This year Honorary Degrees will be awarded to those who have excelled in International Human Rights, Music, Health and Creative Industries.
Middlesex University Vice-Chancellor Professor Nic Beech said that Honorary Degrees were a chance to celebrate “everything that is good about Middlesex”.
“Every student graduating this week has been pushed out of their comfort zones and has had to adapt to post-Covid learning,” he added. “Congratulations to every one of you.
“But Graduation also allows us to celebrate and welcome the achievements of the outstanding individuals who are becoming Honorary Doctorates.
“These people have contributed greatly to their professions, society and also to Middlesex and I hope that these lasting partnerships will continue to flourish as we move towards our strategic goals.”
The scheduled programme is as follows:
MONDAY 26 JUNE
The celebrations begin with filmmaker and musician Don Letts receiving his Award.
A London-born artist of Jamaican heritage, Don’s career began in the mid Seventies when he started selling jukeboxes and unique fashion pieces from his store in Kings Road, Chelsea.
Acme Attraction soon became famous for its deep dub soundtrack provided by Don’s extensive vinyl collection and its influential following of musicians including The Clash, Sex Pistols, Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry and one of Don’s heroes and friends – Bob Marley.
Don was credited as being the DJ that introduced reggae to the emerging punk rock scene and produced a film documenting the revolutionary period ‘The Punk Rock Movie’ in 1977.
This laid the foundations for a career as a respected international artist, social commentator and documenter of cultural movements.
Don, who grew up in Brixton, was a co-founder of the highly successful and innovative band Big Audio Dynamite and is seen as a world-leader in creating music which fuses punk, rap and reggae.
He has directed more than 300 music videos and made documentaries featuring Gil Scot-Heron, The Jam, Sun Ra, George Clinton and Paul McCartney.
In 2003 Don won a Grammy for his documentary ‘Westway to the World’ and in 2007 produced 'Speakers Corner', a contemporary response to the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade, in conjunction with the British Arts Council.
He hosts his own show Culture Clash Radio on 6 Music.
Whatever medium he chooses, Don is driven by a spirit of collaboration and seeks to encourage and promote culture to enrich people’s lives.
He said: “My career has taught me to understand that the power of culture can act as a tool for social and personal change.
“This award acknowledges my work has made a connection with the people and that gives it meaning. I still believe that everything starts with a good idea.”
At the event, which Don attended after Glastonbury, he said he was "honoured and privileged".
He added: “I do hope in the future we can get together (with Middlesex) and work on various projects. I am really hoping for that exchange, that creative conversation especially with the younger folk.
“I am a great believer in music and art being a tool for social and personal change. I am a product of that. I am as old as rock and roll and of the vinyl generation.
“In the 21st century, it is really important we see art in all aspects of daily lives.
“When I was school I didn’t see the art in things like chemistry, physics, technical drawing and maths.
"With age and hindsight, I’ve come to realise all of these things can be an artistic profession. With skill, passion and execution you can be an artist in any of these things.
“Nowadays, places like this, places of knowledge, are more important than ever because everybody is fragmented by the digital age and no one is looking each other in the eyes and anything that facilitates collective synchronised experience can only be a good thing because out of creative cultural conversation comes more creativity.”
Dr Mike Dines, a Lecturer in Popular Music at Middlesex University, said: "For over five decades Don Letts has held up a mirror to the UK and global cultural scene, sometimes even catching sight of his own reflection.
"Whatever medium he expresses himself through, Don is driven by a spirit of collaboration, always seeking to encourage and promote culture to enrich people’s lives. A vision and approach that our University does its best to aspire to every day."
TUESDAY 27 JUNE
Lord Mann of Holbeck Moor and Martin Taylor were both awarded Honorary Degrees today.
Lord Mann has always believed in equality and championing transparency in public life.
The dedicated trade unionist and Labour activist was elected as MP for Bassetlaw in 2001 and one of his earliest campaigns called for improved treatment of heroin users, who were encouraged to seek treatment from specially trained GPs.
As a result, the number of users undertaking treatment in Bassetlaw rose from two to more than 400, and habit related crimes fell by 75 per cent.
Lord Mann has also taken a strong stance on tackling racism and from 2004 to 2019 chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism. He was later appointed as His Majesty’s Government’s Independent Adviser on Antisemitism (HMGIAA) by Theresa May.
