22 July 2018

A spectacular day


A couple of months ago on a Saturday I was at a garden centre trying to choose plants. My phone vibrated (no point in ring tones for deaf folks). There was a text message from Hormoz - 'A letter accidentally arrived at my house and sorry I opened it. Congratulations. Liverpool John Moores University is offering you an Honorary Fellowship!' I nearly dropped my antirrhinum. 'What?' I thought 'He's winding me up.' (We like to play, and sometimes tease at Result CIC). Then I thought 'Hmm. That's a pretty elaborate wind up.' Only when I had the elegant letter in my hand, and had read it a few times did I start to believe it.

Fast forward several weeks after some helpful but occasionally surreal correspondence, which included me needing to provide my hat size (I didn't know I had a hat size) and I found myself at Liverpool͛s awe-inspiring neo-Gothic cathedral being propelled, in a fancy robe towards the platform with a set of senior academics and officials. I shall be forever grateful to Philip Vickerman, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Strategic initiatives, for his gentle but firm support throughout this highly formal occasion. I have a tendency to be clumsy, have poor balance and could well have disgraced myself, had it not for his help: thank you Philip!

Lord Leveson (yes, he of the Leveson enquiry) had calmly explained how he would place the academic hat on my head (as we compared our heights and I suggested I could bend my knee to help, he quipped 'It's ok, I have a step ladder!' Then following two beautifully expressed speeches from Professor Nigel Weatherill, the Vice Chancellor and Lord Leveson, the Pro-Vice Chancellor, several hundred newly minted graduates passed across the stage to graduate. Their pride spilled over, in some cases into high fives and thumbs up. Their optimism was infectious!

The Honorary Fellowship is Liverpool John Moore's highest honour. I received it for outstanding contribution to and promotion of disabled people. I found it quite unnerving to stand and listen to Canon Ruth Gould͛s citation explaining why I was being given this honour. We do what we do because it is who we are not to gain recognition, so all those feelings of 'Is this me?' were circling in my head following Ruth's lovely words. I had been asked to then speak for a couple of minutes. So I kept my message simple.

I asked people (around 1,000 is my guess) there to imagine if the graduates' potential could be visualised- that it would rise to fill the magnificent cathedral and spill over. I said how wonderful it was to receive the recognition which the Fellowship offered, and that this was important. But I suggested that what is even more important is the recognition inside ourselves.

Do we beat ourselves up, or can we actually recognise when we do well and encourage ourselves? I said that disabled people are not a separate category of people. They are people with extra layers of vulnerability and experience and that these layers meant we had to develop strengths beyond 'the normal'. And I observed that these strengths – resilience, innovation and empathy – were qualities we needed more than ever. I then said that we need a 'new normal' which embraces our differences.

I finished by quoting the 13th Century mystic poet, Rumi: 

Your task is not to seek for love
But to merely seek and find within yourself all the barriers that you have built against it.

The LJMU team organised a superb and meaningful event. Everyone I spoke to commented that it was the best graduation they had ever attended. My guests and I were made to feel incredibly welcome and valued and I learned so much about the University, its fascinating history and how it supports a truly diverse student population including many students facing major barriers and challenges. I feel the event marked the start of a strong friendship with LJMU which I have already started developing. I look forward to it evolving further.

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We are Result CIC, a community interest company. We work with people who feel marginalised or excluded to become more confident about their abilities and to fulfill their potential. We also work with Directors, Managers and CEOs who need support to bring about positive change in terms of diversity and inclusion in their organisations. We each have personal experience of the issues affecting the people we work to support, including disability, immigration, mental health and sexuality. We have also worked in senior positions in industry and government.

Our vision is a society where every individual can achieve their potential, feel fulfilled and make a valuable contribution. 

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