An evening of celebrations to mark the achievements of Sunderland College’s adult learners and graduates was held at a special ceremony this week.
The college’s new multi-million pound Arts Academy theatre played host to the annual event for the first time and welcomed scores of students to its stage.
More than 130 graduates, who studied across a range of higher education courses, were honoured at the ceremony and were formally congratulated by college principal Anne Isherwood.
The event also featured the presentation of 18 awards which recognised the hard work and commitment of some of the college’s adult learners.
Anne, who is retiring at the end of the year, said: “It is always a great joy to participate in our annual awards and graduation evening, and it has been particularly moving this year as it my last as principal. I will take some great memories with me when I leave the college, including many from this event over the years, which has always been one of the highlights of the college calendar.
“It is very rewarding to know that we have played a role in guiding our adult students to success and to witness our graduates and award winners’ hard work come to fruition. I was very pleased to personally congratulate our students on their achievements and wish them all the very best for the future.”
The event, held on Thursday, was presented by renowned local compere Ray Spencer MBE and featured a speech from guest speaker Shirley Atkinson, vice-chancellor and chief executive of the University of Sunderland, who spoke about the benefits of continuing in education.
One of the high achievers on the night was Steven Mackin who graduated from his course in HNC Construction and the Built Environment, and was also presented with The Tim Hunt Award for Achievement on a Construction Programme.
Steven, 44, returned to education in 2013 to complete a higher education programme after originally leaving school without any qualifications.
The site manager, who works at Bishopsgarth School in Stockton, demonstrated exceptional commitment to his studies and gained distinction grades across all of his modules.
In addition to his course, Steven was the leading member of a team representing Sunderland College which won seven Heritage Skills in Education (HSed) accolades for their involvement in the restoration and conversion of Holy Trinity Church in Hendon.
Steven, from Middlesbrough, said: “I feel honoured to win this award from Sunderland College. I had to work hard to gain 12 distinctions in my assignments as a mature student and I feel very proud of my achievements over the last two years. After leaving school without any qualifications I had to work harder and push myself, but with the help of my tutor and the support of others, I finished my course and now I am graduating knowing that I have achieved a qualification and all my hard work has paid off.”
Another of the star students of the evening was Dionne Hall, who won The Adult Apprentice of the Year Award in recognition of her outstanding attitude to her studies.
Dionne, 43, said: “I was very surprised someone had nominated me for this award and it was a great privilege to be named the winner. It is very nice to be recognised in this way.”
After taking redundancy from a car manufacturing supplier to look after her two children, Dionne decided to build a new career in business administration and applied to study an apprenticeship with Northern Saints primary school and Sunderland College.
She completed Levels 1 to 3 in business administration and following the completion of her apprenticeship, she was offered a permanent position with Northern Saints as HR clerk and PA to the head teacher.
Dionne added: “I was thrilled to learn I had a permanent position at the end of my apprenticeship – the staff and pupils are great. I am hoping to start a new course in HR practice at Sunderland College, and I’m looking forward to strengthening my role within Northern Saints.”
The Award for Best Performance on a Visual and Performing Arts Course was handed to 20-year-old music student John Gatenby.
John, from Sunderland, first joined the college to study BTEC and A-Level courses and went on to complete a Foundation Degree in Music.
A talented guitarist and singer, John has performed at a variety of college events and he also set up a choir within the Arts Academy to support the enrichment of students.
Now in his last year of a BA (Hons) degree in Music at the University of Sunderland, John said: “It was sincerely an honour to be nominated by my lecturers for this award and to actually win feels like a massive recognition for all my hard work at the college.”
Chair of Sunderland College’s Board of Governors, Rob Lawson, who closed the event, said: “This was a fantastic occasion for the college and I’m delighted for all the worthy winners. The culture is a supportive and encouraging one, and the awards and graduation ceremony forms a big part of our annual programme.”