstanding receptiveness to one’s passion and motivation for studying, making me feel welcome and valued. Being able to witness the enthusiasm of lecturers talking about their fields of expertise and their willingness to fully engage with students, made me regularly rejoice in the daily challenges and achievements.

“This brings me to today, as I read an email telling me that I have been awarded Student of the Year at Orkney College UHI. I am grateful as I look back at the funny, stressful, sad, and joyful moments I have shared with staff and friends at the College as they all come together. I can now look back at my experience so far and feel proud of my choices and dedication. My gratitude goes to the Archaeology Department, to The Highlands & Islands Student Association (HISA), to my friends Alannah, Emily, Sara, Maria, Yashodhara, Amalie, Duncan, and many more, who contribute fundamentally to shaping who I am. This award reassures me as I enter the fourth year of my UG Archaeology Degree, and further motivates me to never stop exploring the possibilities around me.”

The University of the Highlands and Islands may be one of our newer universities in Scotland but it is quickly gaining an international reputation for its research and student satisfaction. Spread over several campuses in locations across Scotland, UHI provides a unique learning experience for those choosing to study with it. Its flexible approach to learning, enabling progress from access courses through to advanced level degrees, opens up university education to learners of all ages and geographical location.

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Fiona Grahame

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