08 May 2019, Royal Albert Hall

Members of Court and Council, colleagues, graduates, distinguished honourees, ladies and gentlemen. 

As President of Imperial College London, it is my honour to welcome you to the 2019 Postgraduate Graduation.

Today we honour our graduates and awardees, we celebrate their accomplishments and we send them off with our best wishes for the future.

I want to give a special welcome to our graduates’ friends and family members.  Earning a graduate degree at Imperial involves many months of hard, intensive work. Your encouragement and support was essential to their success and you deservedly share in the joy of today’s ceremony. 

Seated behind me on this historic stage are my distinguished colleagues. They are exceptional researchers, teachers, mentors and academic leaders. They are absolutely dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, and to your education and mentorship.  We all benefit from that dedication and we owe them our gratitude.  Please join me in thanking them.

Graduates, today is a day to celebrate your accomplishments. Your success at Imperial is a testament to your hard work and your passion for learning.

You came to Imperial from places both far and near. You come from different neighbourhoods, different counties, different countries, different continents. You have learned a great deal from your interactions with people from different backgrounds. You have been inspired by your fellow students, your mentors, and your teachers. The personal and professional relationships you established, and the time you have spent in conversation, competition, or collaboration with others, were important parts of your education.  

Some of you have also had the opportunity to travel.  Exploring other cultures also broadens your outlook and awakens creativity.

You receive your degrees at an exciting time of great opportunity where your education will serve you well. And yet, this is also a challenging time when we must continue to work together across disciplines, across cultures and across borders.

Our different upbringings, personal histories and cultures bring new insights, and lead to new approaches and to new discoveries.  You have seen this in your collaborations in research groups, design teams and study groups.

When combined, our complementary strengths lead to better solutions.

I recently heard something that reinforces this point.  We know the wonderful story of Alexander Fleming’s serendipitous discovery of penicillin in 1928.  What we hear less often is how, over a decade later, it came to be a medicine we could actually use.  Its pathway to becoming the first antibiotic involved both international collaborations and travels. It was the work of the Oxford colleagues, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, who shared the 1945 Nobel prize with Fleming, that took Fleming’s discovery to the next level.  

Florey was from Australia and Chain from Germany.  They came to Britain from different backgrounds.

Florey arrived at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar to study physiology, went to the US to study with a pharmacologist and returned to Cambridge to study pathology.

Chain, after graduating from Friedrich Wilhelm University in chemistry and physiology, fled to England to escape the Nazi regime. He worked at Cambridge on purifying lysozyme. He then moved to Oxford and worked with Florey on antibacterial substances.  Their combined backgrounds and ways of solving problems led to the freeze-drying approach to purifying and concentrating penicillin. Perhaps it was their foreign training and their different backgrounds that led them to this discovery.

I believe that today, this type of cross-cultural collaboration is more important than ever.  I am proud that Imperial is regarded as the most international university in the UK, and I am committed to ensuring that international engagement remains a high priority for the university.   

We see that Imperial’s international community, our collaborations, our partnerships, and our own experiences working with people from other cultures and places have an immeasurable and profound effect on the world. 

I urge you to be international in your work and in your lives.

Seek opportunities to work with others from different backgrounds. Continue to explore the world.

T.S. Eliot’s poem “Little Gidding” includes the following lines:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” 

I hope that you will be lifelong explorers, taking the knowledge and friendships you have made at Imperial to broaden your horizons and enrich the lives of others. 

And, when you come back, you will know this place better than ever.

Thank you.