Inspirational figures graduate alongside York St John students

Published: 16/11/2018

York St John University students graduate in the stunning setting of York Minster alongside an array of leading figures in journalism, business, science, education and sport who will be awarded with honorary degrees.

Eddie Izzard

Eddie Izzard among inspirational Honorary Graduates

In a year in which the University commemorated the centenary of women’s right to vote, some of the UKs most inspiring women are being recognised: Dr Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space as a member of the expedition to the Russian space station Mir; BBC news presenter Reeta Chakrabarti; paralympian and disability rights campaigner Anne Wafula Strike; Sue Smith, one of the most experienced players in women’s football and Baroness of the Supreme Court Rt Hon Lady Hale.

Also being recognised is Eddie Izzard, comedian, transgender activist, actor, political campaigner, advocate for language learning, marathon runner, and charity fundraiser. Whose inspirational challenge to run 27 marathons in 27 days in South Africa as a tribute to Nelson Mandela, raising over £2.6 million for Sport Relief.

Award-winning novelist Matt Haig and former York St John alumni and BBC Look North presenter Harry Gration will be awarded honorary Doctor of Letters degrees. Professor Dianne Willcocks, former Vice Chancellor of York St John University, Stuart Murphy, CEO of the English National Opera, and leading business figures Allan Leighton and Carol Kane, will also receive honorary degrees.

Professor Karen Stanton, Vice Chancellor of York St John University, said: “Graduation is a time for our students to make memories, celebrate success and mark a milestone in their lives. This year we are delighted to be awarding honorary degrees to some truly inspirational people who share our commitment to creating social change and making a positive mark on the world. These individuals have all had an outstanding impact in their respective fields and will be an inspiration to our students for many years to come.”

Chancellor of York St John University and Archbishop of York, The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr John Sentamu, said: “It is an immense privilege to be Chancellor of York St John University and I would like to congratulate all graduands as we celebrate their achievements. The recipients of the Honorary Degrees for 2018 are wonderful examples of hard work and excellence in their chosen fields. I pray that they inspire all to aim high, live life to the full and use their talents in the service of others.”

Honorary graduate biographies below:

Reeta Chakrabarti – Doctor of Letters (honoris causa)

First a producer, then a reporter and now a presenter, Reeta Chakrabarti is enjoying a long and successful career with the BBC. She currently presents BBC1’s News at One, Six and Ten and bulletins on the BBC News Channel. As community affairs correspondent she covered the Stephen Lawrence inquest and subsequent public enquiry, a case spanning more than a decade. She also served as a correspondent for education and for social affairs, and spent many years reporting from Westminster as a political correspondent.

Harry Gration MBE - Doctor of Letters (honoris causa)

Harry Gration presents BBC Look North for the Yorkshire region, initially joining the programme in 1982. He has been a broadcaster for over four decades. He trained as a teacher at St John’s College, a precursor of York St John University, and was Head of History at Rodillian School in Wakefield before joining BBC Radio Leeds. He has twice been named Regional Presenter of the Year at the Royal Television Society Awards, and in 2013 he received an MBE for services to broadcasting.

Matt Haig - Doctor of Letters (honoris causa)

Matt Haig is an award-winning novelist, journalist and screenwriter. He has written extensively for both adults and children and all of his adult novels have been optioned for film. He has close ties to Yorkshire; he was born in Sheffield, studied at the Universities of Hull and Leeds, and spent some years living in York – his novel The Radleys is set in Bishopthorpe. His memoir of mental illness, Reasons to Stay Alive, and his latest non-fiction book, Notes on a Nervous Planet, have both been at the top of the Sunday Times bestsellers’ list. The New York Times has called him 'a novelist of great talent' whose writing is 'funny, riveting and heartbreaking’.

Rt Hon The Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE, PC, LLD, FBA – Doctor of Laws (honoris causa)

Lady Hale is the President of the UK’s Supreme Court and is the first woman to hold this position, the pinnacle of an extraordinary, successful legal career. She is a tireless advocate for women as well as other under-represented groups in the judiciary and among lawyers. She grew up in Richmond, North Yorkshire, and studied law at Cambridge. She spent 18 years as an academic, teaching law at Manchester, becoming a professor and qualifying as a barrister, before her ascent up the judicial ladder.

