The annual Lews Castle College UHI graduation and prize giving ceremony took place on Friday afternoon (August 23) at Martin’s Memorial Church in Stornoway.
After a piped procession into the Church Building, Lews Castle College Principal Iain Macmillan welcomed the graduates, students, families and UHI guests – to the graduation, before introducing guest speaker, Professor Alasdair Smith.
Professor Smith studied maths and economics at the University of Glasgow and became a prominent educationalist and economist. Since retiring from his last position in education, as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex, he’s contributed to Scotland’s economic future as a member of the Scottish Fiscal Commission, which provides independent economic and tax revenue forecasts to the Scottish Government.
Professor Smith told the assembled crowd, “This may be a formal ceremony, but it is also a time to have fun. So relax and have fun, don’t let the formalities get in the way of it. The first and most important thing to say is congratulations to the graduates. Reaching this level in the education system means that you have faced tough intellectual challenges and met high standards, it is a great personal achievement of which I hope you are all intensely proud.”
“Success in higher education opens up economic and career opportunities that you wouldn’t otherwise have and that is a great thing. Changing the way you look at the world, enriching you as a human being, opening up new ideas, new friendships and new life long relationships.”
Congratulating the Graduates and UHI Award Winners Iain Macmillan said, “Our Graduation Ceremony is a key highlight of the college year where we come together with our Graduates and Award Winners to celebrate their success and the start of the next step on their “Pathway to Further Success”.”
“It’s great to see so many here today to recognise - and celebrate your achievements. Completing your College course is something worth celebrating so please take the opportunity to do so today.”
“Lews Castle continues to develop successfully in many ways through the commitment of our students, Graduates and staff. Amongst these I would like to highlight the way the college is developing with UHI and locally through the range of courses we offer, the success of Graduates such as Anne Lundon and the way we are expanding our international links.”
BBC television presenter and news reporter Anne Lundon was named UHI’s Alumnus of the year. A graduate of the Lews Castle College Gaelic course, Anne was nominated for the award in recognition of her outstanding achievements in the media and her involvement in the BBC's Get Playing campaign.
Anne said, "It's an honour to receive this award. I'm proud to be a graduate of the University of the Highlands and Islands. Being born and bred in the Outer Hebrides, being able to study there was invaluable and I look forward to being able to help develop the university's growing alumni community both in the UK and overseas."
Mr Macmillan further emphasised the development of the Lews Castle College by discussing the institutions relevance on the international stage.
He said, “We have been working with the Canadian Company DF Barnes to help to provide a skills base to support the development of the Arnish Yard, working with EDF – one of the largest energy companies in the world who provide placements and employment for our students, our recruitment of students from France - to complete the third year of their Energy Engineering degree - here in the islands and the way that our lecturers are now delivering training in countries such as China. These are some examples of the progress the college continues to make with the commitment of our students and staff.”
Further evidence of Lews Castle College UHI’s continuing development is the individual achievements of students, in particular Angela Louch who was named UHI’s Further Education Student of the year.
Mr Macmillan commented, “For the second year in a row the UHI Further Education Student of the year has come from one of the smallest colleges in the UHI Network - Lews Castle College UHI - and we congratulate this year’s UHI Further Education Award winner - Angela Louch and our other award winners on the outstanding work and commitment which they have shown to achieve their success”
Malcolm Macdonald and Annie Macsween were named honorary fellows at the graduation ceremony. Honorary Fellowships are given to people who have made a significant contribution to the university or who have gained recognition for their activities in education, industry, public service or cultural and creative work.
Mr Macmillan said, “We play an important role in the UHI’s commitment to local communities and I am delighted that the University has taken the opportunity today to recognise the contributions of 2 local community stalwarts in Malcolm Macdonald and Annie MacSween: well-deserved recognition for the contribution they make, particularly to the celebration of local history.”
Malcolm Macdonald, who grew up in Stornoway, co-authored The Darkest Dawn with the late Donald John MacLeod. Published in 2018, the book details the tragedy of the Iolaire, a ship which sank near Stornoway harbour in January 1919 causing the loss of many Royal Navy reservists returning home at the end of the First World War.
The book was the culmination of 20 years of research and royalties are being given to Bethesda Hospice in Stornoway on an annual basis. Over £8,800 was donated in June. Mr Macdonald, who has chaired the Stornoway Historical Society for over a decade, lost his grandfather in the disaster.
Mr Macdonald said, "As I was a textiles student at Lews Castle College over 50 years ago, I am deeply touched to have been awarded the honorary fellowship."
Born and brought up in Ness on the Isle of Lewis, Annie Macsween's career has focused on enhancing the status of Gaelic and the lives of those who live in the Western Isles.
She began her professional life as a Gaelic teacher at The Nicolson Institute in Stornoway in 1973 and held posts with organisations including the Van Leer Community Education Project and the Western Isles Council before joining Lews Castle College UHI in 1994. She was part of the team which introduced the university's first BA degree in Gaelic and she has represented Lews Castle College UHI and the university at many national Gaelic forums.
Mrs Macsween was appointed as Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the Western Isles in 2011, a role which sees her assist the Lord-Lieutenant Donald Martin in his role as The Queen's representative.
Mrs Macsween said, "On an occasion such as this you remember all those who have helped you over the years. Your family, those who inspired you in your youth, colleagues and the wider community. But today I remember with gratitude the team I was involved with in the creation of the Gaelic degrees both here at Lews Castle College and at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and also at Inverness College.
“What was particularly rewarding was seeing school leavers being given the opportunity to study without leaving the islands and especially adult returners, both male and female, who brought so much personal experience to the classes. Many of those students are now gainfully employed in education and the media here in the islands and further afield. It was also a great blessing to see the co-operation of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and other public bodies in our aspirations."
Malcolm and Annie were presented with their honorary fellowships alongside 61 graduating students and award winners by University of the Highlands and Islands Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Crichton Lang.
Professor Lang said, "I would like to congratulate all of today's graduates and award winners. It was an honour to be there to recognise the fruits of their hard work and determination. We were also delighted to celebrate the contributions and achievements of Annie Macsween and Malcolm Macdonald. Annie has been instrumental in establishing Gaelic at the heart of our university and Malcolm's painstaking research has helped local and global audiences to learn more about one of our worst maritime disasters."