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Graduates and adult learners honoured at ceremony

Joan Blackbird, Craig Blackbird and Anne Isherwood

A sea of gowns and mortar boards were on display at the Stadium of Light as more than 120 students graduated from Sunderland College at an official ceremony.

The special event also included the presentation of 21 awards to some of the college’s adult learners who were recognised for their hard work and dedication.

Sunderland College principal, Anne Isherwood, presented the evening and formally congratulated the graduates and award-winning students.

She said: “The annual awards and graduation evening is always a fantastic event as we mark an important point in our students’ lives and officially recognise their hard work and success.

“As principal of the college, It is always a proud moment to watch our adult learners graduate and to personally congratulate them on their achievements. The qualifications and knowledge they have gained throughout their time at the college will help them in their future endeavours, and we wish all of our graduates every success as they move on to the next stage of their lives.

“It is also an honour to present special recognition awards to our adult students who have excelled while studying at the college – they have all worked extremely hard and I am delighted to offer my congratulations to them.”

Paul Woolston, chair of North East Local Enterprise Partnership, was guest speaker at the event, held last night (Thursday, October 23), and entertainment was provided by music student John Gatenby.

One of the star students was Craig Blackbird, aged 34, who graduated from his HND Business and Management course and won the award for ‘best performance in business, leadership and management’.

Craig, from Houghton-Le-Spring, is visually impaired and collected his award with his trusted guide dog, Commando, who accompanied him throughout his studies at the college.

He said: “I was truly surprised to even be nominated for an award, and just as surprised to win it.  For a moment after my name was called I wasn’t sure I’d heard properly. I am thrilled to have successfully completed the course and to have graduated.” 

Craig, who is now studying a business top-up degree at the University of Sunderland, is a Guide Dogs volunteer speaker and his career-ambition is to work in a role where he can help other people who are living with sight loss.

The graduates and award-winners were joined by family and friends, who came from far and wide to celebrate, including proud father Arif Sheikh, who made the 4,000 mile journey from Pakistan to watch his son, Muhammad, win the accolade for ‘outstanding performance by an international student’.

Business administration apprentice, Philip Heckles, aged 29, picked-up the Heather Park award for ‘pre-employment student of the year’, which was presented in memory of a former college staff member.

Philip, from Sunderland, originally joined the college to study his A-Levels and returned to complete two business administration courses, which led to him being awarded an apprenticeship role within the college’s pre-employment team at Doxford Park.

He said: “I think it’s a brilliant thing that someone, such as myself, who has struggled to find work has the opportunity to be congratulated for the hard work that they’ve put into getting this far, just being recognised for that hard work is an honour in itself.”

The final accolade of the evening was the ‘outstanding community venue award’ which was presented to the Adult, Family and Community Learning area, based within Academy 360’s Achievement Centre in Pennywell.

Sunderland College works closely with the centre, which offers a range of activities and training/learning opportunities to Academy 360 students, parents and wider community members to actively engage them with school, family and community life.

The college’s Adult and Child Education (ACE) team has worked with the centre for the past five years and delivers a range of courses, including maths and English classes, to adult learners.

Jill Dawson, Adult, Family and Community Learning Manager, collected the award on behalf of the centre. She said: “The nomination itself sent a ripple of pride throughout the centre, however, actually winning the award, as one of our young students pointed out, was ‘awesome’.

“Everyone who attends the centre, each in their own unique and individual way, makes it outstanding. Academy 360 is very proud to be recognised in this way and it confirms our vision for being proactive within our community, which is going from strength-to-strength with support of high quality partnerships.”

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