Royal Albert Hall, 6 May 2015

Chair, members of Court and Council, graduands, honourees, colleagues, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is my honour to welcome you to Imperial College London Postgraduate Graduation 2015.

Today we applaud the accomplishments of our postgraduate students and we thank their mentors, teachers, family and friends.

Students, this is your day. You will cross this stage and become graduates of one of the greatest universities in the world. It is your day to celebrate. Share your stories with friends and family and savour this moment.

I want to share a story from the College’s past.  I want to take you back nearly 160 years, fifteen years before this Hall existed.

It is the Easter vacation of 1856. A precocious young student and research assistant called William Henry Perkin sits tinkering with his home-made laboratory in his apartment above a shop in Cable Street, East London. Trying to maintain his concentration amidst the din from the street below, and the crowds hustling to the music hall just round the corner, Perkin sits experimenting.

His assignment was to make quinine. He is trying a few things while his supervisor August Wilhelm von Hofmann is on holiday. 

While trying to oxidise aniline using potassium dichromate, Perkin makes a black sludgy precipitate. He tries to dissolve the sludge with ethanol and makes a serendipitous discovery. He finds that the resulting solution turns silk purple.

By accident Perkin had produced the first synthetic dye. He named the colour mauve and the dye mauveine.

Perkin subsequently became one of the youngest people ever to be awarded a patent. He revolutionised the clothing market and started a new industry in synthetic dyes. He even started a fashion trend and Queen Victoria wore his colour.

When he made his discovery, William Perkin was a student and research assistant at the Royal College of Chemistry, one of the first constituent Colleges of Imperial College London.

The purple in the hoods and gowns that you and other Imperial graduates wear was chosen because of Perkin. The colour purple symbolises the spirit of endeavour and discovery, and the risk-taking nature that characterises those with an Imperial education and training.

Like William Henry Perkin you, our postgraduate students, are risk takers. When you enrolled, you knew you were taking on challenging advanced courses of study and research.  For some of you, your decision to pursue further study was a change of direction in your careers or academic interests. Many of you will have travelled a long way to study in London. You have undertaken projects not knowing where they will lead.  You have worked hard, and you have succeeded.

Today we celebrate how the risks you took have paid off. We celebrate the rewards of your hard work, the knowledge you have gained and the bright futures you have ahead of you.

Today we have three ceremonies celebrating the achievements of 2,994 graduates from over 100 countries.

We are truly a university of the world and our impact is far-reaching.

We only have to look to your achievements to see how you are already making a difference to the world.

I was inspired by many of your stories; I would like to mention just a few of them.

For instance, Imperial postgraduates James Winfield and Dominic Jacobson won the Mayor of London’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur Competition last year. Their winning idea was to provide decentralised energy production through small renewable generators within communities. Imperial students won this competition again this year.

In the Faculty of Medicine, research carried out by Dr Daniel Reed for his PhD in the National Heart and Lung Institute is developing a new technology to detect whether biological therapies will have unexpected side effects.

A team of MBA students collaborated with designers from the Royal College of Art, to develop a service to connect Ugandans to doctors over mobile phones.  They won a prize for their idea which will improve access to healthcare in Uganda where in some areas there is one doctor for every 13,000 patients.  

Finally, working with Paralympic athletes, Imperial Mechanical Engineering postgraduates working on the Sports Innovation Challenge bring together international teams, from varied disciplines to deliver innovations in sports equipment for Paralympic athletes. 

These are but a few examples, yet they are typical of the ways Imperial’s postgraduate students seek out clever solutions and make compelling discoveries that benefit society.

There will be so many more stories shared in your own celebrations today. Stories of excellence in academic studies or research, stories of achievement in sport or clubs, stories of impact in entrepreneurial projects or work in the community.                                 

Your stories are a part of Imperial’s collective legacy and our contribution to the world.  Your successes beyond these halls become part of an even richer involvement with the world as you join over 170,000 alumni carrying the common bond of an Imperial education. You are the inspiration for, and embodiment of, what we do at Imperial.   

So please keep in touch, come back to visit us and inspire us with your stories. As you move forward, you will find that Imperial College’s story is changing and inspiring too. 

As an alumnus you can become a life member of the Imperial College Union and you can continue to engage with their Societies.  You are also welcome in our Alumni Visitor Centre in the College main entrance. You should seek out the alumni events we hold around the world.

I hope that you maintain your curiosity.  Remain open to new ideas.  Look for new challenges. Above all, I hope that you take your passion and inspire others to follow in your footsteps.

I wish you great success in the pursuit of your dreams, and I wish you lives of fulfilment and happiness. Congratulations.