Dundee and Angus College is delighted to welcome students back to the Caird Hall on Wednesday 24 November for the College’s first ‘in-person’ graduation in over two years.
Students who missed out on a physical graduation in 2020 will join the most recent cohort of graduates from 2021 to celebrate their academic achievements alongside family and friends.
Approximately 600 students who have successfully completed Higher National programmes such as HNC or HND, BA degree, SVQ and PDA awards will cross the stage over the two ceremonies, cheered on by family and friends.
One special guest who will be among the platform party is National Director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland, Louise Macdonald OBE FRSE, who will be delivering a motivational address.
Awarded an OBE in 2016 in recognition of her work to support young people, Louise’s commitment has been shaped by 25 years’ experience of community settings and national programmes in the public and third sectors.
Simon Hewitt, Dundee and Angus College Principal says, “I am delighted to be welcoming our students, their families and their loved ones back to our first in-person graduation since 2019.
“This has been an incredibly difficult time for everyone, with our students suffering significant disruption to their learning over the past two years. However, I am so proud of the determination, resilience, and sheer doggedness they have shown to complete their studies and today is about recognising that success.
“Every graduation is special, but this one is extra special and I look forward to hearing the laughter and seeing the happy faces of all the graduating students. They truly deserve this day, and we will collectively celebrate in a way we have been unable to do so for a long time.
“Personally, this is a very special occasion for me as it is my first graduation as the new Principal and my first opportunity to offer my personal congratulations and thanks to both our students and our staff for their amazing efforts during this period.
“Graduation is a time to pause and reflect on great achievements and they don’t come much bigger than this.”
Meet some of our graduating students
The thing 21-year-old Christina Panagiotou loved the most about studying at Dundee and Angus College was the sense of community and the fact that everyone in the dance department knew each other and cared about their wellbeing.
‘I live in Cyprus and it was a real wrench to leave home and come to the UK to study. So, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to coming to Dundee.’
But throughout her three years of studying for a BA(Hons) in dance, Christina has grown and flourished.
‘My absolute favourite time of the year was working towards a performance. I loved everything that comes with that; the rehearsals, the costumes and finally the show itself. It was a fabulous experience!’
Now, with all these great experiences to draw on, Christina is graduating with a first and is looking forward to the thing she wants the most.
‘I just want to perform. It’s what makes me want to get up in the morning and brings me joy!’
Arran Hill had always wanted to work in hospitality, but every time he tried for a job as a chef or a waiter, he got the same answer ‘you need more training’.
‘Hearing that just made me even more determined to succeed,’ says 35-year-old Arran from Dundee, and in 2017 he started at the College. Now four years later, despite the challenges of lockdown, Arran has competed a Certificate in Hospitality and Professional Cookery and is graduating with an HND in Hospitality.
“I couldn’t have completed this course without the support of the College and my family and friends; I am really proud of what I achieved. I learned lots of different aspects of the industry from event planning to preparing food in a restaurant style and how to serve customers in a restaurant setting.”
Arran says some of his favourite parts of the course was working alongside professional chefs at the Food and Flower Festival as well as high pressure events at the Apex hotel in Dundee and the St Andrew’s Golf Hotel. And the best news of all is that this experience has landed him a job as a chef in Dundee.
Olivia Blackburn is a huge success story. Not just because she won a place on the College’s HNC Care and Administrative Practice Programme. Not just because she used this to enter 2nd year of university. And not just because she has already succeeded as a healthcare support worker. Olivia is a winner because of the way she has turned her life around.
While still at school, Olivia had experienced significant mental and physical health challenges. Her biggest battle was always going to be trying to regain a degree of confidence in herself.
But after going on a six-week Princes Trust Course, run by Dundee and Angus College and NHS Scotland, her life really changed for the better.
Her experiences on the course, including a placement on a gastroenterology ward at Ninewells hospital, led to her getting a job as a healthcare support worker. She did so well she was given approval by her Senior Charge Nurse to progress onto the nursing programme, meaning she could become a nurse through a vocational route, rather than an academic one.
