7-10 December 2020, Online

Members of Court and Council, colleagues, distinguished honourees, graduates, family and friends. It is my honour, as President of Imperial College London, to welcome you to our virtual celebration of Commemoration Day 2020.

Let me begin by remembering the families, friends and colleagues who have lost loved ones or suffered the severe effects of the coronavirus pandemic; our thoughts are with you.  

Today is a celebration. It is also a reminder of the privileges and responsibilities that come with an Imperial education. It reminds us that we can each contribute to helping one another and benefitting society. It reminds us that we are truly a global community.    

Graduates, congratulations. We are joining together from all over the world to celebrate your accomplishments, to applaud your many talents and to wish you well in all that awaits you. You have worked hard at your studies and you have excelled despite very different world circumstances than you expected. You have also exceled outside the lecture halls and laboratories as inventors, entrepreneurs, musicians, dancers, actors, singers and athletes. Your volunteering to help others has been more important than ever.

Let’s recognize those whose support was essential during your time at Imperial.

Your families and friends are always there when you need them. They share in your triumphs and we celebrate with them.

Our academics, who will join you in your departmental celebration, are dedicated researchers and educators, the best in their fields. They, and many others, have shared their knowledge. They have challenged and inspired you.  They deserve our thanks.

Graduates, the world needs people with your intelligence, your passion, your commitment to using your knowledge to find new ways forward through the challenges we face.       

You are ready for what’s ahead.

You may have had the chance, as I did with my son David, to ride the longest roller coaster in Europe called the Ultimate.  It’s a mile and a half ride in Yorkshire that lasts for about seven minutes. That’s a long ride for a roller coaster.  

It looks benign: a graceful, wooden coaster set amid a beautiful landscape of wooded countryside. The ride begins quite innocently with a lift hill, long smooth hills and bunny-hops.  Then there is a second lift hill and a turn to the left toward the woods.  Soon warning signs appear: hang on. I was already gripping the safety bar for dear life. 

Chaos follows. Rapid turns jolt you left or right. You want to close your eyes, but you must watch to see which direction you will be thrown. You brace yourself for what’s to come.   

This is what 2020 has been like. A benign beginning followed by the many twists and turns created by the pandemic.    

The speed with which it grew in March was shocking. With little warning, you needed to pack up, change plans, and finish your studies remotely. 

And you did. You adapted. You persevered. You were resilient.

You passed a test that you didn’t foresee. You demonstrated qualities that will serve you well in your personal and professional lives. 

The world changed for us all.  We work and communicate differently. We have tempered our plans. We know that we must do more with less. 

Our staff have made transformative changes to the ways we collaborate and teach.

Our multi-mode provision combines the best of remote learning with valuable in-person time in laboratories, studios and practical training. The pandemic has accelerated these changes, causing us to think hard about two important questions:

How do we best use our valuable time together in person?  

What can we accomplish by connecting from a distance? 

These questions have been acute during the crisis and will persist long into the future.  We will need to continue to weigh options that can reduce travel, save time and maximise our connections. As our time together in person is limited, we cherish it even more.

I hope that, among the many things you will remember about Imperial, you will look back on the valuable experiences you had working with, listening to, learning from, and spending time with others.  Whether it was students in your course, or friends from societies or residences, or staff you came to know, sharing ideas and building lasting relationships are valuable, lifelong assets. The Imperial College London community will always be part of who you are.

As you think back to the people you met, the things you learned, and the experiences you had, remember what all this meant to you as you departed last spring. 

Here are three thoughts to leave you with:

  • Use your Imperial education: the knowledge; the experiences; and, the friendships you made here, to navigate whatever the future brings. 
  • Stay in touch. You will be inspired by the ways our staff, students and alumni are working to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, pollution, the cyber revolution, poverty, chronic disease and more.
  • Maintain connections with your friends, professors, lecturers, readers, tutors, wardens, technicians, and mentors.  Their collective experience is a resource for making decisions and opening doors.

We may be in for another loop, or two, on the Ultimate. You are ready to deal with the jolts.

You will continue to navigate the challenges ahead with the tenacity and courage that is a hallmark of Imperial alumni.

Thank you.