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News article

York St John University announces 2019 honorary graduates 

Published: 11 October 2019

Eddie Izzard Hon Grad 2018

Eddie Izzard was among those awarded an honorary degree from York St John University in 2018

In a year in which the University has seen significant advances in student satisfaction and graduate outcomes, its commitment to valuing communities where people really matter is more important than ever.   

Vice Chancellor of York St John University, Professor Karen Stanton said: “I am so pleased to be honouring these extraordinary individuals who have contributed so much to society. They are wonderful role models for our students who can draw inspiration from their success as they graduate from university with the confidence and resilience to take on the world. I look forward to welcoming them to our graduation celebrations in November.”     

The following inspirational figures will be awarded honorary degrees at graduation ceremonies taking place on 19, 20 and 21 November alongside over 2,000 students graduating in the beautiful setting of York Minster. 



Emma Crosby, broadcast journalist – Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) 

Dr Huw Edwards, chief anchor of BBC News at Ten – Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) 

Ian Gillies, former Lord Mayor of the City of York and former Leader of York City Council – Doctor of Business Administration (honoris causa) 

John Godber OBE, playwright and director – Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) 

Dr Doug Gurr, Country Manager of Amazon UK – Doctor of Business Administration (honoris causa) 

Dr Darren Henley OBE, Chief Executive of Arts Council England – Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) 

Benjamin Myers, author and journalist – Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) 

Jonathan Straight, entrepreneur, philanthropist and creative – Doctor of Business Administration (honoris causa) 

Agnes (Cokie) van der Velde, humanitarian worker – Doctor of Health Sciences (honoris causa) 


Emma Crosby 

Emma Crosby is a familiar and experienced broadcast journalist, most recently working for Sky News and Channel 5 News. She co-presented the ITV breakfast show GMTV and has been a popular voice on LBC radio. She studied drama, theatre, film and television at the College of Ripon and York St John, a precursor of York St John University, and joined the BBC on graduation. She supports several charities including SOS Children’s Villages and Kicks Count, which raises awareness of fetal movement and pregnancy.   

Dr Huw Edwards 

Huw Edwards is the chief anchor of BBC News at Ten, the BBC’s flagship news programme. He is also acknowledged as the country’s master of ceremonies, regularly leading broadcasts of major national and international events. He joined the BBC in 1984 as a news trainee. He was Chief Political Correspondent before becoming a news presenter. The latest of his many BAFTA awards was as part of the team that won the Live Event BAFTA for the coverage of the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance in 2018.   

Ian Gillies 

Ian Gillies is a former Lord Mayor of the City of York, Leader of York City Council and Councillor for the Rural West York constituency. Born in Buckhaven, Scotland, his family moved to York when he was eight. He served with the Metropolitan Police in Chelsea in the 1960s before returning to North Yorkshire and spending two decades in the financial services industry. He entered local government on retirement, and was a councillor for 12 years, twice serving as Conservative group leader.   

John Godber OBE 

John Godber is one of the country’s most popular playwrights and directors. Born and bred in Yorkshire, the son and grandson of miners, he was Artistic Director of Hull Truck Theatre for over 25 years before joining Theatre Royal Wakefield as Creative Director and setting up the John Godber Company in 2011. He is one of the most performed writers in the English language and his stage plays include BouncersUp ‘n’ UnderTeechers and Perfect Pitch. He was appointed an OBE in 2018 for services to the arts.   

Dr Doug Gurr 

Doug Gurr is Country Manager of Amazon UK. He joined Amazon in 2011 and was President of Amazon China before taking on his current role in 2016. Born in Leeds, he spent much of his early life in Africa before returning to the UK for his education. His varied career includes teaching mathematics and computing at the University of Aarhus, in Denmark, and working for the UK Government before launching the internet start-up Blueheath and joining the board of Asda-Walmart. He is an active volunteer and his many commitments include the chairmanship of the British Heart Foundation.    

Dr Darren Henley OBE 

As Chief Executive of Arts Council England, Darren Henley leads the organisation that develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences across the country. He was previously Managing Editor and then Managing Director of Classic FM. He has written more than 30 books on the arts, and two independent government reviews into music education and cultural education. He was appointed an OBE in 2013 for services to music and received a President’s Medal from the British Academy in 2015 for his contributions to music education, music research and the arts. 

Benjamin Myers 

An award-winning author and journalist, Benjamin Myers explores different areas and aspects of the north of England in his writing. He works across the genres of historical fiction, crime, biography and nature writing, and his journalism focuses on cultural matters, music and the arts. Born in Durham, he now lives in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire. The popularity of his work has contributed to the success of local booksellers and independent publishers across the county. His seventh novel, The Gallows Pole, won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2018.   

Jonathan Straight 

A Yorkshire-based entrepreneur, philanthropist and creative, Jonathan Straight is best known for founding Straight plc, the UK’s biggest supplier of waste and recycling containers. He stood down from the business in 2014 to oversee the Straight Charitable Trust and build a portfolio of non-executive roles. He is a Director of Waterwise and a Patron of Waste Aid, and an Enterprise Ambassador for the Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies at the University of Leeds. He actively advises and mentors start-ups, social enterprises and charities.   

Agnes ‘Cokie’ van der Velde 

Humanitarian worker Cokie van der Velde was named a Woman of the Year in 2015 for her frontline work in the fight against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DMC), Guinea and Liberia. She has devoted the last two decades to volunteering with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC). She travelled to 14 countries with MSF, working as a logistician and water sanitation specialist. Her latest mission was with the IRC earlier this year, when she worked in health facilities in the DMC during the latest Ebola outbreak.  

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