Through this role Lord Mann regularly reports to the Secretary of State, relevant Department Ministers and officials to highlight issues from the Jewish Community and update them on the HMGIAA work plan.
Using his platform as an independent member of the House of Lords, Lord Mann strongly believes that society must remain vigilant to ensure every individual can enjoy freedom from persecution.
His work has focused on several areas of civic life in which antisemitism has taken root - including on University campuses.
There’s also an international aspect to his role, and earlier this year Lord Mann visited Washington DC where he briefed the US Presidential taskforce at The White House.
Lord Mann first spoke at MDX in 1984 and describes receiving an Honorary Doctorate as a “most unexpected and wonderful honour”.
“I have worked closely with Middlesex University who have been a leader in taking forward new and substantive ways of working with its local communities, including of course the local Jewish community,” he said.
At the event, Lord Mann said: "The university is outstanding in the community with its engagement and outreach which is key part of its success and one of its great strengths. I'm sure the community is very proud of its University."
Lord Mann advised graduates entering the workplace to “be curious and inquisitive at all times, take the time to watch and observe the people and the world around you and never be too shy or too proud to ask for help.”
Following a career in senior finance and leadership roles, Martin Taylor has worked tirelessly as a member of the MDX Board of Governors and as Director of Middlesex International (Mauritius) Ltd since 2012.
He was appointed as an independent co-opted member of the audit committee before joining the full Board as a governor in June 2013.
Martin became Deputy Chair of the Board and Chair of both the Finance Committee and the Remuneration Committee in September 2016, and at the same time joined the Board of the Joint Venture covering the Mauritius campus.
He will step down in July, but is pleased to have been asked to join a small group of Pro-Chancellors who support the Chancellor and assist with MDX’s wider engagement responsibilities.
Martin was Chairperson of Befrienders Worldwide until March 2021, a charity that helps people who are considering suicide. He rejoined the Charity's Board in November 2021 as Treasurer. He was also Chairperson of Infinity Health, a digital platform for health and social care staff, until the end of 2022.
On receiving a Middlesex Medal last year, University Chancellor Dame Janet Ritterman, praised Martin’s “compassion and generosity of spirit”.
Martin said receiving an Honorary Doctorate made him feel he had "come home". He said:
“Having grown up in North London, my wife and sister both trained as teachers at Trent Park College, formerly part of Middlesex University. My mother was also a secretary of the Students’ Union for 20 years.”
“Importantly, certain values which I personally gained at university, have stayed with me; for example, throughout my career I have always tried to engage with colleagues, employees, associates and indeed now students, in an inclusive, collaborative way and in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect. I believe that adherence to these values, although not always easy, has contributed to my professional success over the years as well as to a sense of personal fulfilment. I hope that graduating students will, like me, benefit from this in whichever direction life takes them.”
WEDNESDAY 28 JUNE
Sharon Grant OBE, Baroness Mary Watkins and Dame Carol Black received Honorary Degrees today. Find out more below:
Sharon Grant, OBE, the Chair of the Board of Public Voice, an important social enterprise specialising in community and user engagement in health and social care, has dedicated her life to the causes of social change, inclusivity and cultural opportunity.
Sharon has lived in Haringey, North London for over 45 years and has long been a powerhouse for these issues, pursuing less a career, more a vocation.
Sharon’s many achievements span a broad spectrum of activities, including contributions to public health, social care, consumer representation, inclusive political engagement and the sponsorship of the arts in her community.
Her many skill sets are driven by a single desire to give a voice to all levels of society and create an environment where every individual is given a chance to shine.
This is a vision that our University shares as one of the guiding principles of every decision we take.
Sharon started out as a university lecturer in social policy. It’s a particular privilege for me to give this oration because I was one of Sharon’s under-graduate students back then. I know she inspired many students and she certainly had a big influence in my own trajectory into academic health research. So, on behalf of the many students you taught – thank you.
She moved from academic world to become a local councillor, in Haringey, and then run the parliamentary office of the late Bernie Grant MP, who she later married, standing side-by-side with her husband for over 13 years on his dedicated path to demand change across his Tottenham seat and for overlooked communities across London and internationally.
After his death Sharon moved to widen her work, becoming Chair of the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health in 2002-2008, then Chair of London Travelwatch between 2008 and 2012.
