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Vice-Chancellor news

Graduation 2022

31 August 2022

Dear colleague,

I said last month when I wrote to you in Graduation week that I would write again to reflect on how our hugely ambitious programme of events panned out. Whilst not everything went entirely smoothly — on the second morning Ede & Ravenscroft encountered significant problems in issuing gowns on time for scheduled School recognition events — the School events themselves and the three evening events in the Principality Stadium went very smoothly and appear to have been received very well indeed. Certainly, my experience taking part in the procession through the thousands of assembled students on the way to and from the stage at the Stadium was that they were extremely happy and enjoying the event enormously. Running three consecutive graduating cohorts in this way was a first for everybody of course, and we had never done the School events before. All the Cardiff University staff and students involved worked extremely hard to ensure that the graduands had a great day, even putting on extra ceremonies with almost no notice to allow those affected by the delays on day 2 not to miss out. It was genuinely the most spectacular example of very large-scale teamwork that I have ever encountered, and I am immensely proud of everybody involved. The numbers are so large that I have been advised — and agree — that it would beinvidious to mention individuals. However, I want everybody in the University and beyond to recognise what a superb achievement this was, and how much it shows the unarguable commitment and dedication that we have to our students and graduates. A profoundly heartfelt thank you to everybody who contributed. I know that our Chancellor, Baroness Jenny Randerson, and our Chair of Council, Pat Younge, feel the same.

To give a sense of the scale, I thought I would give you a few facts and figures. In all over the three days, 56,000 students and their guests attended, while more than 300 staff volunteered from across the institution to support the delivery of the Stadium event and recognition events on campus. Many people worked over and above their usual roles including, but not limited to, staff in Communications and Marketing, Development and Alumni Relations, Registry, Campus Services, IT Services, Support Services and in every academic School. Credit must go to those who worked on the overall organisation as part of the Graduation Steering Group and Task Groups.

At the Principality Stadium, over 100 academics and professional services staff took part in the procession each day via the players’ tunnel, and on one memorable evening had the opportunity for selfies with Warren Gatland, who in a nice coincidence was one of 24 special guests receiving an Honorary Fellowship at his former place of work, in addition to two Honorary Degree recipients. There was much excitement too at the presence of Cerys Matthews and Huw Edwards, who gave an outstanding speech in Welsh and English as an existing Fellow, and indeed all the new Honoraries were met with a rapturous reception. Laura Trevelyan, Cardiff alumna and anchor of BBC America, and Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia, both gave inspiring and compelling speeches that captivated the thousands of Cardiff graduates present in the stadium. The evening events were mind-boggling feats of organisation, requiring 13 lorry-loads of stage and rigging equipment, six pieces of plant machinery, one of which with a 40m reach to access the stadium roof, truly spectacular pyrotechnics, 300 intelligent LED moving lights and 1577 production staff hours to bring the events to fruition.

I must once again express our collective profound appreciation to all the staff in the academic Schools who agreed to hold recognition events once it became clear that our graduands and graduates wanted that opportunity. In all, we held a total of 231 school recognition events in 23 different venues across campus, plus 10 last-minute mop-up events to accommodate those affected by gowning delays. At all those events we saw dedicated staff going the extra mile to put our students first.

Anyone who was there will remember the wonderful, bustling, crowded atmosphere on campus in the specially created Graduation Village and Graduation Gardens. Indeed I have met people since who attended those events and say they will retain lifelong delightful memories of them. Each day, 84 members of our hospitality staff worked to provide 54,345 glasses of fizz. If you remember, we had very hot weather and so 8 tonnes of strawberries had to be delivered direct from the farm to Cardiff University kitchens because the strawberries had to be harvested at night when it was cooler for the pickers. This in turn meant that our sterling kitchen team needed to be on site to take delivery at 2am, then wash, prep, pot and box 44,560 portions of strawberries to be savoured by our delighted guests. In support of #plasticfreeJuly, Cardiff University Catering committed to delivering a zero single-use plastic event. No single-use plastic was brought on site by Cardiff University Catering or its traders. This shows real commitment to our values and a commendably responsible approach to the environment. In addition to our own catering staff, six Welsh-based food traders were on site at the Food and Drink festival. We were told that they served more customers than at any other single festival they have attended since before Covid. Graduation is a time for much camera-work of course, and while five giant deckchairs became the most popular backdrop for photo opportunities, others included mirrors, living walls, graduation gold stands and 360-degree videos. We deployed 1925 metres of bunting along with 100 pennants and 144 plants for the School venues. Eight local bands played, sang and danced for 30 hours, singing over 400 songs during the three days.

I hope that gives you a sense of the daily celebrations, but getting to that point involved enormous co-ordinated effort too. Staff in Residences and Conferencing ensured that accommodation and venues were available to our guests, and we could not have managed without the contribution of domestic and maintenance staff when all our facilities were being so heavily used. Across Development and Alumni Relations, Student Communications and Registry, 305,895 official event emails were sent to students and alumni in the run up to Graduation. 28,500 Graduation brochures and 16,000 Graduation venue maps were produced, while 20,000 pin badges were distributed. And, of course, there were countless appearances by our mascot Dylan the Dragon.

If you missed the events you can catch up here, while the Graduation film that ran every night at the Principality Stadium is also on YouTube and is well worth a watch, featuring as it does cameos from our alumni, students and staff.

I rarely devote a whole email to reviewing one topic, but this, I hope you will agree, was a special case. Though it was a bumpy road at times we took a spectacularly ambitious approach and in the end pulled it off. Well done Team Cardiff!

With best wishes

Colin Riordan