Home>News>The Classes of 2020 and 2021: travelling the most challenging of roads

The Classes of 2020 and 2021: travelling the most challenging of roads

​News | 21 April 2022

After a Covid-induced absence of two years and nine months, Cardiff Metropolitan University returned last week to The Wales Millennium Centre to hold five Graduation Ceremonies for the Class of 2020. The week following Easter will see a further six ceremonies for the Cardiff Met Class of 2021 and by July I hope we’ll be back to our more normal schedule when we return to the WMC for seven ceremonies for the Class of 2022.

Holding 18 graduation ceremonies in four months is a logistical and physical challenge but it is the emotional impact of Covid that we have sought to address by hosting these ceremonies and celebrations at the earliest opportunity.

Shortly after the first Covid lockdown in March 2020 it became evident that we would be unable to host our July 2020 ceremonies. In early discussion with my alma mater’s Vice-Chancellor - a man who had been President of Hong Kong University at the time of the SARS epidemic 20 years ago - he told me that ‘every pandemic lasts two winters and this is spring…’. I then made the early decision to postpone the 2020 ceremonies knowing that we were likely to need to postpone the 2021 ceremonies too. As the Covid pandemic progressed, we watched the classes of 2020 and 2021, and now all the way up to the Class of 2025, experience the impacts of the loss of in-person teaching, social events, music concerts, sport competitions, overseas travel and all those social and cultural rites of passage that, in more normal times, we all experienced en route to adulthood.

The Classes of 2020 and 2021 have waited patiently for their day to walk across the stage and it has been wonderful, once again, to greet each of our graduates individually by name. This month’s Graduation Ceremonies have also afforded an opportunity to share with families and friends the contribution and sacrifices of the Class of 2020 and how proud we are of their achievements: students from health and social care like Violet Thomas and Suzie Barr who moved immediately into front line nursing and social work student Chloe James who started working in a child protection team the day after the first lockdown; Gabrielle Davies who worked in a residential care home for vulnerable older adults and Chella Rowles who moved into Covid infection protection and control; from teacher education PGCE Secondary English student Nathan Jones who led students providing on-line support for parents thrown into home schooling, PGCE Primary students who developed ‘Hampers for Hospitals’, and staff and teacher education students who delivered online wellbeing programmes for communities and yoga sessions streamed to primary schools across Wales. I was also able to acknowledge the work of biosciences students who supported staff who remained at work to undertake pioneering research into antibody testing, product design students who created, manufactured and donated PPE including 3D-printed visors and face mask supports that were approved for NHS use, and those who supported the hosting of Wales’ National Blood Donor Centre and a Covid Testing Centre on campus.

Almost everyone has a story of grief and sacrifice from the last two years and coming together to acknowledge the past, look forward to the future and even shed a few tears together has been vital for students and staff this week.

Every graduation has its stand-out moments and, this week, the juxtaposition of two stories seemed to encapsulate the grief and hope of the last two years. At our first ceremony I was delighted to award a postgraduate degree to mature student, Lora Agbasso, an English teacher who came to Wales with her three young children from the Donbass region of Ukraine after the 2014 Russian invasion. She was our first postgraduate Sanctuary Scholar, supported with a full bursary to complete a Masters degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Lora is still an English teacher, only now she’s teaching English in Newport and to refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war and conflict.

At our final ceremony of the week there was a standing ovation from the Cardiff School of Management Class of 2020 for a young man called Liam who sadly passed away during his final year. There is no more moving duty for a Vice-Chancellor than to present a posthumous degree to bereaved family members and this week we hosted nine members of Liam’s family on graduation day with his sister collecting his award on stage. The sharing of this moment of grief and hope was part of the healing process we all need after the last two years.

The Classes of 2020 and 2021 have had the most challenging of roads to travel and have demonstrated incredible determination and resilience in achieving their goals. We will forever be proud of every single one of them.

Professor Cara Aitchison, President and Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff Metropolitan University

This article originally appeared as a University View column in the Western Mail.