We have recently returned from a trip to the North-East of England. Having just worked through almost sixty e mails, commented on blogs, and answered comments on mine, I have discovered that WordPress has put me into ‘moderation’ again. (See previous post)
I can now get on with this post, the tale of the trip to my step-son’s graduation ceremony, with some background information first.
Some students take a seamless path to a degree. They do well at school, get good grades in A levels, and move on to one of their chosen universities. It was always going to be that way for them, irrespective of tuition fees, their background, or any changes in their lives. They knew that they would go to university, and leave with a reasonable degree, in a subject of their choice. This was not the case for Matt. He wanted to be a skilled tradesman, a carpenter. He worked hard to achieve this goal, getting on an apprenticeship scheme with a large construction company, toiling on sites, learning his craft. One day a week, he would go to college, to study the technical requirements of this job, before returning to apply them in a practical setting. Outside in all weathers, working with wood, starting at the bottom, he didn’t complain. After a few years of this, he qualified as a fully-fledged carpenter and joiner, finally looking forward to a decent wage, and gaining more experience. This was 2008 though, the year of the financial crash, throughout Europe. Matt was laid off. What work there was still going on, was being done by workers from eastern Europe, at a lower rate of pay. The bosses had found the ideal situation, at least for them.
Matt got other work. He didn’t sit idle, waiting for something to happen. It wasn’t what he wanted to do, but he got paid for it, and waited to see if things improved in the construction industry. They didn’t. We talked about his love of film and cinema, and whether or not that could provide him with inspiration for a new career. He was keen to try, but it would involve going back to college to get the necessary qualifications, and then trying to get into one of the few universities offering appropriate courses. Not an easy task, especially for someone now considered to be a mature student. But he prevailed, and gained a place at college. He had to carry on working, to support himself as he studied. He got a job working at night in a distribution centre. Long and busy night shifts, followed by tiring days at college, course work crammed in when the chance arose. Not only did he manage to complete the course, he received numerous merits for his work, and was now set on a career in the film industry.
He was accepted by Sunderland University as a mature student three years ago, to study for a degree in Digital Film Production. This city is far from his home. It is in the north-east of England, closer to Scotland than to the Home Counties he grew up in. Formerly home to the now defunct shipbuilding industry, it is a place where life is hard for ordinary people. Jobs are difficult to come by, and even with recent regeneration by the river and coast, the city is an unappealing place, appearing grim to our southern eyes. Nonetheless he went, and after a spell in student accommodation, he managed to find a house-share with others on the same course. They even banded together to make short films and music videos, adding to their skills base and getting valuable experience of life outside of academia. Financially, things were difficult. There did not appear to be the usual assortment of part-time jobs traditionally taken up by students in university towns. There was little enough work for the local people, let alone the intake of many hundreds of new students. A burglary at the house robbed him of many valuable possessions and personal items, the kind of crime typical in areas of high unemployment. Yet he persisted. His knowledge of the subject increased enormously. We would have long discussions about lighting, editing, focus-pulling, and set-ups. Short examples of his work that we were able to view, soon proved that he was on the right track, finally doing something that really fired his interest and enthusiasm.
It is now July 2014. The three long years seem (to us at least) to have passed by so quickly. He has completed his degree, and been awarded a very good grade. He is a graduate, and we could not be more proud. But now we have to get up there, to attend the ceremony. One of the problems with choosing to live in Norfolk, is that you have to travel a long way before you can access any of the major roads that serve the motorway network in the UK. This adds well over an hour to any trip, whether you are heading south, or north. With the fuel tank full to the brim, we set out. In the car, we also had one of Julie’s twin girls; her sister was travelling with their Dad, Julie’s ex-husband. Julie had packed the cool bag with food and drink for the journey, as any stops would have to be brief. The early rain departed, and we were able to travel in fair weather, which was pleasant as the estimated travel time of around five hours would be far more arduous in rain. After a brief stop for coffee near Doncaster, we got to Sunderland at the expected hour. Then I got lost.
We had been there before, and to the same hotel. For some reason, I took a wrong turning, and became enmeshed in the web of the ring roads, and eventually, the near-deserted town centre. I retraced our ‘steps’ but that didn’t help. We eventually resorted to using Google maps on a phone, and ten minutes later, we had arrived. After meeting up with the other twin girl, and Julie’s ex, we all retired to the restaurant, for food and drinks. The booking-in gave rise to an amusing incident. Julie’s twin girls are identical, with distinctive red hair, The friendly receptionist looked at the one with us, and said, ‘but you have just booked in’. She had mistaken Vicky for her twin, something that often happens. We got back to our rooms at a good time, as we had an early start the next day. The ceremony was scheduled for 10am, and we had to be there by 09.30. After a 7am breakfast, we got ready, packed, and checked out. The presentation was going to be held at Sunderland football club, known as ‘The Stadium Of Light’. This is a modern building, and home to the premiership football club of the city. Luckily, it was only ten minutes away from our hotel, so we arrived with time to spare.
We had the foresight to book a box at the stadium. These are normally reserved for companies, or better-off individuals. They afford a good view of the pitch, and our deal included seating for six, a meal and drinks, and our personal waiting staff throughout. The presentation was going to be held inside a raised tented area at the edge of the pitch. This was directly below us, with an uninterrupted view. We were given cakes and hot drinks on arrival, with the meal to follow the awards. We had all dressed suitably for the occasion, and we were only missing Julie’s oldest son, who could not attend due to work commitments. The distinguished university staff arrived, clad in traditional regalia, and we were given an introduction, and a guide to how things would progress. At 10am, the long list of graduates began to arrive on stage, to receive their degrees. These were presented by the Vice-Chancellor, and the Chancellor, who was Steve Cram, a distinguished British runner, and former student at the university. We applauded all the successful students in turn, and when it came to Matt, we all cheered and clapped loudly. There was a break, when a former student, now a successful comedian, gave a very funny talk, and received a fellowship. Then the next batch of students arrived to receive their certificates.
Soon after, Matt was able to join us in our box. He was smartly dressed, in a three-piece black suit, adorned with gown and mortar-board headgear. He was able to wear the engraved fob watch we had bought him as a keepsake, although he was not that comfortable in the gown, which was soon discarded after all the photos were taken. We enjoyed the lunch, but we were taken aback to be told that we had to be out by 1pm, as the afternoon group would be arriving. After a brief spell in the bar, it was all over, and we took our leave. The girls went off with their Dad, to take a trip to the Yorkshire coast on the way home. We said our farewells to Matt, who was staying on until today, before taking the trip back to Hertfordshire. Tomorrow, he has a job interview in London. Full marks for that, whether he gets it, or not. Only two days after graduation, he has his first interview for a job in his chosen industry. We wish him luck.
Regrettably, the journey home was nothing less than arduous. An accident closed the main road, the A1, and we had to endure a painstakingly slow diversion, for many miles. After getting back on track, and a short stop for coffee and fuel, we didn’t arrive home until after 19.30, a journey of almost six hours. We collected Ollie from our neighbours, who had looked after him overnight, and came back into the house suitably tired out. But it was a great day, and a great occasion too.
We send Matt our best wishes for his future. As always, we will give our love and support whatever happens. We are proud of his personal achievement, and give him due credit for his many years of hard work. Well done mate.