Over the same period she worked to achieve her late husband’s dream of an arts centre and in 2007 the £15m Bernie Grant Arts Centre was opened to provide a multi-disciplinary arts and enterprise space, bringing together culturally diverse artists and a gateway to fresh opportunities. Sharon remains a Trustee and Secretary of the Centre, which recently achieved national portfolio funding from the Arts Council.
As Chair of Haringey Citizen’s Advice service from 2007-2015, Sharon helped individuals get the help and support they needed, across health, social care and consumer representation. In 2013 she was senior parliamentary advisor for an enquiry into the hospital complaints system.
It’s no surprise that Mrs Sharon Grant was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2014 for services to the arts and the community.
These are still issues close to her heart as she is currently on the board of the Council of Consumers Association, ‘Which?’
In 2014 she was the founding Chair of Public Voice, a community interest company which aims to make change by listening to those who use public services, and bringing their voice, especially of patients and social care users to policy makers.
In this capacity, in recent years Sharon has built a strong relationship with our University and formalised a promising partnership with Public Voice with a Memorandum of Understanding in 2022.
This has led to a collaboration with Middlesex researchers, focusing on the issues that need to be addressed to give marginalised members of the community a platform for change.
The goal is to develop a model that translates to communities across the UK and further afield.
A champion of access to opportunity, health and consumer rights and a pursuer of a society that can evolve to the betterment of all.
“I’m thrilled to bits, and honoured to receive this award,” she said.
“My advice to graduates entering the health and social care field would be to stay tuned to the lived experiences of those you are serving, embed the insights from your listening into your practice - and feed them upwards into the decision-making process whenever you get the opportunity.”
It's no exaggeration to say that Baroness Watkins has had an extraordinary impact on raising the profile and importance of the nursing profession both in the UK and on the international stage.
Her career started at the Wolfson School of Nursing, then Westminster Hospital and a period at South London and Maudsley Nursing School, before obtaining her PhD from King’s College London in 1985.
It was during these formative years that Mary developed a keen appreciation of the invaluable role nursing plays in the coherent functioning of a caring society.
Excelling in roles across clinical practice, education, research and leadership, Baroness Watkins has spent a lifetime championing healthcare equity for every individual – a cause we are quick to celebrate as it chimes closely with our University’s continuing vision to create healthier communities across the globe.
In recognition of her dedication to healthcare, she was created Baroness of Tavistock in 2015 and now sits in the Lords as a crossbencher.
2019 saw her further honoured with a fellowship of The Royal College of Nursing.
With an indefatigable energy and sense of purpose, it’s no surprise that Mary currently holds a number of pivotal posts that are helping shape and evolve nursing for the demands of the 21st century.
As President of the Florence Nightingale Foundation and a visiting professor at the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative care at King’s College London, Mary is at the forefront of raising standards across all levels of healthcare.
She was also the alternate chair of Nursing Now, which led to her helping produce the World Health Organisation’s important State of the World Nursing report in 2020.
This paper significantly raised the profile of nursing, helping the profession form a unified global movement and strengthen its ability to influence international policymakers.
Closer to home, Baroness Watkins has led policy and debate in Parliament to ensure that mental health nursing in England has the support it needs. Support that’s essential to meet the ever growing demands of a healthcare sector that continues to expand with increased knowledge of its complexities.
This important work includes a focus on addiction and mental health through a cross-party group on Alcohol Harm and drug use in universities.
Dame Carol Black has played many important roles in a multi-layered career as a clinician, scientist, administrator, and reformer. She is very well known for the Centre she established at the Royal Free Hospital in London to generate research and improve treatment of scleroderma (rare but frequently fatal) and other connective tissue diseases. She became President of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 2002, only the second woman to hold that post in the College’s 500-year history, and was made a Dame in 2006. She has been a life-long champion of women in medicine, and a passionate advocate for workplace health as vital to the entire population’s wellbeing and to our sustainable future.
A child of working-class parents, Carol took a degree in History at Bristol before she realised that it was medicine she wanted to pursue, a path by no means smooth. After a year on the Voluntary Service Overseas scheme on islands in the West Pacific Ocean, she came to medicine in Bristol at the age of 25.