Eddie Izzard – Doctor of Letters (honoris causa)

Eddie Izzard is a stand-up comedian, transgender activist, actor, political campaigner, advocate for language learning, marathon runner, and charity fundraiser. His latest show, Force Majeure, included performances across Europe, the USA, Africa, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, India, Nepal and the Far East – and not always in English. Eddie is a long-time advocate for the importance of language learning and recently spent two months in Paris devising his new stand up show in French. He received critical acclaim for his performance alongside Judi Dench in the film, Victoria and Abdul and received an Emmy® Award nomination in 2010 for Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story. His recent autobiography Believe Me entered the top ten in the Sunday Times Best-seller list. On March 20, 2016, Izzard completed running 27 marathons in 27 days in South Africa as a tribute to Nelson Mandela and raised over £2.6 million for Sport Relief.

Carol Kane - Doctor of Business Administration (honoris causa)

Carol Kane is a co-founder and joint chief executive of Boohoo, the highly successful online fashion retail group. She launched the company together with Mahmud Kamani in 2006, and they now employ around 1,400 people. Carol is responsible for the company’s marketing, product and brand strategy in the UK and internationally; Boohoo’s expertise in using social media to attract sales is outstanding. Her background is in fashion design and illustration, and she sold her first collection (of ski-wear) while she was still a student.

Allan Leighton - Doctor of Letters (honoris causa)

Allan Leighton is one of the UK’s most experienced and effective business executives. He is the first independent Non-Executive Chair of the Co-operative Group, a role he assumed in early 2015. Previously, he served as Chief Executive of Asda, Non-Executive Chairman of Royal Mail and President of Loblaw, the largest food retailer in Canada. He has held Board appointments with several high-profile companies, including lastminute.com, Dyson and BskyB Group. He is a patron of Breast Cancer Care.

Stuart Murphy MA (Cantab), FRTS – Doctor of Letters (honoris causa)

Stuart Murphy became the Chief Executive Officer of English National Opera in April 2018. His earlier career was spent in television, including 10 years at the BBC and six at Sky. A graduate of Clare College, Cambridge, Stuart grew up in Leeds and attended St Mary’s Comprehensive school. He was the country’s youngest TV channel controller when he ran UK Play, a music and comedy channel co-owned by BBC Worldwide. He devised, launched and ran BBC Three before becoming Director, Entertainment Channels at Sky, overseeing Sky 1, Sky Living, Sky Arts and the launch of Sky Atlantic. In 2016 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Television Society.

Dr Helen Sharman CMG, OBE, FRSC, FIScT – Doctor of Science (honoris causa)

Dr Helen Sharman was the first Briton in space as a member of the expedition to the Russian space station, Mir, in 1991. She is the Operations Manager for the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London, the President of the Institute of Science and Technology, a Fellow of the Science Museum and a patron of the Spacelink Learning Foundation. She was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George for her science and technology outreach work earlier this year.

Sue Smith – Doctor of Health Sciences (honoris causa)

One of the most experienced players in women’s football, Sue Smith scored 16 goals in 93 appearances during a glittering England career that spanned 14 years, while also playing at the highest domestic level with Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers Belles. She is now a respected commentator and pundit for the BBC and Sky Sports. She played in the 1999 FIFA World XI, was a European Cup finalist, and won the FA International Player of the Year award in 1999 and 2001.

Anne Wafula Strike MBE – Doctor of Health Sciences (honoris causa)

A Paralympian, author and campaigner, Anne Wafula Strike is a powerful and effective advocate. Through her charity – the Olympia-Wafula Foundation – she promotes healthy living solutions for differently able and disadvantaged people. She also contributes to many other organisations including the British Polio Fellowship and The Island, the York-based children’s mentoring charity. She was the first wheelchair racer from East Africa to compete at the Paralympics (in Athens, 2004). She became a British citizen in 2006 and competed for Team GB; she is now a Board Member of UK Athletics.

Professor Dianne Willcocks CBE, DL – Doctor of Education (honoris causa)

Professor Dianne Willcocks was the first Vice Chancellor of York St John University. She led the institution through the relocation to a single campus in York, and the achievement of Taught Degree Awarding Powers and of university status. Now a successful leadership consultant, she is also an advocate and practitioner for socially inclusive higher education and for successful ageing. She received a CBE in 2008 for services to higher education and to the community in Yorkshire, and became a Deputy Lieutenant of North Yorkshire in 2010.

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