Although Olivia is graduating today with an HNC Care and Administrative Practice, she has already used this qualification to enter 2nd year of university.
Olivia’s efforts have already been recognised as she won the Prince’s Trust Pride of Scotland Young Achiever award in July 2021.
“The Prince’s Trust and NHS have had a massive impact on my life - as soon as I started the course, I already saw a positive future for myself. A future that I didn’t see before; having a career I would be proud of, and one I love.”
That, believe it or not, is Aleksandra Lohmus’ favourite word. But having been born in beautiful Estonia near the Baltic Sea, Aleks and her twin sister Anna were going to need more than Mary Poppins to help them if they were to achieve their dream of learning English. With little spare money, it seemed like an impossible quest until their grandmother spotted an advert for a free ESOL course at Dundee and Angus College in the back of a newspaper.
“My school friend was already studying in Dundee and she was calling us every day telling me how fantastic it is.”
Aleks and her twin Anna had loved British Culture since they were children and had watched English speaking tv shows such as ‘Animal Planet’ and listened to English music. They were determined to get here and finally aged just 17 they arrived in the city to study ESOL at D&A.
“At first we were worried because we were the youngest in the class. There were people there aged from 18 to 60 and from countries like China, Poland and Italy, but we soon stopped being shy and loved it.”
Since then Aleks and Anna have gone from strength to strength. They have won prizes for their commitment and achievements. Today they’re graduating with an HND in biological sciences, but have already used this as a springboard to Abertay University where they’ve joined third year of Honours Biomedical Science.
They both agree that the best thing about their experience has been the support of the staff.
“They are always ready to give you a helping hand if you struggle with something and they make you feel you are never alone. There is always help available for every kind of person and we really appreciate what hard work they do for students.”
Lynn Croal had been working in a factory for eight years when she was made redundant.
“It gave me an opportunity to re-evaluate my choices. I have always been passionate about animals and decided I wanted to use this opportunity to better myself and turn what was a negative into a positive outcome.”
Now in her thirties, Lynn decided to study for an HND in Animal Care at D&A College.
“My two years at College presented some challenging experiences such as the cyber-attack and the ongoing pandemic. For many people like me, doing home studying was difficult in itself but also having a child to home school made for, shall we say, ‘interesting discussions’!
“The lockdown across the country did make things much more stressful and some of us were undecided about what to do once College ended. Would there be more lockdowns? Would there be jobs for those who had just qualified?”
Luckily Lynn was successful in securing a Veterinary Care Assistant role.
“I was very fortunate because the College had organised work experience for me at the PDSA in Dundee. I then got a job there after completing my course and it’s thanks to D&A that I got my foot in the door.”
When Heidie Hird reached her fifties she decided it was time for a change. Opting to study Travel and Tourism at Dundee and Angus College, she progressed from NC to HNC then HND.
“I was encouraged throughout by my lecturers who believed in me and the door was always open if I needed help. I loved the fact that I still have many of my classmates as friends and we keep in contact and encourage each other with everything. I am really proud that due to my work experience over the years I was able to help a lot of my classmates with some of the role play assessments.”
When Heidie first started studying Travel and Tourism she was unsure which path she wanted to follow.
“The subject choices gave me a wider range of knowledge so I could make more certain choices. I was aiming to be a Tour Guide or a Tourist Information Officer but Covid 19 changed all that. This inspired me to attend university as I had the knowledge and confidence gained through my three years at college. As I had passed my HND I was able to go straight into 3rd year of my course at Stirling University.”
Graduation will be a particularly poignant occasion for Heidie who lost her best friend while studying towards her HND. She is honoured that members of her friend’s family will be in the audience today.
She has been supported and encouraged throughout her studies by her daughter, Heather, who is unfortunately unable to attend the event due to illness. Instead, she will be cheering her mum on at home when she tunes into the live-stream of the ceremony.
Eventually Heidie would like to start a tourist information business, specialising in disabled tourism. She would also love to be a Tour Guide. Here, she sums up her experience: “Never be afraid to take the opportunity to change your life. I did it at the age of 51 and it was the best move I could have made.”