Following “a light bulb moment” in 2004, Dame Carol developed a growing interest in the social determinants of health, particularly employment and worklessness, and became deeply involved with social aspects of medicine. As National Director for Health and Work, she provided independent leadership for a new 5-year-funded cross-government Health, Work and Wellbeing agenda, and authored two influential independent reviews for government, on the health of the working-age population, and on sickness absence in Britain. In 2012 she became an Expert Adviser to the Department of Health, NHS England, NHS Improvement and Public Health England, where she authored an important independent review for government on the employment outcomes of addiction to drugs or alcohol and obesity.
In 2021, her latest independent review for government, on illicit drugs, provided concrete suggestions for improvement of treatment and recovery from addiction. This has informed a new 10-year anti-drug strategy, adopted and funded by the government, and now being implemented nationally. Today Dame Carol is a special advisor to Universities UK’s Student Drugs Taskforce, with remit to understand the demand for, and use of, drugs by the nation’s students, focusing on tackling issues around drug use and providing support for recovery and wellbeing.
For several years Dame Carol has chaired the board of Think Ahead, the fast-track training programme, funded by DHSC, for graduates to become Mental Health Social Workers. Middlesex University is proud to be the academic partner on this much-needed programme, now into its sixth cohort of 160 trainees.
Beyond the world of medicine and healthcare, in 2018 Dame Carol was appointed Chair of the board of the British Library. With art and culture being increasingly viewed as important for the mental wellbeing of individuals and wider society, this noble institution could have no more fitting custodian.
Today, she is working with MDX Vice-Chancellor Nic Beech as special advisor to the Universities UK’s Student Drugs Taskforce.
Dame Carol said: “I have worked on the approach taken in higher education to manage drug use in the student population and I hope to continue with this work. Middlesex University also provides the academic programme for Think Ahead, a charity that specialises in the training of mental health social workers.”
THURSDAY 29 JUNE
Philippa Perry is an alumna and old friend of the University, having studied Fine Art here in the 1990s and graduating with a 2:1. She also studied at the Metanoia Institute affiliated with Middlesex University and was an examiner for viva examinations for the Integrative Psychotherapy MSc course there for many years.
At the event on Thursday, Philippa was joined by her husband Grayson Perry, a famous artist who received a knighthood a day earlier and attended dressed as Claire.
She was also joined by her friends, journalist Suzanne Moore and TV producer Janet Lee.
Speaking about the award, Philippa said: “When you’ve been a student somewhere and invited back to be honoured, it feels like you’ve grown up. I am now officially at 65 a grown up.
“It’s really lovely to be back. I’m expecting a flood of emotion on the stage.”
Philippa’s journey into the world of psychology began in 1985 when she trained and volunteered for The Samaritans. This gave her experience of the trials and tribulations of the human condition, inspiring her to work in the mental health field for over 20 years as an integrative psychotherapist.
She made it her mission to share the wisdom of psychological theories and research to a wider audience and has written and broadcast radio and television documentaries on subjects such as Bipolar Disorder, Humiliation, Desire, Story Telling, Lying, When Parents Split, Surrealist Art and most recently co-presented Grayson’s Art Club which came about to get people making art during the pandemic.
As well as broadcasting Philippa has written books including, Couch Fiction – which combined both art and therapy as it is a graphic novel about psychotherapy, How To Stay Sane, and her international bestseller: The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did, which has sold over two millions copies and has helped many households to operate more harmoniously and supported parents to make the best relationships they can with their children.
Throughout her career there has always been a focus on how an individual’s state of mind permeates and steers everyday life, with practical advice on how we can all work to look after our own – and our loved ones’ – mental health. She has a weekly advice column in the Observer Magazine that continues this work.
Commenting on her Award, Philippa said: “I feel grateful that all the hard work I’ve done to make psychology and psychotherapy theory understandable and useful to the general public has been recognised,” Philippa said.
“I’m grateful for all the education I’ve had at Middlesex and the habit of curiosity it helped to foster in me and I wish to pass this on and encourage curiosity in others.”
Philippa’s message to graduates is “to not be afraid of speaking up when they feel unsure, because we learn in dialogue with others.”
She added: “By making mistakes we can learn and a terrible first draft of an idea can be edited but no first draft leads to nothing. If we wait until we’re perfect we would wait forever. You never have to be “The Best” but you do have TO BE, so BE IT - something like that anyway.
“Don’t be frightened of sticking your head above the parapet and testing what you know on other people. We learn when we test out ideas in conversation – two heads are always better than one.”
