VIDEO: Uni honour is a 'fitting end' to medal-laden career of ace swimmer Ross
A record number of people have been graduating from the University of Derby during yesterday and today. Zena Hawley reports.
FOR a man who has swum competitively at the highest level, Ross Davenport still rates receiving an honorary masters degree from the University of Derby among his best-ever moments.
He told a hushed capacity audience in the Great Hall at the Assembly Rooms yesterday that he was delighted to receive the honour in the city that "I am proud to call home".
Ross is one of eight people receiving honorary awards during the two days of ceremonies alongside just under 3,000 graduates.
The annual event is a highlight of the university calendar with thousands of people travelling from across the country and world to watch friends and family receive degrees.
It is attended by dignitaries from across the county, including university chancellor the Duke of Devonshire, High Sheriff Alan Woods and Lord Lieutenant Willie Tucker.
Ross was given his award in recognition of his "remarkable achievements in international swimming and for his work in inspiring young people to commit themselves to swimming excellence".
Having swum all over the world representing Great Britain in 100 metres and 200 metres individual and relay competitions, Ross announced his retirement after his appearance in last year's Olympics.
He has two gold and two silver Commonwealth medals and a European Championship silver medal.
Speaking before the ceremony, Ross said: "I am extremely honoured to be given this award and coming at this time marks a fitting end to my swimming career.
"I was taken aback when I was first asked about the honour and I couldn't be prouder, especially from my home city. I am not nervous about the presentation and I am hoping that it will lead to more involvement with the university."
Ross, who is now an athlete mentor with the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust, working with 16-to-18-year-olds, has had quite a year, which also included getting married to Claire, who accompanied him to the graduation ceremony, in December.
He said: "Today has given me a feeling I will never forget and I just want to hold on to all the memories from it."
Ross received his honorary degree during a ceremony for graduates of the university's faculty of education, health and sciences.
Shaking hands with the students as they crossed the stage to receive their degrees was the Duke of Devonshire.
He said: "These days are very big events for our graduates and it is wonderful to see so many former students and their families here.
"It is the culmination of hours of work in the library, at the computer and in lectures and they should all be saying, 'Well done me – I did it'.
Celebrating students gathered in the Market Place after each of yesterday's three ceremonies to take photographs of the occasion.
Thomas Howard, 23, of Mickleover, who picked up his degree in zoology, said he had thoroughly enjoyed his time studying.
He said: "The degree was perfect for me as I have always been interested in wildlife. I am now studying for a masters degree in recovery and conservation and am hoping to get a job in animal welfare when I have finished.
Thomas's dad, Keith, added: "The years of study have been very worthwhile. We are really pleased with his success and that he has gone on to further study in something he has always cared about since he was young."
Another graduate was Alan Stone, from Bedfordshire, who undertook online distance learning to achieve a masters degree in environmental health. His seven-year-old daughter, Breanna, also attended the ceremony.
He said: "Distance learning was very useful and helped me to broaden my knowledge in the subject I am already working in."
Sam Ward, 21, of Sutton-in-Ashfield, was also celebrating with friends after receiving his geography degree.
He said: "I am still looking for work but I want to find a really good job in the environmental field."
There was a poignant moment at the day's second graduation ceremony when the parents of tragic Charlotte Blackman, 22, who died after a cliff collapsed on her as she was walking on a Dorset beach last summer, accompanied by her boyfriend, crossed the stage to collect her first class degree in education studies posthumously.
There was an extra round of applause and some people stood clapping as Rachel and Kevin Blackman, of Heanor, and Matt Carnell received the degree.
At the same ceremony, Sheila Taylor, former chief executive of Safe and Sound, which protects children from sexual exploitation, became an honorary master of the university for her work.
She said: "It's fabulous to be given this honour and so special that is from my home university. It means much more than any other award I have achieved. But I am receiving it on behalf of those children who are raped and sexually assaulted on a regular basis and who we help."
Valerie Todd, receiving an honorary doctorate for her work in public administration in London, started her education at Hardwick Infant and Junior schools and Derby School in Littleover.
She has championed equality and inclusion and is director of talent and resources at Crossrail Ltd, part of Transport for London.
Valerie left school at 16 and attended Wilmorton College. She then went on to Leicester Polytechnic to study public administration.
Valerie was accompanied by her brothers, sisters, niece and aunt and said: "I feel extremely honoured to have been recognised in this way. I wasn't nervous until I realised that all my family would be there to see me."
Also receiving an honorary doctorate was World War II veteran Roy Wooldridge, whose work with Derbyshire College of Higher Education paved the way for it to become the University of Derby in 1992. University vice-chancellor Professor John Coyne presented the citation for Roy's award and said: "Roy is a truly remarkable man. He was twice decorated with the Military Cross for outstanding acts of bravery and played a key role in setting the educational direction of this institution in the 1970s."
During the three ceremonies later today, John Foxcroft, founding partner of Garrandale Engineering in Derby; historian Maxwell Craven; and Colin Walton, former chairman of Bombardier, will receive honorary degrees. A fourth will be given posthumously to craftsman Dr Emmanuel Cooper.