A landmark year for University Centre Weston (UCW) culminated on Saturday 23 September with the biggest graduation celebration ever held in North Somerset.
More than 500 graduates donned mortarboards and gowns and walked in processions to St John the Baptist Church for the graduation ceremonies, and continued the celebrations with their loved ones and lecturers at a drinks reception in the newly-redeveloped Winter Gardens.
As well as receiving their degree scrolls and taking part in traditional mortarboard tosses, the graduates and their guests also enjoyed speeches by Weston College Group Principal and Chief Executive Dr Paul Phillips CBE and BBC News presenter Sophie Long.
UCW delivers more than 45 work-based degrees in partnership with Bath Spa University and the University of the West of England, Bristol, and representatives from these institutions were also in attendance to congratulate graduates.
For the first time ever, the day was broadcast on a big screen in the Italian Gardens in the centre of Weston, with hundreds of people watching the ceremonies and enjoying live music in North Somerset Council’s recently-redesigned town square.
Many more people around the world also followed proceedings on a live stream on the UCWeston Facebook page.
Dr Phillips said: “This is a transformative time for Weston-super-Mare and we’re delighted to be playing a big part in the town’s modernisation with sustained investment in our facilities and a growing higher education provision.
“This fantastic event wouldn’t have been possible without the support of North Somerset Council, the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, our university partners and everyone involved going the extra mile to ensure our graduates got the celebration their successes deserve.
“This year’s graduation also marks a milestone for us, coming as it does so soon after UCW was awarded Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework and the Weston College Group opened a state-of-the-art centre of education in the Winter Gardens.”
Anthony Murray, UCW’s Director for Higher Education, added: “Our students’ results continue to exceed those of their peers around the country, and those who study at UCW are more likely than average to embark upon further study or professional careers related to their degrees.
“I look forward to hearing about all the wonderful things the UCW graduates of 2017 go on to achieve.”
Among those graduating this year were the Contemporary Art and Professional Studies Honours students, of whom nearly 50% achieved First Class degrees.
Nathaniel Smith and five of his friends commuted to Weston from their homes in Cornwall for two days every week to study for degrees in Public and Environmental Health, and Nathaniel has achieved a First Class degree.
Mother and daughter Tracey and Jessie Stanton, who both grew up in Weston, graduated in the same ceremony after achieving degrees in Care Management in the Community and Early Years Education respectively.
Charlie Fortune, who is also from Weston and delivered the Student Vote of Thanks speech, has now secured a graduate trainee role with Babcock International Group.
Many of the graduates are progressing to postgraduate studies, including Luke Stout, who has secured a place on the prestigious Master’s degree in Stage Management at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama after completing a Performing Arts degree at UCW.
The Weston College Group’s £15 million redevelopment of the iconic Winter Gardens Pavilion includes community facilities alongside a university centre and a Law and Professional Services Academy.