The digital age and Covid has put the spotlight on mental health more so than ever, according to Philippa.
“I am quite worried people are getting just enough contact through there screens and digital devices to not seek better contact in the real world so I think it’s making people more isolated and that’s not good for mental health.
“If we don’t exercise our social muscle, it atrophies and this is what happened to people in lockdown. They got out of practice of being with people and found they couldn’t do it anymore.
“I went to a book launch after God knows how many days, two years of isolation, and love book launches and seeing my friends but after 45 minutes I was completely overwhelmed and had to leave.
“And I am a gregarious, outgoing 65-year-old but my muscle had atrophied.”
FRIDAY 30 JUNE
There are many individuals who take up the cause of international human rights, and all of them make important and valued contributions. However,few have the long-standing influence of Bianca Jagger, a force of nature whose dynamic personality continues to generate effective changes globally.
Born in Nicaragua in 1950, Bianca won a scholarship from the French government to study at the prestigious Paris Institute of Political Studies and became fascinated by the forces and movements that shape lives and determine individual outcomes.
It was here that Bianca first encountered the teachings of Gandhi and his belief in non-violent protest, an introduction to Eastern philosophy which would underpin much of her future thinking. It was, however, Ms Jagger’s mother – discriminated against for being a divorced, working woman in a patriarchal society – who most influenced her outlook of the world. Bianca has shown unwavering commitment to speaking up for women’s rights, campaigning tirelessly to end violence against women and girls, not least to stamp out female genital mutilation.
In the 70s and 80s Bianca led a well-documented high-profile lifestyle, associating with world renowned figures such as Andy Warhol all the while amplifying the voice of the most vulnerable. A global fashion icon, and mother to daughter Jade from her then marriage to Mick Jagger and a grandmother to Amba, Assisi and Ray and 3 great-grandmother to Ezra, Romy and River, she has never lost sight of social injustices.
A number of experiences then firmly set Bianca’s life on a new path, defending victims of human rights violations and fighting to shine a spotlight on communities facing extreme challenges with no voice of their own. Bianca has since used her profile on the world stage to progress the causes she believes in.
In a 1979 visit to Nicaragua with the International Red Cross and was shocked by the brutality and oppression perpetrated by the Somoza regime.
In 1981 Bianca was part of a US delegation to Honduras and came face-to-face with a death squad leading a group of refugees towards the El Salvador border. The delegation felt compelled to intervene and confronted the would-be executors with cries of “You’ll have to kill us all”. In a tense stand-off the squad relented and the captives were released. The world saw how, armed with courage, humanity prevailed.
To this day, Bianca has continued to fight for meaningful change. She has made significant contributions to international campaigns against the death penalty, crimes against humanity, and to the defence of indigenous peoples, including the Yanomami of Brazil.
In 2005 she founded the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation – of which she is still President – and has been a Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador since 2003. With strong ties to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Red Cross, it’s no surprise that Bianca has received many international awards – among them the Right Livelihood Award, known as the alternative Nobel prize.
Her work has been recognised worldwide and Bianca has honorary doctorates from Stonehill College (1983), Simmons College (2008), the University of East London (2010), and Roehampton University (2017).
Bianca remains committed to campaigning against human rights abuses especially in Nicaragua. She has consistently called on the International community to take more of an active response action against the increasingly grave human rights violations and perilous conditions facing the Nicaraguan people.
She has particularly focused this work around the plight of Bishop Álvarez Lagos who was who was condemned to 26 years and 4 months in prison earlier this year after refusing to board the flight to the United States to be deported. She continues to raise concerns about the political repression of the current Ortega regime, recently making a direct appeal to Pope Francis to intercede on behalf of Bishop Álvarez.
A friend to our University, and a regular speaker at a range of events here – in current parlance, the very epitome of a positive ‘influencer’ – focused on civil rights and the agenda of fairness.
Bianca dedicated her Honorary Doctorate to Bishop Rolando Jose Alvarez Lagos, who has been held captive by the Ortega regime in Nicaragua for nearly a year and incarcerated in La Modelo prison since February on a 26 year sentence.
Commenting on her Award, Bianca said:
"If I have learnt one lesson in life it's that every individual can make a difference, nothing is impossible. Seize the moment. This is an extraordinary moment in your life. Don't let anyone tell you you are not good enough, you are. Don't let anyone tell you there are limits. The sky is the limit."